How do you picture the Rays' Opening Day lineup?
-- James Y., Springfield, Vt.
This is one of the fun parts of the Hot Stove season, getting out a lineup sheet and penciling in an Opening Day lineup. Since the Rays open against the Orioles on April 2 at 3:10 p.m. ET, let's assume they'll be facing right-hander Jason Hammel.
Here's the lineup I've got and the order in which that lineup will hit:
Evan Longoria, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Yunel Escobar, SS
Jose Molina, C
However, guessing Tampa Bay's lineup is like pinning the tail on the donkey -- you never know if you're going to get it right, but it sure is fun trying.
With the additions of Escobar and Johnson, it seems like some familiar faces -- such as Rodriguez, Reid Brignac and Johnson -- have to go. We have seen the Rays seemingly giving up on players a tad too early in recent years. John Jaso, Justin Ruggiano and Hammel come to mind. Who will go? And which player do you think will achieve his full potential in another uniform?
-- Dave W., Port Charlotte, Fla.
Yes, the roster situation does seem to indicate that some familiar faces will have to go, and there are two ways of looking at that. First, you wonder how the Rays could have let Hammel, Jaso and Ruggiano go elsewhere. But then you realize that the players they kept are pretty nice players, too. That's when you surmise that any good organization is always going to lose some good players, because they are developing good players, and sooner or later, those players run out of options and the organization has to play the numbers game in respect to its roster.
A good example is what happened with Hammel. If you'll recall, that came down to a last-minute battle between Jeff Niemann and Hammel. One of them had to go, because both were out of options. The Rays selected Niemann, who has done well since, and I suspect would have done well had he gone elsewhere.
What will the Rays' rotation look like this year?
-- Nick N., Walnut, Calif.
If the season began today, I'd project the following rotation: David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Niemann and Alex Cobb or Roberto Hernandez. Obviously that would change if Niemann is not healthy. He ended last season on the mend from a sore right shoulder. If Niemann convinces the team that he's totally healthy and ready to go, I'd put the big right-hander in there instead of Hernandez or Cobb, and I'd either push Hernandez to the bullpen or put Cobb, who is a proven Major Leaguer, back at Triple-A. But there are so many variables that come into play that the rotation could look much different. Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi or Mike Montgomery could sneak in there as well.