Can this year's team go all the way? It seems like the past several years we just haven't had the horses to get to the playoffs and win. Will they do something extra this season to try and build a team that can get through the playoffs?
-- Tom C., Lansing, Mich.
I think this year's team has the necessary parts to reach the playoffs. In my opinion, getting to the playoffs is all you can ask of your team, because once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen. I liken it to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Once you get there it's all about how hot you are. Also, like March Madness, teams that reach the playoffs as higher seeds have an advantage. Look at the Red Sox last season. The Rays felt like they had been playing in can't-lose games for a month before they finally got through to play the Red Sox in the American League Division Series. The best a team can hope for is to reach the playoffs and have the best record in the league, which brings certain postseason advantages.
I've seen reports that Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina are going to split the catching duties, like it's going to be 50-50. If that's true, I don't understand why they went out and traded for Hanigan. From everything I've seen, he looks like an everyday catcher. I'm not really upset about the team bringing back Molina, but please tell me Hanigan is going to draw the bulk of the catching duties.
-- Brad G., Tallahassee, Fla.
While the Rays have pretty much said the catching duties will be split between the pair, my guess is the breakdown will be more like 100 games for Hanigan and 60 or so for Molina. I think the Rays are heading into the season with a pretty sound catching situation. I've been really impressed by Hanigan.
I like the players the Rays have on this year's roster, but they don't seem to have a designated hitter. Are they going to sign one? Or are they planning to use someone like Matt Joyce or Brandon Guyer as the everyday DH?
--Sam M., Tampa
Over the years, the Rays have had little success with their DH. Pat Burrell and Luke Scott both signed fairly large deals, but both struggled. Johnny Damon was probably the best they've had since 2008, and even he was not your classic big-bopper DH. Thus, the Rays are approaching their DH situation almost in the same way teams without a closer approach their bullpen -- by having DH by committee. The Rays have a lot of players on the roster who can play different positions, which allows them to play matchups against different pitchers on a nightly basis. They will use the spot as a place to strengthen the lineup on any given night with a favorable matchup. They can also use it as a place to give Longoria, Zobrist or the like a night off from playing in the field. Looks like a pretty good idea to me.
I attended a Rays game this week and Joyce led off. He caught my attention when he bunted against the shift. So I have two questions: Will Joyce hit leadoff a lot this season? And do you expect to see him bunt more?
-- Jim K., Sarasota, Fla.
First, I do expect to see him hit leadoff occasionally this season, when a right-hander is starting for the opposing team. However, I think that duty will fall more often to David DeJesus, who Maddon seems to favor as a lefty leadoff man. As for Joyce bunting: Yes, I do think you'll see him bunt more often, and I also think you'll see him try to hit the ball to the opposite field more often. The more he successfully does that against a shifted infield, the more likely other teams will consider not shifting against him. That would benefit Joyce's offensive production greatly.