I think there should be mixed feelings about this team going into this season. The loss of Shields, Upton and Pena does hurt. Jeff Keppinger performed very well as a role player last season and he signed a more lucrative deal with the White Sox. The position players the Rays have brought in have a lot of upside, but to this point, are considered disappointments. Free agent signing James Loney, who has had RBI seasons of 90, 90 and 88 in his career, sloped to a .249, 9, 41 line in 144 games for the Dodgers and Red Sox last season. Yunel Escobar, acquired in a trade from Miami through Toronto, hit just .253, 9, 51 in 145 games last season. They signed Kelly Johnson, who dropped to .225, 16, 55 in 142 games for Toronto last year. He is expected to platoon with Ryan Roberts, who finished with a .236, 12, 52 line after being traded from Arizona to Tampa last season. The Rays are depending on Loney to replace the power Carlos Pena took with him to Houston (19 HR despite a .197 average). With Ben Zobrist (.270, 20, 74) moving from 2B to RF full time and Desmond Jennings (.246, 13, 47, 31 SBs) moving to CF to replace Upton (.246, 28, 78), the Rays will be essentially looking for Roberts and Johnson to replace the run production Upton leaves behind. However, the Rays get a healthy Evan Longoria for a full season after being held to 74 games last year.
Matt Joyce (.241, 17, 49), Luke Scott (.229, 14, 55) and Jose Molina (.223, 8, 32) round out the Rays everyday lineup. I'd lineup them like this: Jennings CF, Loney 1B, Zobrist RF, Longoria 3B, Joyce LF, Roberts/ Johnson 2B, Scott DH, Molina C, Escobar SS. The Rays will be counting on Myers (.314, 37, 109 in the minors last season),SS Hak Ju Lee and even Raul Mondesi Jr to come up and make a big impact. Rather than count on guys like Escobar, Loney and Johnson to overachieve, the Rays would be more in favor of the former.
The Rays do bring back the AL Cy Young Award winner in David Price (20-5, 2.56). In spite of the loss of Shields, the Rays still have a good rotation with Matt Moore (11-11, 3.81 in 31 starts), Jeremy Hellickson (10-11, 3.10 in 31 starts) and Alex Cobb (11-9, 4.03 in 23 starts) returning to the rotation. 2004 first round draft pick (#4 overall) Jeff Niemann returns after making just 8 starts in 2012. Odorizzi, Chris Archer and the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona (Roberto Hernandez) give the team some options in regards to depth. Hernandez can perhaps eat some innings until Odorizzi and Archer are ready to make an impact.
Fernando Rodney had the greatest statistical season for a closer since Dennis Eckersley in 1990. In 76 games, Rodney pitched to a 0.60 ERA (5 ER in 74 2/3 IP) and finished with 48 saves. I agree that Rodney has established himself as the closer he was supposed to be years back with Detroit and LA, but he cannot be expected to duplicate that season. Losses of JP Howell (1-0, 3.04 in 55 games), Burke Badenhop (3-2, 3.03 in 66 games) and Davis (3-0, 2.43 in 54 games) will hurt. However, Joel Peralta (2-6, 3.73 in 76 games) and Jake McGee (5-2, 1.95 in 69 games) leaving the chance the pen can be effective. Perhaps the other player to be named later, Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) can provide some stability in the pen.
My issues with this team lie with the fact they have taken a step back for the present to improve the future. The future will tell how good of a decision it was to sacrifice the 2013 season to have this "dynasty". In my opinion, Vegas is very kind to the Rays, giving them an over/under of 86. Unless Myers comes up early and dominates and the team gets some surprises in the bullpen, I see the Rays taking a major step back this season. I predict a 79-83 season, 5th place in the AL East. Maybe this will be the step back that propels the Tampa Bay Rays to the forefront of the American League for year to come.