The Tampa Bay Rays (along with the Oakland Athletics) are the poster children for "How to succeed in baseball without a huge payroll."
The Rays, after a decade of bad expansion-team play, have now had six straight winning seasons and been in the postseason four of those years, with a World Series appearance.
We'd take that... right?
This year's Rays will again be in the playoff conversation. This could be the year that 25-year-old former Cubs prospect Chris Archer becomes the No. 1 rotation guy many of us thought he might be. But the Rays have several other very good starting pitchers, too: Jeremy Hellickson, David Price, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi are all expected to anchor a rotation that could be the best in the American League. The Rays lost closer Fernando Rodney to free agency, and they signed ex-A's closer Grant Balfour to replace him.
The Rays will have a new catcher this year, former Reds backstop Ryan Hanigan, who will be backed up by Jose Molina, another one of the Molina brothers who's been around forever (and who came out of the Cubs farm system). David DeJesus, who was acquired (essentially) from the Cubs with a four-day stop in Washington, was re-signed to be the starting left fielder.
Otherwise the Rays club is essentially the same one that had to win three straight games in 2013 against three different teams in three different cities to get to the division series: the last game of the regular season in Toronto, a wild-card tiebreaker in Texas, and then the wild-card game itself in Cleveland. No wonder they had nothing left when they headed to Boston for the division series against the Red Sox.
There really isn't that much more to say about the Rays. This team has a very astute front office, an outstanding field manager, and they will have a full year's worth of Wil Myers, who had a great second half of 2013 as a rookie at age 22. They could very easily win the tough A.L. East.
The Rays will be at Wrigley Field for a three-game series August 8-9-10. The last time the Rays visited Wrigley Field, 11 years ago, they were known as "Devil Rays" and the two managers in that set were Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella. Tampa Bay won two of those three games. It was the only interleague series they won that year, and it was "highlighted" by the Sammy Sosa corked-bat incident.
The Cubs went to the playoffs that year and the Rays lost 99 games. That scenario could easily be reversed in 2014.