Is it just me or does it already seem that the media types are forecasting the AL-East race as a two horse one between the Yankees and Red Sox? I feel like a great deal of attention has been paid to the Yankees and Sox off-season (and speculated off-season) moves. Obviously the Yankees made a couple big splash deals, and Boston traded for Hermida, signed Scutaro/Cameron and are rumored to be interested in acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, but what about the Rays?
I feel like they are going to quietly go into 2010 a much improved team. I really like the Soriano aquisition as the only real cost to the Rays was cash. I don't think Soriano is a great closer, and he is a huge injury risk, but at the same time, I think he helps stabilize their bullpen. With Soriano closing games, Howell can be used more effectively to shut down lefties, Wheeler is still quite useful and Balfour doesn't have to be leaned on in high leverage situations at all (but certainly could be if he performs lights out like in 2008).
On top of the Soriano acquisition the Kelly Shoppach one seems to be quite shrewd as well. Navarro was terrible in 2009, and Shoppach was acquired for Mitch Talbot who's only possible use to the Rays would have been in long relief/mop up duty realistically. Shoppach certainly won't be confused for a stud catcher, but his power would be a huge step up from Navarro's, and Navarro isn't a terrible backup catcher IMO.
I'm also a big fan of their starting rotation going into 2010 which should likely feature Shields/Garza/Niemann/Price/Davis. Another step forward for Price would seem to be a reasonable expectation, and Davis has a nice pedigree. Davis will probably have some ups and downs, but if he struggles badly the Rays also have Hellickson dominating the high minors, and Andy Sonnanstine available in an absolute emergency (who for as bad as he was in 2009 was at least serviceable in 2008) to replace him.
Looking at the offense I'd expect Bartlett to regress some next year and possibly Zobrist too. On the flip side Upton had a bad year last year, and still has such a high ceiling he alone could take a big enough step forward to offset any regression from Bartlett and Zobrist. Another reason I believe in the Rays offense is the possibility that Desmond Jennings replaces "The Gabe's" in RF. Jennings would seem to be a solid upgrade over the platoon currently in right.
Anyways... maybe I shouldn't be posting this in leftovers, but curious to hear some others thoughts