Offseason moves heighten expectations for Rays Print
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Friday, 15 February 2008 11:43
MLB Headline News

 ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -New uniforms, vibrant team colors and even a modified nickname to help promote a fresh identity.
The Tampa Bay Rays also revamped their roster, boosted payroll for the first time in years and unveiled plans for a new waterfront stadium during an offseason of change, moves that have heightened expectations for a perennial last-place club.
The pressure is on to stop playing like the doormats who averaged 97 losses over the past decade while finishing in the American League East cellar nine times.
``We have to raise the accountability fire a bit,'' said third-year manager Joe Maddon, who welcomed 33 pitchers and catchers to spring training on Friday. ``That's for all of us. I'm not going to just lay that on the players.''
eadership that Maddon hopes will have a positive influence on a promising core of young talent.
``We are all accountable and responsible for this team getting better,'' Maddon said. ``The shirts in this room right now, I like the names on the back. I think the older, newer guys are going to augment the other guys in a good way. It's time to turn up the dial a bit.''
Besides generating excitement off the field by making the long-anticipated move to drop the ``Devil'' from their nickname, the Rays gave hefty pay raises to pitchers Scott Kazmir and James Shields and rewarded Carlos Pena with a long-term contract after the AL comeback player of the year belted a team-record 46 homers and drove in 121 runs in 2007.
Andrew Friedman, the club's vice president of baseball operations, also is counting on a trade that sent budding young star Delmon Young to Minnesota in exchange for pitcher Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett to pay big dividends.
Veteran closer Troy Percival was added to a bullpen that struggled to finish games a year ago, and the need for a left-handed bat was filled with the signing of outfielder/designated hitter Cliff Floyd.
beyond what they're actually going to do on the field. I'm looking for the impact in the clubhouse as being maybe a bigger benefit for us.''
The Rays have finished higher than last place just once in the franchise's previous 10 seasons.
They've never won more than 70 games, but genuinely believe they're headed in the right direction with a starting rotation headed by Kazmir, Shields and Garza and an everyday lineup featuring Pena, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Akinori Iwamura, the former Japan League star who's moving to second base to make way for top prospect Evan Longoria at third.
Longoria will be given a chance to make the opening-day roster, but the Rays are determined to be patient with him.
``We're going to wait until the middle of next month, play it all the way through and look at him and see exactly where he sits,'' Maddon said. ``Again, he could be hitting .500 and we could decide that he's maybe not ready.''
The focus during spring training will be on fundamentals and doing the ``little things'' that make the difference between winning and losing.
Much of the roster is set. There could be spirited competition for a few jobs, including the last two spots in the rotation.
and names and watch them play and know: `Wow, I've got to really work hard. Someone is coming after my job,''' Friedman said.
``These guys are talented, and we're going to have a stable of pitching to Double-A and Triple-A that are going to try and take some of these guys' jobs. That's the kind of healthy competition and depth that we need to take that next big step.''
Notes: The only players missing on the opening day of camp were catcher Dioner Navarro, whose mother is ill in Venezuela, and pitcher Juan Salas, who was delayed by a visa problem in the Dominican Republic.
 

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