In the This Is My Nightmare series, we'll take a look at what the absolute worst case scenario for each team would be in 2013. Think of it as the negative complement to our You May Say I'm A Dreamer series that we'll be running during our preview series.
The Tampa Bay Rays have had an amazing run over the last several years where they've been able to produce star talent, watch that talent leave via trade or free agency and then seamlessly replace that start talent with fresh new star talent from their seemingly bottomless farm system all on a shoestring budge. It is a delicate balance that Andrew Friedman has been able to strike.
No matter how smart Friedman and manager Joe Maddon might be, one of these seasons they are going to roll snake eyes. This might very well be that year.
Tampa has lost a lot of talent over the years, but this off-season was an especially rough one for them. Gone is starting center fielder B.J. Upton and rotation stalwart James Shields. Though not nearly as important, the Rays also parted ways with two key relievers in Wade Davis and J.P. Howell. Their lineup then lost some depth with Carlos Pena and Jeff Keppinger heading elsewhere. Sure, the Rays have a deep farm system, but is it that deep?
In theory, the Rays aren't going to miss Upton because they are expecting Desmond Jennings to blossom and for Wil Myers, acquired in the Shields deal, to come up at some point during the year to bolster their lineup. Similarly, Shields was considered to be expendable because they have Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome waiting in the wings.
That's a wonderful pipeline of young talent to have, but not every prospect can pan out right on schedule, even if the Rays have an uncanny record of magically getting them to do so. Perhaps there was a reason Kansas City was so eager to trade Myers? Maybe they know something others don't and Myers is unable to help the big league club this season, maybe even subsequent seasons as well. Maybe Archer, Odorizzi and Colome all need more seasoning in the minors as well. Sorry, but not every pitching prospect can immediately take the league by storm like David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore before them.
Of course, none of those players are necessarily supposed to make the Opening Day roster, which makes them a lesser problem. The bigger issue is on the veterans that the team is built upon. First and foremost, Evan Longoria has been limited the last few years by nagging injuries, injuries that could very well cost him most of the 2013 season as well. And if you really think that Fernando Rodney is going to be able to repeat his brilliant season of 2012, then I have a bridge to sell you.
The disappointment doesn't end there though. The aforementioned Hellickson has been outrunning his FIP since he entered the league, which could be a real problem if it catches up to him this year. Keeping with the trend of regressing young players, Desmond Jennings manages to fill in adequately on defense for B.J. Upton, but his offensive output could crater as pitchers better learn to exploit his contact problems.
The death blow of the season won't be any of those failings though. Instead, the unimpeachable Joe Maddon could finally have his genius pushed to a breaking point as he tries to pull all the right strings and press all the right buttons with a lineup that has a platoon at half of the spots in the order, lightning rod for controversy at shortspot and shaky bullpen. Even the best managers have a year where they can't seem to do anything right.
With all their luck running out all at once, the Rays would be no match for the heightened competition of the AL East. Winning 75 games and finishing fourth in the division is probably about the best that they could hope for in such a nightmare scenario.