Picking Tampa Bay’s four most crucial pieces to success in 2014 isn’t all that hard. This is a team with a pretty well-defined structure – you know who its superstars and most important players are. So without any further ado, let’s just get this over with.
Longoria is a perennial MVP candidate, and the player who broke the contract extension system for young players with the six-year, incentive-laden deal that he signed with the Rays just days after making his major league debut. In 2013, Longoria had a typical year – .269/.333/.498 with 32 homers and elite defense at third base. Not bad for a 28-year old that will only make $7.5 million in 2014.
When Longoria is healthy, he’s the straw that stirs the drink in Tampa. In 2013, he set a personal-best by playing in 160 Rays games, and it also marked the first time since 2010 that Longoria cracked the 600 plate appearance mark. If he stays in the lineup, the Rays and their fans can breathe easy – the team will be average at the least.
What Longoria is to Tampa Bay’s offense, Price is to Tampa Bay’s pitching staff. He won the AL Cy Young award in 2012, and has been one of the American League’s elite pitchers over the last three seasons. After a rough start to his season, Price came back with a vengeance after missing six weeks with a strained triceps, striking out 102 and walking just 13 in 131 2/3 innings while pitching to a 2.53 ERA. He pitched the Rays into the playoffs with a fantastic complete game win over the Rangers in Game 163. There’s really no debate about his standing in the Rays rotation.
The only real question about Price is whether or not he’ll be a Ray past 2014. Price’s salary has reached $14 million for the 2014 season, and he still has one more year of arbitration remaining. He could end up earning upwards of $20 million in 2015 with another great year this season, and that could simply be too rich for Tampa Bay’s blood. The Rays are generally pretty good at knowing when to cut bait with a player, but if offers for Price this offseason don’t satisfy the club (much like they didn’t satisfy them this winter), it’ll be interesting to see whether or not the Rays deal him for a lesser package or hang on, pay him his huge salary, and simply take the draft pick compensation two winters from now.
Myers might end up becoming Tampa Bay’s preeminent power hitter before his time with the club is all set and done. In just 88 games in the majors last year, Myers homered 13 times, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award. Expectations are high for the former Royals farmhand going into this season, and if he doesn’t hit 30 homers, many will likely be surprised and disappointed.
And really, they should be. The Rays haven’t had an outfielder with Myers’ power potential since who, Greg Vaughn? The only Tampa Bay outfielder to *ever* crack 30 homers in a season was Aubrey Huff, who launched 34 homers in 2003 before beginning to get more playing time at other positions. Myers is a much better overall player than Huff, and while he may not be as well-rounded as B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, and Ben Zobrist, he can definitely set all sorts of power records with the Rays.
Cobb’s inclusion on this list may be a surprise, but boy did he have a breakout year in 2013. In 22 starts, Cobb pitched to a 2.76 ERA in 143 1/3 innings, striking out nearly one batter per inning and whiffing just under three times as many hitters as he walked while also getting a huge ground ball rate.
Cobb’s overall performance is made even more impressive considered he missed two months in the summer after being concussed by a line drive to the head. He returned from the horrifying injury to pitch to a 2.41 ERA in 59 2/3 innings. In the AL Wild Card games against the Indians, Cobb shut the Tribe down and pushed Tampa Bay to the ALDS, where they fell to the Red Sox in four games.
In a Rays rotation where you know David Price will dominate and you have no idea what Matt Moore will show up, the continued steady performance from Cobb will be crucial to Tampa Bay’s success in 2014.