With that final cherry on top of a very very good offseason, the Rays can head to Port Charlotte and focus on nothing but the 2012 season. That is a rare gift.
Even though ballplayers come to spring training in good physical condition (brace yourselves for ‘best shape of his career’ week) they still need the month to get re-acclimated to the big league game. There is almost nothing a player can do to simulate the speed of Major League Baseball. So, they get in camp, work with the coaching staff, see some live pitching, make defensive plays in game scenarios, and generally prepare for the long haul ahead.
Almost every team, however, has to spend some of their time evaluating players and finalizing a roster. That is a necessary evil this time of year but it takes away from preparation. (I remember one former D-Rays skipper complaining that he couldn’t work with the starting rightfielder who needed to cut down his swing because the GM made him go evaluate 20 players that were never going to make the team). The more time a coaching staff has to spend evaluating talent, the less time it can spend preparing players for the season. Thanks to the fine work of the Rays’ front office, we aren’t facing that particular problem.
For the first time in club history, the Rays are going to open camp without any questions. The roster is basically set. Some variation of the lineup, rotation, and bullpen structure is basically set. Everyone that matters is under contract for several seasons. Heck, the team is even the most popular pro sports team in the area [per the Scarborough Report].
Sure, Joe will have to look at Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez, and Jeff Keppinger at shortstop. Sure, Joe will have to decide on a backup catcher. Sure, Joe will have to nail down the rotation. But those aren’t really “battles” in the traditional sense. Joe uses every asset on the roster so regularly that any “loser” of a battle is still going to see significant playing time. In fact, I would think it is pretty unlikely that we will even be able to declare a “winner” at short or catcher.
That means the mad scientist, who I think is becoming the consensus best manager in baseball, has a month to mold one of the best rosters in baseball into an AL East winner. I like our odds.