Baseball Season Preview: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

For the third consecutive season, we are proud to introduce the Deadspin Baseball Season Previews. Yes, baseball is awfully close now; it's spring training, after all.

Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.

Today: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Your author is Cork Gaines.

Cork Gaines, is the editor and lead writer for Rays Index. He is a Tampa native and University of Iowa graduate that is currently lost in New York City. Despite this, he still maintains his status as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers season ticket holder and often makes trips back to the Bay Area just because he has an urge for a grouper sandwich from Hurricane. His words are after the jump.

——————————————————

I apologize to you if I don't seem real eager to jump into a forced awkward intimate situation that people like to call "previews". I don't like the feeling. You're sitting there, you're wondering have I said something stupid, am I boring, am I writing too much, are you reading enough? I'm not really interested. But I think you might be interested. So all of the sudden I'm getting, I'm starting to get interested... And when am I supposed to insert a joke? Do I have to wait for the end cause then it's awkward, it's like well 'piss-off'. Do you do like that poop joke? Where you like, you laugh like this and snot comes out because you don't want your boss to know you are reading Deadspin. Or do you just go right in and tell the inappropriate OJ joke? Or no joke at all? It's very difficult trying to read the situation. And all the while you're just really wondering are we gonna get hopped up enough to make some bad decisions? Perhaps play a little game called "just the Tampa Bay Rays". Just for a second, just to see how it feels. Or, "ouch, ouch my eyes hurt."

*Will sets Rays preview in corner*

Watching the 2008 Tampa Bay Devil Rays will be like watching Natalie Portman in "Beautiful Girls." You know she is going to be hot when she grows up, but part of you wonders if it is OK to look at a 14-year-old that way. And when she does finally grow up and she is even sexier than you imagined, there is a part of you that still sees the 14-year-old and it makes you feel a little guilty. And yet, you can't wait for the Tampa Bay Rays first nude scene...Wait...What was I saying? Nevermind...
Ladies and gentlemen, these are not your older brother's Devil Rays.

The first ten years of the franchise were bad ... really bad. So the new ownership decided changes needed to be made. They cowered to the delicate sensibilities of a few old people in the St. Pete area and dropped the Devil. GM Matt Silverman recently said of the name change "We're no longer the bottom feeding fish...We're much more about the energy of the sun." That's right. The team that plays in a dome now has sunshine for a mascot.

Along with the name change came new uniforms, which were unveiled in a ceremony that lasted longer (2 days) than the Red Sox World Series celebration (1 day) and featured the musical styling of Kevin Costner. It could have been worse. We could have been subjected to Tom Petty reenacting his role in "The Postman" ... Green is out. Dark blue, Carolina Blue and Yellow are in. The team's logo has now been spotted on more semi-celebrity douchebags in the past month (1) than the previous 10 years combined (0). This is not to be confused with semi-celebrity butt-lickers (Dick Vitale) and semi-celebrity fake athletes (Hulk Hogan). We are still debating whether or not this is an upgrade.
The changes didn't stop there. Gone are Delmon Young and his shoulder-mounted bat launcher along with Elijah Dukes and his sperm . And...wait for it....wait for it...the team actually spent money. The Devil Dogs gave long-term contracts to Carlos Pena and James Shields and signed free agents Troy Percival and Cliff Floyd. Of course, between the two, they are 186 years old, have two healthy knees and 8 saves since 2004.
The addition of Percival, as well as several others, means the bullpen, which was statistically one of the worst in the history of baseball, has gone from "I think they just sharted on the mound" to "they give me Irritable Bowel Syndrome". And according to the Bill James Bible, IBS is worth 5.5 wins in the standings.
Random Joke: What is the difference between a Red Sox fan and a Yankees fan? Who cares. Fuck 'em both.
The Rays also added Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett (via the Dick Bat-Tosser trade). Garza joins Scott Kazmir and James Shields to form the top young rotation trio in baseball. They should be joined shortly by two of the Rays seemingly endless supply of top pitching prospects, which includes Jake McGee, Wade Davis and the top pick of the 2007 draft, David Price, among others.
Bartlett should be an upgrade at both shortstop and in the significant-other department over Ben Zobrist. Bartlett, along with the move of Akinori Iwamura to second base, will vastly improve one of the worst defenses in baseball, but Bartlett is going to have to hit better in 2008, if he is going to hold off baseball's top shortstop prospect, Reid Brignac, in 2009.
With all these off-season changes, our heads are spinning, and there are still a number of questions to be answered about the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays sans Devil...
1. Will Edwin Jackson (think Nuke LaLoosh) or Andy Sonnanstine (El Duque's Caucasian brother from another mother) step up and give the Rays one of the best starting rotations in baseball, or are they just place-holders for the above-mentioned prospects? Magic 8-Ball says: Nuke is a big pile 'o poo, but The Duke will be a serviceable innings eater that will win 10-12 games.
2. Can the bullpen back-enders Troy Percival and Al Reyes stay healthy all year? Magic 8-Ball says: Is this a serious question?
3. Will super-prospect Evan Longoria, be the second-coming of David Wright? Magic 8-Ball says: The Dirtbag can do it all! He can hit, hit for power, field, cure cancer, bake, babysit your kids and end the suffering in Darfur.
4. Will we ever reach a point when Rays fans won't panic when they read headlines like THIS? Magic 8-Ball says: Enjoy the 64 kazillion Eva Longoria references in 2008.
5. Will scientists act in time to combine Joel Guzman (power, defense) and Willy Aybar (OBP) into the perfect baseball player? Magic 8-Ball says: We are still years away from enjoying Jolly Guzbar. In the meantime, they both suck.
6. Can Carlos Pena repeat his 2007 performance? Magic 8-Ball says: Pena was a part-time player for first month of 2007. He will have more lineup protection 2008. He has learned to use the whole field. He is in his prime and is a better hitter now than he was 4-5 years ago. You do the math, asshole.
7. Will the Rays be able to sign Scott Kazmir to a long-term contract? Magic 8-Ball says: The Rays are trying to have the same sustained success as the Twins and the A's and that means occasionally they will need to trade their young players when they get expensive. After the Twins gave $486 zillion to Johan Santana, the Rays have a better chance of winning the 2008 World Series. The question is not if the Rays will trade Kazmir. The question now is when.
8. If the Rays win more than 70 games and do not finish in last place, will the time equilibrium be disrupted? Magic 8-Ball says: If Lyle Lovett can sleep with Julia Roberts, anything is possible. Not only will the Rays win more than 70 games in 2008, they will win more than 80 and will actually play meaningful games in September. Seriously. And no, I am not that drunk.
The Tampa Bay Rays will be a team to reckon with in the very near future. I don't give a rat's ass if the Spankees and the Pink Hats keep the Rays in third place five of the next six years. Making the playoffs with a $150MM payroll is like banging a drunk ugly chick. It's easy. And it will never be as pleasurable as having a threesome with your girlfriend and Natalie Portman, which is what it will feel like that one year the Tampa Bay Rays do win the division.
Will 2008 be the Year of the Tampa Bay Devil Dogs?.............O LOOK! CAKE!