LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Red Sox' acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez figures to give the club a chance to climb back atop the American League East Division. The guy whose team is in that spot is none too pleased.
"I don't like it," Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said from the winter meetings Tuesday afternoon. "I think he's really good. He's going to wear out that left field wall. He's a great first baseman, it's good for the Red Sox."
The Rays, of course, were nowhere near bidding for Gonzalez. They are trending in the opposite direction and are all but resigned to the fact that they will not be bringing back first baseman Carlos Pena. In addition, outfielder Carl Crawford and closer Rafael Soriano are all but gone as Tampa Bay looks to limit its spending.
The always frank Maddon understands the situation.
"I have permitted myself the moment to think about how nice it would be to have this whole team back next year and what things would be like," he said. "Just having the same group back would have been kind of neat, but that's not how things are. … When you take this job and you manage the Rays, you know going into it we have to work within certain parameters.
"I know that. And I really enjoy that. I really do. So there is a lot of challenge putting this thing back together."
The reconstruction will be done to a team that won 96 games and its second division title in three years. How far it falls, if it does, will depend on the starting rotation, which is the one unit that will remain intact.
Cy Young Award runner-up David Price leads a crew that still includes Matt Garza, James Shields, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, with highly touted youngster Jeremy Hellickson waiting in the wings. At the very least, that means the club will remain competitive.
"With all the guys that are leaving, it's easy to think that it's going to be very difficult for us next year, and it probably will be," Maddon added. "I also believe that a strong core of players remains on the field, and obviously a strong core in the starting pitching staff. Our starting pitching is still among the best in the American League."
The Rays' staff finished second in the AL in ERA so it figures to keep the club in games. What could knock them out of games is a reworked bullpen that lost Joaquin Benoit last month and is sure to lose Soriano and probably Grant Balfour soon.
Maddon indicated he is prepared to let the starters work deeper into games, if that's what it takes to spell the bullpen, but not to the point where he risks damaging one of them.
"They're the pulse of our team," he said. "If I mess up our starting pitching and these guys go down, my goodness, we have nothing. So I'm really cognizant of taking care of our starters. I'm not talking about babying them, I'm talking about taking care of these guys. I like [the idea of having them work deep into games], but not to the point where you're going to push a guy beyond what you think he's capable of handling physically."
Having to face Gonzalez 18 times won't make the goal of lengthy starts any easier. However, Maddon obviously has bigger fish to fry as the Rays begin a partial rebuild.
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