And let's see if the devil is to be found in the details-- for certainly the Tampa squad "exorcising" their right to be free of that assocation has paid off big time.
But seriously-- these are the two big stories-- positive, that is-- of the AL this year. And to be utterly fair and without any coastal bias, the blazing hot Rays are the better story of the two.
I will try to do this fairly broad-brush, honing in on a few key areas but not analyzing every single player in depth.
Well they have an ace who seems to be more healthy than ours-- though he too has missed much of this season. But Steve Phillips must still shudder to think that the talent of Kazmir (dah-dah-dah...dah-dah-dah-- can't write that name without thinking of Jimmy and the boys playing one of the great riffs in music history) was exchanged for the fleeting talent of Victor, not Carlos, Zambrano. EDGE TO RAYS
The rest of their rotation consists of another potential stud-- Matt Garza, who i believe arrived via the Delmon Young (don't flip your bat at me!) deal. Garza is one of those top notch pitching prospects who sometimes take a while to gain command-- or sometimes never find it at all. He is joined by former Dodger uberprospect Edwin Jackson (it is amazing how many once highly-touted top prospects the Rays have collected), their own reclamation project in James shields and also Andy Sonnestine from their own system. I don't think the depth is as strong as our rotation, but the talent is clearly there. SLIGHT EDGE TO A'S GOING FORWARD-- but these guys are young too and it wouldn;t shock me to see their batch outperform our batch in the next couple of seasons.
The bullpen is, like many inckuding our own, a collection of various parts accumulated along the way. The most surprising, of course, is Troy Percival-- who seems to have found a fountain of youth in Florida. Miller and Howell are LOOGYs-- Howell came in the gathright deal; and Dan Wheeler is a good set-up guy who started with Tampa, got good in Houston and came back to the SunShine State in exchange for Ty Wigginton. Again I thinkwe trump them with depth, but it's not a bad pen.
The lineup is intriguing-- lots of stories here.
Dioner Navarro was of course the one "get" coming out of the Yanks farm system-- position players, that is-- and the Dodgers got him in the Randy Johnson-Shawn Green three way deal-- then unloaded him pretty unceremoniously 18 months later for Toby Hall. Navarro hasn't really been all that special at the plate until this year, when he has broken out and is hitting .350. No he can;t keep that up but he is a notch above our guy;
Carlos Pena-- we all know this story. Will Barton get the patience that Pena did not? He is hitting for low average this year, but he has become a genuine 30-35HR threat; Only Thomas on our squad can supply similar power, and he's 10 years older than Pena.
Eric Hinske-- a spot starter and DH-- but he can hit, too;
Jonny Gomes-- their Pronk. Not much average but decent power.
Iwamura is a Japanese signee (from the Yakut Swallows) who seems OK at 2nd. Bartlett came in the Young-Garza deal to help shore up the defense-- he seems to be doing that but can't hit a lick;
And then there are 3 studs that we simply cannot offer any comparison to. Carl Crawford can do everything but hit for power-- he's actually off to a bit of a slow start-- but this is a guy who will hit 300, steal bases, play fabulous left field, and throw in 12 to 15 triples. He's only 26, if you can believe it'
BJ Upton-- they finally converted him to a full-time OF last year. and got 300-386-508 from a 22 year old as a result. 303-395-433 so far this year-- his power is down like everyone else's. But make no mistake this is a perennial All-Star talent.
Evan Longoria-- considered by many the #1 prospect in baseball entering this season. he is struggling below .250, but has already shown the flashes of brilliance with some late-inning heroics (or extra innings in one notable game, alas) of late. He is as close to can't miss as anyone-- remember that in a couple of seasons we could be seeing a MVP candidate.
These last three separate the two organizations in my book-- for at least this year and next. We simply don't have a player who can match any of the three. maybe Gonzalez will-- or maybe Beane will acquire a similar talent with a deal later this year or after the season ends.
But if you throw me up against the wall, a team with young talent the likes of Kazmir, Garza, shields, Upton, Crawford and Longoria gets a slight edge over our guys. Yes we have more pitching depth but that's not enough to make up for the star deficit.