The Los Angeles Angels have had the splashiest offseason of any team. The Texas Rangers return an impressive core and may yet add the likes of Yu Darvish and perhaps even Prince Fielder. The New York Yankees, in the span of an hour or two this past Friday, upgraded their rotation by a notable margin. The Philadelphia Phillies return the most vital parts of last year’s 102-win outfit. The Boston Red Sox, despite the upheavals of 2011, have a tremendous amount of talent on the roster. Still and yet, the best team in baseball headed into the 2012 season might just be the Tampa Bay Rays.
That they’re in this discussion is not especially noteworthy. After all, the Rays, despite a basement-level payroll, have made a history of defying expectations: they’ve made the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, and in 2008 they notched a pennant. They achieved all this even though, over that same span, they traded away or lost to the market core performers such as Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir, Jason Bartlett, Rafael Soriano and Johnny Damon, among many others. Yet the Rays, despite roster turnover, financial constraints and a home in baseball’s toughest division, keep on winning. In 2011, the Rays won 91 games, earned the same number of Pythagorean wins and of course seized the AL wild card in white-knuckled fashion. So why might the Rays be even better in 2012?
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