Most Valuable Player - Carlos Pena
As the eye-popping numbers kept on piling up, you wondered where the Rays would be without him.
Outstanding Pitcher - Scott Kazmir
Fantastic second half pushed him past a worthy counterpart, James Shields, to solidify his standing as the Rays' ace.
Rookie of the Year - Delmon Young
He excelled in just about every area of the game. Only 22, who knows how good he'll be.
Veteran of the Year - Al Reyes
The oldest Ray at 37, he returned from an elbow reconstruction to serve as the bullpen's rock - as long as the Red Sox weren't involved.
Most Consistent - Carl Crawford
A deserving All-Star, he got even better after the break and kept doing what he always does. An irreplaceable presence in the lineup.
Biggest Surprise - Pena
Considering what both players did last season, the late-March decision to keep Greg Norton over Pena seemed logical at the time.
Biggest Disappointment - Ben Zobrist
His continuing inability to adjust to major-league pitching (.155) left a hole at shortstop that still hasn't been filled.
Most Frustrating Season - Rocco Baldelli
It's hard to believe he managed to play in 35 games between spring and season-ending hamstring injuries. Seems like forever since he has been in uniform.
Best Trade Acquisition - Brendan Harris
No one gave it a second thought when he came over from the Reds for cash on Jan. 2, but he quickly became an everyday fixture in the infield.
Most Improved (Since 2006) - B.J. Upton
Plenty of people wondered after last year if he'd be able to hit in the majors. Yes, he can - and that doesn't come close to encompassing his contributions.
Most Improved (In-season) - Dioner Navarro
His first half had the Rays seeking another long-term plan behind the plate, but a strong finish may have saved his job.
Best Debut - Joel Guzman
On Aug. 19, in his first at-bat as a Ray, he produced a game-winning single in the 12th inning to beat playoff-bound Cleveland 4-3.
Worst Debut - Jeff Ridgway
The first eight batters the lefty faced in his major-league career reached base, seven of them coming around to score, before he recorded his first out by getting Alex Rodriguez to pop up.
•The Rays score three times in the bottom of the ninth to beat Toronto 6-5 in the April 6 home opener, as B.J. Upton's single scores Akinori Iwamura with the winning run.
•Delmon Young hits a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th on May 17 to give the Rays a three-game sweep of Texas in a home series relocated to Disney's Wide World of Sports.
•Carl Crawford becomes the first Ray to hit a home run in the All-Star Game, connecting off Milwaukee's Francisco Cordero in San Francisco.
•Edwin Jackson throws a complete-game shutout at Texas on Aug. 11 in the Rays' quickest game of the year - 2 hours, 11 minutes.
•Upton pulls off a straight steal of home plate on Sept. 17 at Anaheim.
•Elijah Dukes' publicly aired domestic troubles cast a pall over the team for nearly a month before he is finally sent to the minors and placed on the temporary inactive list June 22 to get his life back in order.
•The Rays lose 13 of 14 games heading into the All-Star break, including 11 in a row from June 25-July 5.
•Edwin Jackson gets off to an 0-8 start before beating the team that drafted him, the Dodgers, on June 24 to get in the win column.
•The Rays give up six runs in the bottom of the ninth and fall 12-11 at Toronto, blowing a lead that stood at 8-1 in the fourth inning and 11-6 heading into the ninth. The winning run scores when Tim Corcoran walks Aaron Hill with the bases loaded.
COMINGS AND GOINGS
Since the season began, the Rays have said ...
Hello to: IF Josh Wilson (May 10), RHP Jay Witasick (June 12), RHP Grant Balfour (July 27), RHP Dan Wheeler (July 28)
Goodbye to: RHP Ruddy Lugo (June 14), OF Dustan Mohr (July 25), RHP Seth McClung (July 27), IF Jorge Cantu (July 28), IF Ty Wigginton (July 28), LHP Casey Fossum (Aug. 10)
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2008
Three reasons for optimism:
•The young players who did so much to carry the Rays this season - Delmon Young, B.J. Upton, Scott Kazmir, James Shields - will only get better with more experience. Now that they have a taste of what they can do at this level, the leaps from year to year could be big.
•The next significant wave of prospects should arrive and contribute next season. Evan Longoria may be the Opening Day third baseman, Jeff Niemann will be a strong contender for the rotation and David Price might be on the fast track if he comes out of the gates strong in the minors.
•The bullpen is in far better shape now than it was a year ago, with experienced cogs such as Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour in place. More competition in the rotation could push Jason Hammel, Edwin Jackson or J.P. Howell into the relief mix, as well.
Three reality checks:
•A payroll increase to around $35 million, the number Stuart Sternberg is budgeting for, still won't bring the Rays anywhere near their division rivals when it comes to spending power. Not that blockbuster offseason signings are a must (see Baltimore's bullpen this season), but it will be tough for the Rays to be a player in the free-agent market at that figure.
•As many fine individual performances as the Rays had this season, they have to face the possibility that the likes of Carlos Pena, Brendan Harris and Al Reyes turned in career years or something close to it. Any significant drop-off in production from key players will be difficult to replace.
•The main reason for that is a continuing lack of depth among position players. The Rays' starting nine should be solid, particularly if Rocco Baldelli can slot in as the regular DH, but better reinforcements behind them would provide more room for injury and error.
Top offseason priorities:
•Find a shortstop - This is the one spot on the diamond with no clear starter heading into spring training. Brendan Harris was pressed into service there most of this year and did fine, but the Rays may prefer that he remain the starter at second base (if Evan Longoria isn't ready to play third coming out of spring training) or take on more of the infield utility role most recently held by Ty Wigginton (if Longoria's arrival bumps Akinori Iwamura to second). The free-agent market is heavy on no-hit, good-field types such as Juan Uribe and David Eckstein, which probably would be fine as the Rays should be able to get their offense elsewhere. Or they could seek an answer through trade.
•Lock up the young talent - Carlos Pena and Scott Kazmir will be in Rays uniforms next spring no matter what happens, but it would behoove the organization to do everything it can to keep up the cycle of getting productive young players signed to multiyear deals. Until the Rays can (or will) bump their payroll up to respectable levels, the only way they'll be able to survive is keeping their most promising players in tow as long as possible before they hit free agency.
•Keep adding arms - The Rays believe they have enough depth among the pitchers already in the organization to assemble a solid starting rotation, but competition never hurts. They aren't likely to sign a big-money starter (Curt Schilling?), but a more reasonably priced veteran would be a welcome addition to Kazmir, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine and the rest. The bullpen formula probably will fall along similar lines. A high-dollar closer isn't in the offing, but more depth will allow the Rays to find the best combination of arms to cover the seventh through ninth innings.
POTENTIAL OPENING DAY 2008 LINEUP