DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Rays manager Joe Maddon didn't hesitate to offer his comments when asked to handicap the American League East for the coming season.
The Rays manager began by noting: "It's wide open."
"Everybody's denigrating the Yankees for their age over experience," Maddon said. "Then you talk about the Red Sox and what happened last year. I expect them both to be very good this year."
Maddon then looked over at the opposing dugout in Dunedin and spoke about Toronto after its massive offseason overhaul.
"What the Blue Jays have done is very exciting for Toronto," Maddon said. "Part of it for them is how quickly they can get it together as a group. And if they do, they could be very dangerous. Baltimore showed what they could do last year. Baltimore started playing on another mental level last year. That's why they got so tough. And I think we're as good as we've ever been. So I think things can be very interesting."
When a reporter commented that the Orioles showed everyone that anything is possible with what they accomplished in 2012, Maddon smiled and responded: "I think we showed that in 2008."
"That's been rather contagious the last several years," Maddon said. "Baltimore, I really appreciate what they do and how they do it. They come to play. [Buck Showalter has] done a great job there. It's a different mindset among their players. They don't quit. ... They just don't quit and I expect the same thing."
Maddon agreed that picking a winner in the division would be difficult.
"Injuries will play a role in it at some point," Maddon said. "But I think it's going to be, who knows, but I think we'll all be good."
Baserunning focus on decision-making, not steals
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked how he thought the overall baserunning of his team would look this season and he offered to "go around the horn" in the following response:
"James Loney, good baserunner, not exceptionally fast. Kelly Johnson, can be a plus. He's a very good baserunner and can steal bases. [Yunel] Escobar, also, given the right moment. He's your classic situational guy, if you give him more opportunities, I think he's going to take advantage of that. [Evan Longoria], with his legs, let's see how that works out. Outfield-wise, Desmond [Jennings] is [above average], [Ben] Zobrist, I think he'll have a better year than he had last year. [Sam Fuld is] good."
Maddon noted that the Rays aren't necessarily looking for stolen bases out of this year's team.
"Just the ability to make good decisions, the ability to go first to third and second to home," Maddon said. "We've been working on that already. I think sometimes people equate good baserunning with the number of stolen bases and we like that, but for us it's making sure we run the bases well."
As for the overall speed of this year's team, Maddon noted that the team has "lost some fast guys" including B.J. Upton, who stole 31 bases last season.
"Speed-wise [we] may have taken a little bit of a hit," Maddon said. "It's going to be hard for us to accumulate the same number of stolen bases I think. But we can still steal some bases. And the big thing is that we run the bases properly."
Maddon and company like to preach aggressiveness on the basepaths, particularly to the new players.
"Yes, they've heard it a lot already," Maddon said.
Archer waiting his turn in bid for rotation spot
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- While the competition for the No. 5 spot in the Rays' rotation continues, at least one of the competitors isn't wrapped up in the idea of battling others for the spot.
"I'm constantly battling for a spot," said right-hander Chris Archer, who allowed just one hit in three scoreless innings Friday against the Blue Jays. "That's battling for a spot against me. Each day I can get better than I was yesterday. Really, it's cliche, but that's what I try to do."
Several years ago it's likely all four of the competitors for the fifth spot would have been in the Rays' rotation. Now just one from the group of Archer, Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez and Jake Odorizzi will be in the rotation.
"It is a little frustrating," Archer said. "But from the way the Rays have done things, it proves that they know what they're doing. They know everybody is completely ready to get there and stay. So I'd rather be able to get there and stay instead of going up and down, up and down. I mean, if they need me to do that, obviously I wouldn't mind going up and down, up and down.
"But one day I'm going to have a solidified spot in the rotation and the young guys in A ball and Double-A, they're going to be in my position. I'm going to have my spot because I've waited for my turn, basically. So I'm going to be patient and it can be frustrating if you let it be. But it doesn't frustrate me because I know eventually I'll be that guy with a spot and somebody else will have to be patient."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.