Stu Sternberg developed a cult following. Certain people think his management team can do no wrong.

This is not to suggest Sternberg ordered his followers to write a fluff piece on the Rays. People don’t hold him accountable for his blunders such as breaking up the team or calling out fans indirectly for not going to games.

Despite the fire sale, the Rays owner has them believing the Rays can be a wild-card team. When the Rays signed Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon over the weekend, the cults were in propaganda mode. They mentioned the signings will make the Rays as good as last year.

Let’s get real here. The Rays will do okay, but expecting them to win 87 games is crazy.  When a team dumps this many valuable players in the offseason, it’s hard to expect replacements to get it done.

Signing couple of washed-up players is not going to improve the offense. If Damon and Ramirez were any good, they wouldn’t be playing for the Rays. The Rays hope to get something out of those two, but its unrealistic. Now, if they signed Vladimir Guerrero, then it’s okay to get excited.

The starting rotation will do a fine job, but they are going to have to be perfect to win games. That’s too much to ask. They are going to be involved in 2-1 or 3-1 games often, and if the offense can’t provide run support, they are just not going to win them.

If the Rays want to be taken seriously as playoff contenders, why did they trade Matt Garza? That’s all anyone needs to know.

People argue Jeremy Hellickson can replace Garza, but that’s wishful thinking at best. First of all, Hellickson is going to go through growing pains in his first full season. Even if he does a good job, it would have made sense to keep Hellickson and Garza together. It gives the Rays a better chance of winning games.

Garza also provided insurance in case Jeff Niemann got hurt again or James Shields stunk for the third straight year.

If the Rays had their way, James Shields would have been traded, but he has no value right now. They needed to get some prospects to build around in the future, so Garza offered more value.

It would have made sense to trade Garza this summer in case other teams wanted him. With teams desperate to add pitching, they might have been prone to give up a lot more to get Garza.

The Rays have several questions to answer about their bullpen. Most of the relievers are gone. It will be a group of new people filling in. The pen was the team’s strength last year, but that can be a weakness next year.

For one thing, who is their closer? Replacing Rafael Soriano’s 45 saves will not be easy. The Rays knew he would get the save when he was out there in the ninth inning. He never had a bad game. He was confident enough to get it done.

Being a closer is not easy. They have to handle nerves, especially on the road. This is a challenge the next closer has to face.

J.P. Howell could close, but there’s no guarantee he can be healthy. The Rays have to wonder if his arm is effective enough to pitch after the surgery.

Jake McGee has the stuff to be a closer. He throws strikes and his velocity is in the nineties. Still, could he handle the role in the ninth inning? There’s no guarantee.

That’s just part of the issue. The Rays also need to build a bridge to the closer. It was easy when Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and Joaquin Benoit did it last year. Those four won’t be replaced early.

The Rays are going to rely on Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth in relief, signing the two in the offseason.

Signing Farnsworth was a bad idea. He’s proved he can not be reliable over the years. He will blow games, and he will get hit hard. Joe Maddon would be wise to use him as a situational reliever.

Peralta has to be consistent if he is deemed reliable.  It’s hard to gauge what he can do until he shows it. At this point, he might be a guy that pitches in the seventh with McGee and Howell handling the eighth and ninth innings respectively.

The Red Sox are the team to beat in the AL East, but the Rays will have to contend with the Yankees, Blue Jays and the Orioles. That’s a tough task.

The Jays are good enough to contend for the wild-card this year. They have the pitching and their hitting will continue to improve.

The Orioles boast their infusion of young players, and they finally have a manager that knows what he is doing in Buck Showalter. They have the pitching and the offense to do damage. They are on the upswing.

This year is not going to be easy for the Rays. It’s not going to be bad, but there are too many questions to think this team is going be a playoff team.

If the Rays fare well the first two months, they can change people’s perceptions.

Sternberg and his management team can brainwash others all they want, but it does not change the fact this team has questions to answer.

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