With Price back, his front office geared up to win, bulking up the payroll to a franchise-record $80 million. And that's a clear sign, DeJesus says, that "they're expecting big things from us. And we're expecting big things from ourselves."
Meanwhile, Price roared in and had a dominant spring (17.1 IP, 20 strikeouts, 12 hits, three walks). He didn't just look healthier and more locked in than last year. He looked, said one scout, "like he's on a mission to get off to a really fast start."
But what makes this team a win-the-World-Series kind of band is that the three starters behind Price are dominators, too.
Cobb: "He'd be a No. 1 on a lot of clubs," says one scout. "Aggressive. Quality stuff. Around the plate with all his pitches. Likes to compete. And anybody who can throw his changeup for a swing-and-miss any time he wants, in a fastball count, is a guy who can dominate good lineups."
Chris Archer: "Best young pitcher I saw all spring," said another scout. "Unhittable. And his delivery is so clean, it's scary. His fastball was 96-97 [miles per hour] with (perfect) command. And an 88 [mph] slider, and plus changeup. Very, very impressive."
Matt Moore: Those 15 walks and 14 strikeouts, in 14.1 innings this spring, tell you how erratic Moore can be. But his 17-4 record, 3.29 ERA, .216 opponent average in 2013 tell you how spectacular he can be at his best. "Man," says Price, "17-4 with a 3.2-something ERA. I'd take that for about the next 10 years of my career."
"A lot of teams," says one scout who covers the Rays, "don't have five starters, period. This team has got four who are really good."
It's very possible that the most important catcher to change teams this winter wasn't Brian McCann or A.J. Pierzynski. It might very well have been Hanigan -- picked up from the Reds in a three-team deal that included the Diamondbacks, then locked up to a three-year, $10.75-million contract.
"They've been looking for a catcher forever," said one scout. "And this guy might be the best catcher they've ever had."
Hanigan's selling points: Big-time defensive skills across the board. A lifetime 40-percent caught-stealing rate. A .786 career OPS against left-handed pitching. More career walks than strikeouts. And a reputation as a superior leader of staffs.
"Getting a guy like that, that's huge," says Maddon. "I mean, why is he huge? Talk to him, for like five minutes. And then watch him play, for like one inning. And you know the impact this guy can have on your team, because he's skillfully good, and then he's just totally dripping with intangibles that you want out of a catcher."
Wil Myers didn't arrive last season until June 18, for business reasons, not baseball reasons. He still managed to fit winning a Rookie of the Year award into his busy schedule.
But even more important, as we try to assess what a full season of Myers' presence might mean, is this: The Rays were three games over .500 (36-33) when he arrived last year. They were 18 over (56-38) from then on.
"If we get him going properly on a full-season basis, and you project his numbers out a bit, which I think you can, it's going to be very impressive," Maddon says. "And having said that, my big goal for him this year is to try and win a Gold Glove."