At some point, penny pinching is going to catch up with you. Eventually, every team is going to have a bad draft. Sometimes a trade does not net a team what it is expecting to get in return. That is where the Rays are right now. They are coming off of three consecutive losing seasons after playing postseason baseball in four of the previous six. Their General Manager, Andrew Friedman, and Manager, Joe Maddon, have long left the organization. Sure, the Rays still have their franchise player in Evan Longoria and their top three starting pitchers could compete with anyone in baseball, but it is hard to state exactly how the ground attack will look like that can legitimately compete with the Boston Red Sox and other top teams in the American League.
The Rays traded up and coming star second baseman Logan Forsythe to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitching prospect Jose DeLeon. They then moved left handed pitcher Drew Smyly to the Seattle Mariners for two minor leaguers and Mallex Smith. Their off season then consisted on adding free agent catcher Wilson Ramos, coming off a season where he hit .307 and set career highs with his 22 home runs, 80 runs batted in and an .850 on base plus slugging. Though Ramos will not start the season healthy, himself batting back from an ACL injury suffered at the end of 2016 with the Washington Nationals, it marked a seemingly wise investment by the Rays. They then in outfielder Colby Rasmus and made the decision to bring back first baseman Logan Morrison. Incumbent first baseman Brad Miller, coming off a 30 home run season, will be moving to second base to occupy the spot vacated by Forsythe.
Offensively, the Rays should still have a decent amount of power in their lineup with Miller's 30 home runs, in addition to Longoria's 36, outfielder Corey Dickerson's 24 and the potential for outfielders Rasmus and Steven Souza to have more productive seasons. Center fielder Kevin Kiermeier is a great defender but brings less to the table offensively than he did last season. Of course, he is still an asset but it is only assuming he can maintain the all world defensive ability. The thing the defensive saber-ers fail to mention is defensive ability depreciates every year and it is very uncommon for a player to maintain the metrics Kiermeier has had for a long period of time. And we should find out this year is he is just a one dimensional player, if he is, he better maintain his all world defense in center field.
When the Rays traded left hand pitcher Matt Moore to the San Francisco Giants last season, they gained third baseman Matt Duffy in the deal. Duffy has shifted over to shortstop and the Rays are hoping he can perform to the level of his rookie season in 2015 where he hit .295 and drove in 77 runs. Morrison will likely not play against left hand pitchers, meaning projected reserves Tim Beckham and Nick Franklin should get some playing time. Miller could likely return to first base against left hand pitchers. While they wait for Ramos to make his Rays debut, Luke Maile and Curt Casali will be the catchers. Veteran Michael McKenry is worth a look and maybe can earn some everyday time. The lineup I would go with is Kiermeier CF, Longoria 3B, Miller 2B/ 1B, Dickerson DH, Duffy SS, Rasmus LF, Souza RF, Casali/ Maile C, Morrison/ Franklin/ Beckham 1B/ 2B. Smith, brought over in the Smyly trade, should be a solid fourth outfielder and will continue to develop as a future regular. Tampa native Rickie Weeks is in on a minor league deal and should be able to help out at multiple positions.
The Rays best starting pitcher, Chris Archer, is coming off his worst professional season. But it does depend on how you look at it. He did make 33 starts, pitch just over 201 innings and strike out 233 batters. His record was just 9-19 and he gave up 30 home runs, one more than his teammate, Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi put up solid numbers, making his 33 starts and pitching just over 187 innings. Archer paid the price for going deeper into games, having just five no decisions while Odorizzi had an astounding 16. Alex Cobb is expecting to return to form as he has made just five starts since the end of 2014. Blake Snell should be in a position to have a great season in 2016, striking out 98 batters in the 89 innings he pitched last season- his age 23 season. Matt Andriese gets the first crack at the number five spot in the rotation with De Leon eventually getting a chance to earn his spot for good.
Alex Colome had a break out 2016 season as a closer (2 wins, 4 losses, 37 saves, 1.91 earned run average, 71 strikeouts in just under 57 innings pitched. The Rays were looking to trade Colome, but teams are getting tired of sending top prospects to the Rays and Colome was 27 years old last season. Brad Boxberger saved 41 games for the Rays in 2015, but missed a lot of time last season due to injury. Erasmo Ramirez and Danny Farquhar provide solid set up options as right hand pitchers and former Nationals left hander Xavier Cedeno is the prime southpaw. Former major leaguers David Carpenter, Cory Rasmus and Dana Eveland are on minor league deals trying to make the team.
Within the next calendar year, the Rays should welcome a couple of their top prospects into the mix. Shortstop Wily Adames, acquired in the Detroit Tigers trade involving David Price, is very close as are pitchers DeLeon and Brent Honeywell. First baseman Jake Bauers, himself acquired in the deal that sent Wil Myers to the San Diego Padres, may be ready to make an impact by the end of this season.
The issue I have with the Rays is they are simply not as deep as the other teams in the American League East. I like their potential starting rotation, especially if Cobb is healthy and Snell takes the next series of steps to become a top pitcher. I do not think their offense is deep enough and when you are expecting a lot out of guys like Morrison and Rasmus, you are asking for some disappointment. Las Vegas felt the same way, as a 75.5 number for Tampa's over/ under is not on par with the PECOTA rating system. I still have to take the under, I have the Rays finishing 2017 with a 71-91 record, last place in the American League East division.