30 Clubs in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays

Posted: February 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

raysIt can be difficult to remember that the 2013 Tampa Bay Rays were a playoff team. Winners of the one game Wild Card Playoff over the Cleveland Indians, Tampa Bay would go on to lose the American League Division Series to the Boston Red Sox, 3-1.

It was another successful season in the career of Joe Maddon, who has taken the low payroll club to the playoffs in four of the last six seasons. In fact, Tampa Bay has won over 90 games in four consecutive years despite consistently having one of the cheapest rosters in baseball. How do they do it? Well, look no further than GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays’ spectacular farm system. Tampa’s starting rotation in 2013 consisted of five starters who were homegrown (the most in baseball). David Price (10-8, 3.33) was again among the best southpaws in the sport. A free agent following 2014, Price could be on the trade block if the Rays aren’t in playoff contention come late-July.

Joining the former Vanderbilt Commodore are Matt Moore (17-4, 3.29), Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76), and Chris Archer (9-7, 3.22). None of these three are older than 26, and all of them pitched like aces in 2013. The battle for the fifth starter’s role should be a dandy, as veteran Erik Bedard (4-12, 4.59) will compete with young Jake Odorizzi (0-1, 3.94) and veteran holdover Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 5.17) for the spot. Tampa Bay has the rotation strength and depth to compete with the rest of the American League East. Their fate, then, will be decided by the strength of their young, streaky offense.

The team made few changes to an offense that scored just 700 runs in 2013. David DeJesus (.260-2-11) will get a full season at Tropicana Field after joining the club late in 2013. The only full time starter acquired this offseason is expected to be C Ryan Hanigan (.198-2-21). The Rays landed the veteran backstop from the Reds in a three team trade that saw the Rays also land veteran RHP Heath Bell. Hanigan has shown a proficiency at the dish in the past. But, an injury plagued 2013 saw his average drop 60 points below his career mark.

The bullpen is improved, as Grant Balfour returns to the team that he burst onto the scene with in 2008. Bell and LHP Jake McGee will be Balfour’s primary setup men in 2014. The latter is a flamethrowing southpaw with loads of upside.

Key Acquisitions

C Ryan Hanigan (Reds)
INF Logan Forsythe (Padres)
3B Jayson Nix (Yankees)
DH Wilson Betemit (Orioles)
LHP Erik Bedard (Astros)
RHP Grant Balfour (Athletics)
RHP Heath Bell (Diamondbacks)

Key Departures

OF/INF Kelly Johnson (Yankees)
OF Delmon Young (Orioles)
DH Luke Scott (Korea)
RHP Roberto Hernandez (Phillies)
RHP Fernando Rodney (Mariners)
RHP Kyle Farnsworth (Mets)
RHP Jamey Wright (Dodgers)

Projected Lineup and Rotation

OF David DeJesus – .253-8-41
2B Ben Zobrist – .258-14-70
3B Evan Longoria – .260-27-91
OF Wil Myers – .262-22-84
DH Matt Joyce – .244-13-46
1B James Loney – .268-9-55
OF Desmond Jennings – .246-14-59
SS Yunel Escobar – .254-8-50
C Ryan Hanigan – .251-4-30

LHP David Price – 13-8, 3.18
LHP Matt Moore – 12-10, 3.63
RHP Alex Cobb – 13-9, 3.35
RHP Chris Archer – 11-9, 4.03
LHP Erik Bedard – 3-4, 4.35
RHP Jake Odorizzi – 4-5, 4.50
RHP Jeremy Hellickson – 4-4, 4.21

RHP Grant Balfour – 3-2, 3.19, 30 Sv

Outlook

Tampa Bay might have the best rotation in the American League. Their combination of incredible talent at the top coupled with significant depth towards the bottom makes them an incredibly tough opponent, especially during a 3 or 4 game series. Tampa did lose some of their veteran bullpen arms to free agency. But, Friedman and Co. did a fine job replacing the lost pieces by adding the always reliable Balfour through free agency and the formerly dominant, now merely adequate Bell via trade. Still, the Rays have enough arms in the farm that they could lose one or two bullpen pieces to injury and still have a decent pen to fall back on.

Their offense is a work in progress, and it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll have enough depth to overcome their dramatic on base issues. The Rays have no one in their starting lineup projected to finish with an OBP above .348. That’s pretty woeful at the big league level and,668_tampa_bay-rays-miscellaneous-2012 predictably, leaves the Rays in a lot of 1-0 games. There’s a reason that Tampa Bay has been no hit so many times since 2008. Still, Tampa has some serious power and run production in the middle of their order. All Star Evan Longoria returns and he’ll continue to get protection from the ever improving young phenom, Wil Myers. The former Royals prospect started slow last year. But, by the time the postseason came around, he was one of the most reliable bats in their order.

Behind the duo of Longoria and Myers, the Rays will see Matt Joyce, James Loney, and Desmond Jennings. This trio could be the key to their offensive success. Tampa invested heavily (by their standards, at least) when they agreed to a 3 year, $21 million extension with Loney a year after the first baseman played near the veteran minimum. Always a solid defensive option, Loney will have to continue to show improvement at the dish if the Rays are to not regret that move. Jennings and Joyce are solid outfield options who bring their own unique elements to the game. Joyce has power while Jennings brings the most speed of anyone in the lineup.

The Rays are a very capable ball club, and there’s no reason to think that they cannot once again be near the top of the East when all is said and done. I foresee Tampa Bay winning between 85-91 games, fighting with the Red Sox for one of the Wild Card spots.

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