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Know your enemy: Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off a miserable 68 win season. Can it get any better this season?

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

In 2016, the Tampa Bay Rays were largely the Tampa Bay Rays. After starting the season a .500 team through June, injuries, dovetailed with some good ol’ fashioned bad luck, had the Rays finishing the season in a distant last place with an abysmal record of 68-94.

I’m not sure this is overly surprising to many readers. Doing the preview last season, I projected them to finish with around 70 wins and finish in the bottom of the American League East. They did basically that.

That’s not to say however that they didn’t deserve better. They did. As Jonah Keri noted in his Tampa Bay Rays preview, the Rays had a horrid time stringing together luck both offensively and defensively as they finished 22nd and 26th respectively. For those not in on the theory, if they could have just found a better way to time their hits and prevent hits during untimely situations (easier said than done), more W’s would have been added to their totals. They might even have won 81 games.

But that’s not how the season played out. Instead, their starting rotation imploded, beginning with Chris Archer who seemed to watch helplessly as every fly ball off the bat made its way over the fence. Then Kevin Kaiermaer, one of the best defensive centrefielders to play the game, got hurt. Eventually, Evan Longoria came back down to earth.

Such is the life of the Tampa Bay Rays.


Wilson Ramos (C), two-year contract

Colby Rasmus (OF) one-year contract

Jose De Leon (via trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers)

Nathan Eovaldi


John Lamb

Alexei Ramirez (SS)

Kevin Jepsen (RP)

Ryan Webb (RP)

Jaff Decker (OF)

Hank Conger (C)

Jake Goebbert (OF)


This rotation really lives and dies on its ace, Chris Archer. It’s not that the rest of the rotation isn’t completely capable of getting the job done. They are, just Chris Archer is the cherry on top that spills over to the rest of the team and makes the sundae that more delectable.

In 2016, the start of that rotation certainly was in peril. After being one of the top pitchers in the league in 2015, even being dubbed an AL CY Young candidate during spring training, Archer started the season by posting a 5.01 ERA in April, giving up seven of his 30 home runs in that month alone. Of course, a home run ratio of 1.95 per nine innings really isn’t sustainable, and Archer eventually saw his numbers start to move in the right direction as the season wore on.

At season’s end though, he was still looking up at a line with a 4.02 ERA and 9-19 record. Sure, there’s more important statistics to look at such as his BABIP, FIP, KK/9, BB/9, which all at least somewhat point to the fact that Archer is going to rebound this season, but you still have to at least note that Archer posted a four-plus ERA for the first time in his career since becoming a starting pitcher in the major leagues.

Behind him, the Rays have assembled a respectable if not suitable rotation in Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, Alex Cobb and Matt Andriese. Each of these arms could present themselves with major upside, if they’re able to remain healthy over the season and all breaks right.

In the bullpen, the Rays command a dominant closer in Alex Colome complimented by Erasmo Ramirez, Xavier Cedeno, Danny Farquhar, Brad Boxberger and Ryan Garton. The Rays definitely have some options looking to improve like Boxberger and Farquhar if they’re going to improve upon finishing 29th in WAR as a bullpen this season. That said, with much of the same pieces and not an exuberant amount of depth in 2017, don’t look for the Rays bullpen to carry the rest of the team into the postseason this fall.

Catcher: Wilson Ramos

In one of the only moves the Rays decided to make of the off-season, they signed Wilson Ramos to a cheap deal worth $12.5 million over the next two seasons. Part of the reason that they were able to do that is that Ramos is coming off a knee injury that ended his 2016 season early, despite running a .307/.354/.496 slash line. Expect Ramos to return to the lineup sometime in May or June this season, receiving some starts at designated hitter before he’s able to get behind the plate for a full workload.

Designated Hitter: Corey Dickerson

It would be hard to pretend that Corey Dickerson is the Edwin Encarnacion of DH options for the Rays. He isn’t. His .245/.293/.469 slash line and 101 wRC+ don’t scream “watch out pitchers,” especially for a team that ranked among the worst in the league last season in runs scored. In Brad Miller and Ramos though, they have other options to run out at designated hitter if Dickerson proves he’s not up to the task.

First Base: Logan Morrison

Logan Morrison will be returning to the Rays for a second season after being largely league average with his bat in 2016. If he’s able to show that he’s capable of hitting left-handed pitchers over a larger sample size, Morrison may be able to prove his worth as an everyday starter. Given the Rays depth of acceptable, but not astounding options at first base and DH though, it’s likely manager Kevin Cash rotates the chairs on the Titanic early and often with no particular chair worthy of his seat.

Second base: Nick Franklin/Tim Beckham

This one kind of hurts. After having a solidified second baseman in Logan Forsythe for the past two seasons—recording 6.8 WAR over those two seasons—the Rays shipped him out, replacing him with a combination of Nick Franklin or Tim Beckham.

Odds are, the Rays are going to go with Beckham on an everyday basis, but Beckham is certainly no Forsythe. Hitting .247/.300/.434 last season, Beckham is going to provide you essentially league average value at the plate, with a glove that should put him somewhere above league average overall as a second baseman. To put it bluntly though, he’s no Logan Forsythe.

Shortstop: Matt Duffy

One of the integral pieces in last year’s Matt Moore trade with the San Francisco Giants, Matt Duffy performed affably when arriving in Tampa Bay hitting .276/.300/.355 but had his season come to an end early after having surgery on his left Achilles heel.

A third baseman when he made his impressive debut with the Giants two seasons ago, Duffy is expected to continue to play shortstop this season with mainstay Evan Longoria to his right for the foreseeable future. In 153 innings at shortstop last season, Duffy put up an even DRS with slightly above average UZR of 0.7. Don’t look for him to take home any Gold Gloves, but if he’s able to replicate his offensive line from 2015, he could help in replacing Forsythe’s absence on the other side of second base.

Third Base: Evan Longoria

Evan Longoria is still a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. Playing on a team that’s been struggling since their last playoff berth in 2011, it seems every year there’s talk among the baseball community that Longoria is going to be traded. Alas, he’s still here and in 2016 he was as good as he’s been since 2013.

Prior to last year, the narrative surrounding Longoria was that he was going through the typical aging curve of a third baseman having just passed the dreaded 30 year old mark. Last year though, his .273/.318/.521 slash with a career high 36 home runs proved that he’s still one of the premier third baseman in the league.

And that’s good for two reasons. The most obvious one is that if the Rays have any chance of surviving this season and playing meaningful baseball in September, Longoria is the man who’s going to lead that charge. The second is that if the Rays aren’t going to be a playoff contender this season, and are instead looking to initiate a full rebuild, Longoria will be one of the top pieces on the market and would be one capable of bringing in a large haul given that he’s under contract until 2022.


In continuing the unspectacular but above average train that is the Tampa Bay Rays, the club will field an outfield with one star and two slightly above average pieces that collectively define the word, “unspectacular.”

Starting with the star, Kevin Kiermaier is one of the most coveted centrefielders in the game of baseball. In 2016, Kiermaier followed his career season from 2015 with a second Gold Glove in a row while hitting a rather unremarkable .246/.331/.410. That said, it’s not his offence that makes him coveted. Instead it’s the 25 DRS, a mark second to only Mookie Betts in MLB, who also played 53 more games than Kiermaier last season.

This season Kiermaier’s defence will be complimented by the newly arrived Colby Rasmus who is coming off a 2016 season where he posted a 20 DRS of his own with the Houston Astros. Despite the impressive defensive performance last season though, Rasmus staggered at the plate hitting .206/.286/.355 over 417 plate appearances. With a .136 batting average versus left-handed pitchers last season (.212 career), there’s very little chance Cash gives him the full-time position. Look for Dickerson to fill in where needed even though he too has had little experience and success facing southpaws.

That leaves Steven Souza Jr. in right field who’s the paragon of a Tampa Bay Ray—slightly above average but not about to astound anyone. Hitting .247/.303/.409 last season, with average fielding, Souza Jr. is expected to be a mainstay in the Rays lineup again this season, but again won’t be expected to be the driving force behind a run to this year’s playoffs.


After winning 68 games last season, and filling holes rather than building new structures this off-season, Fangraphs projects the Rays to finish with an 82-80 record in 2017. That might seem like a significant upgrade from last year’s team, but if you factor in health along with some more timely luck both offensively and defensively from last year, it’s not ludicrous to suggest the Rays will win 82 games or slightly more this season. Maybe Longoria continues to fight off the aging curve, Archer rebounds, Kiermaier continues catching everything in sight, Ramos mashes in the Trop’ and the Rays play at least one or two meaningful games in September.

Personally, I’m a little more bullish on the Rays. I do think better luck is on the horizon for Rays fans but to the degree of 75 wins and yet another missed playoff run. Important decisions are on the way.

What do you think?