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Know Your Enemy: 2021 Tampa Bay Rays

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The American League Champions will try for the 4th Division Title in 2021

American League Championship Series Game 7: Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Rays had one of the best seasons in their franchise’s history in 2020, leading the American League in wins with a 40-20 record (a 108 win pace), ultimately making it to the World Series. That was their third Division Title, and second trip to the World Series since they became a thing back in the 90s. Unfortunately for them, they fell short again, but they are bringing back much of the group that got them there.

Notable Outgoing Players

Blake Snell, SP
Charlie Morton, SP
José Alvarado, RP
Nate Lowe, 1B
Hunter Renfroe, OF

Snell, who was famously taken out early of Game 6 of the World Series, was traded to the Padres, freeing the Rays from their obligations towards the untenable $40.5m owed to him over the next 3 years.

Also departing the rotation is Charlie Morton, whose 2 year deal with the Rays turned out quite well. In his 42 starts for the Rays, he gave them 18 wins with a 3.33 ERA, producing an impressive 7.0 fWAR.

On the offensive side, they lost the depth that Nate Lowe and Hunter Renfroe provided.

Notable Incoming Players

Francisco Mejía, C
Rich Hill, SP
Chris Archer, SP
Michael Wacha, SP
Luis Patiño, SP
Collin McHugh, RP

Mejía and Patiño were two of the big pieces that came back in the trade that sent Snell away. Mejía will work in tandem with catcher Mike Zunino to start the season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the former top 100 prospect seize the bulk of the work behind the plate by mid-season. Patiño has already been optioned to the Minors, and will provide the Rays with some near-ready Major League depth for their rotation.

Hill, Archer and Wacha are all slated to start the year in the rotation, while McHugh gives them a multi-inning reliever for the bullpen.

Likely Batting Order

(as per Roster Resource)

Austin Meadows, DH
Brandon Lowe, 2B
Randy Arozarena, LF
Ji-Man Choi, 1B
Manuel Margot, RF
Joey Wendle, 3B
Willy Adames, SS
Kevin Kiermaier, CF
Mike Zunino, C

Roster Resource thinks that there is going to be a platoon situation with Meadows and Choi coming out against lefties in favour of Yandy Díaz and Mike Brosseau. Choi is terrible against lefties, and despite his home run off Anthony Kay from the right side of the plate, he isn’t a switch hitter. Meadows isn’t quite that bad against lefties, and may not be on the bench against all lefties.

The outfield defense will be spectacular once again, held down by the phenomenal gloves of Kiermaier in CF and Margot in RF. Playoff hero Arozarena, who was arrested in Mexico in November for alleged domestic assault but not charged, has not had a decision levied towards him regarding a potential suspension. If he’s playing all season, he’s likely a front runner for AL Rookie of the Year, given the showing he gave in October.

The infield will be strong to start the season, with 2020 standout Brandon Lowe (rhymes with “wow”) at second, while the left side of the infield will be Willy Adames and Joey Wendle. They’ll be there until baseball’s top prospect Wander Franco comes along and pushes Adames off SS, which could be as early as just after the super-two cutoff.

Pitching Rotation

Tyler Glasnow, RHP
Rich Hill, LHP
Chris Archer, RHP
Ryan Yarbrough, LHP
Michael Wacha, RHP

The Rays have what appears to be a legitimate group of starting pitchers, and probably won’t be trotting out too many Openers this season, given health.

Behind this solid group is a quartet of youngsters that are pretty much ready to go. The aforementioned Patiño pitched in 11 games for the Padres last year, while Josh Fleming got 7 games for the Rays. Shane McClanahan might be more likely to end up in the bullpen, but is being stretched out as a starter at the moment. The biggest name of this group, Brent Honeywell Jr., was a huge prospect a few years ago, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy. But he’s healthy now and has “Rays’ success story” written all over him.

Likely to miss the entirety of the 2021 season, Yonny Chirinos went for Tommy John surgery in August last year. If he does make it back, he could be in line for some bullpen work down the stretch, but don’t expect to see his name this season.

Bullpen

As the Rays normally do, they’ve got a bullpen full of unknown guys who throw 100, and are ready to dominate. The trio of Pete Fairbanks, Diego Castillo and Nick Anderson are set to take the high leverage spots.

Behind those three, the Rays will probably cycle through several lesser known guys, with Ryan Thompson, Collin McHugh, Chaz Roe and Cody Reed probably getting the ball most often.

Jalen Beeks and Colin Poche both went for Tommy John last summer as well, so they’ll likely be gone all season. Former Blue Jay Oliver Drake has been out since the playoffs with a torn flexor tendon, and will be gone for a few months at least.

2021 Outlook

Fangraphs surprisingly has them winning just 84 games, placing 4th place. PECOTA has them at 86, finishing in second place.

I don’t think either of these are high enough for the Rays. They’re a solid team on the position player side, with excellent defense, decent depth and the excitement of Wander Franco coming soon. On the pitching side, they’re a solid group with great depth, and I would say they’ll allow the least amount of runs in the division (Fangraphs agrees, by a whole 0.01 runs per game). I’d say 90 wins is a reasonable prediction, but for the over/under let’s go with whether you think they’ll beat the projections.

Poll

Over/Under 86.5 wins

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    Over
    (102 votes)
  • 26%
    Under
    (37 votes)
139 votes total Vote Now

Poll

I expect the Rays to finish...

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    First
    (25 votes)
  • 44%
    Second
    (65 votes)
  • 37%
    Third
    (55 votes)
  • 0%
    Fourth
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Fifth
    (0 votes)
146 votes total Vote Now