This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Rays, who are ushering in the post-Joe Maddon era with first-year manager Kevin Cash. Maddon was great at a lot of things, but maybe it’ll be a welcome respite for the players to not have to deal with wild animals and Mariachi bands in the clubhouse every other day.
Projected Lineup: LF Desmond Jennings, DH John Jaso*, SS Asdrubal Cabrera*, 3B Evan Longoria, 1B James Loney, RF Steven Souza*, CF Kevin Kiermaier, C Rene Rivera*, 2B Nick Franklin
Projected Rotation: RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Chris Archer, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Alex Colomé
* new additions
The Rays said goodbye to a lot of old faces this winter, and lost a bit of their soul in the process.
Joe Maddon, the fearless leader who brought this franchise out of the dark ages: gone. Ben Zobrist, consummate grinder and the most consistently productive Rays player for the past decade: gone.
Who are the Rays without those two guys?
The answer, at least for the immediate future, is not very good.
The offseason flowchart for any small market team starts with the question: Can we compete? If the answer is no, the mission is to get younger. The younger a team can get, the better chance they’ll have at competing a few years down the road.
The Rays’ window closed as soon as they traded David Price away last July. With that setting the rebuild in motion, it was time to clean house. A flurry of trades this winter added substantial depth, though it may not be apparent on the field immediately. Guys like shortstop Daniel Robertson, though you won’t see him in the big leagues this season, are expected to be a big part of the Rays’ future success.
But one guy you will see is Steven Souza, who is already famous for making the diving catch that clinched Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter for the Nationals last season. As a major part of the big three-team trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego, Souza is out to prove he does more than make amazing diving catches (not that the Rays are complaining).
The Rays would gladly take a season like the one Souza enjoyed in Triple-A last year. He won International League MVP as well as Rookie of the Year honors, slashing an outstanding .350/432/.590 with 18 homers and 26 stolen bases. Look for Souza to see a lot of playing time, as he’s one of the guys around whom the Rays will be building.
The Rays’ pitching is in shambles, but only temporarily. Starters Alex Cobb, Alex Colomé and Drew Smyly, as well as closer Jake McGee are all injured to start the season, so the rest of the staff will be stretched very thin.
The good news is that they’re all expected to be back by the end of April, so the Rays will only have to survive a month of digging into the depths of their organization for pitching help.
One guy who will get a few starts in the interim is Nate Karns, one of the organization’s top prospects who until now was expected to be a bullpen arm. But he’s been starting this spring, and has been lights out, posting a 2.03 ERA in four starts. If he can pitch that well in the regular season, I’m not sure if the organization will let him go back to bullpen.
The bullpen appears pretty solid, with Brad Boxberger and newcomer Kevin Jepsen headlining the late innings. Both are dominant right-handers who can keep runs off the board while racking up the K’s.
The righty-heavy corps will be missing injured lefty closer Jake McGee until late April or early May, when he is expected to return to his ninth inning role.
It will be a year of non-contention for the Rays as they take the opportunity to get a good look at their young talent. In a few years, it’ll be up to these guys to usher in a new era of successful Rays teams.
Projected Finish: 70-92, Fifth place in AL East