In this, the second and final part of two synopses will provide an early winter preview of the team along with the roster possibilities and likely trades.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the best teams in baseball since the start of the 2008 season, however they finished the 2015 campaign at 80-82, a three-game improvement from 2014 to go along with just their second losing record since becoming the Rays in 2008 and their first back-to-back losing seasons since 2006-2007.
With the 2015 season behind, it’s time to look forward to the 2016 season and the first winter synopsis of the New Year, but before heading into the preview, it’s time to look at what the Rays divisional foes added to their rosters since the conclusion of the World Series.
Boston went on a spending spree landing former Ray’s starter David Price via free agency and in a trade with San Diego netting top closer Craig Kimbrel, the New York Yankees made two big trades that will bolster not only their lineup, but their bullpen as they acquired second baseman Starlin Castro from the Cubs and closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds.
The Orioles added former Ray’s relief pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser, catcher Steve Clevenger and outfielder Mark Trumbo via a trade with the Cleveland Indians. But more importantly, the O’s were able to re-sign Chris Davis. The Toronto Blue Jays made the majority of their moves prior to the trading deadline last July, but exercised their club options on outfielder Jose Bautista, starting pitcher R.A. Dickey, outfielder Edwin Encarnacion and agreeing on new contract with starter Marco Estrada.
Although Matt Silverman (Ray’s president of baseball operations) pulled off a trade on Nov. 5 with the Seattle Mariners in which the Rays acquired outfielder/first baseman Logan Morrison, shortstop Brad Miller and right-hander Danny Farquhar. The trade doesn’t add up to what the other AL East clubs pulled off and the reason being is that the Rays are at a financial disadvantage that is growing by leaps and bounds in more than one way and have been for many years. However, the Rays will continue to seek the best players available at a reasonable cost whether via trade, through free agency or off the waiver wire.
2016 Early Winter Synopsis
Arrivals: Hank Conger (acquired via trade from Houston), Chase Whitley (acquired off waivers from NY Yankees), Dana Eveland (minor league contract), Danny Farquhar (Acquired via trade from Seattle), Logan Morrison (Acquired via trade from Seattle), Brad Miller (Acquired via trade from Seattle)
Departures: Nathan Karns (traded to Mariners), C.J. Riefenhauser (traded to Mariners), Boog Powell (traded to Mariners), Joey Butler (claimed off waivers by Indians), Daniel Nava (FA-signed by Angeles), Brandon Gomes (DFA-signed by Cubs), J.P. Arencibia (DFA-signed by Phillies), Kirby Yates (traded to Indians, DFA by Indians, signed by NY Yankees), Jean Beliveau (FA-signed by Orioles), Jake Elmore (FA-signed by Brewers), Asdrubal Cabrera (FA-signed by Mets), John Jaso (FA-signed by Pirates), Grady Sizemore (FA), Ernesto Frieri (FA-signed by Phillies), Everett Teaford (Minor League FA), Jose Dominguez (FA- signed by Padres)
Leading off with the early winter synopsis is the Rays infield with returnees Evan Longoria (3B), Logan Forsythe (2B), James Loney (1B) and newcomers Brad Miller (SS) and Logan Morrison (1B/DH).
The November trade with Seattle brought in Brad Miller and Logan Morrison, two positional players that are capable of providing some pop and in the case of Miller, replacing Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. Miller for the most part has been penciled in as the everyday shortstop; however there is speculation that could change as Marc Topic of the Tampa Bay Times wrote in a piece from early December there are no guarantees that will happen. There should be some competition coming from Tim Beckham and Nick Franklin, but I fully expect Miller to earn the position outright.
Morrison, a first baseman will have some opportunities in the outfield, and as well as DH. From an offensive standpoint, he does have more home run power than what John Jaso provided and certainly has much more than incumbent first baseman James Loney. However, Morrison and Loney both are left-handed and between them the Rays will shell out about 20% of its payroll to them alone… with a salary hit of $9.7 million, plus incentives that will increase to his earnings to $10 million, there is a very good chance that Silverman will entertain all offers for Loney and make a deal before or during spring training.
Nick Franklin entered spring training last year as the favorite to takeover second base, however there was competition from Logan Forsythe and as well from Asdrubal Cabrera and Beckham. Franklin would eventually sustain an oblique strain leaving Forsythe and Beckham to battle it out. Forsythe won the battle and ran with the opportunity by having a career year in his first season as an everyday player.
Evan Longoria the elder statesman of the club returns to man the hot corner. Last season he played in 160 games (tied for third most in the majors) where he leads the majors with 482. It was the third straight year of playing in 160 games or more. He led the team with 21 HR, 73 RBI, 35 doubles, 604 at-bats, 74 runs and 57 extra-base hits and is the longest-tenured Ray and as well is the club’s all-time leader with 205 HR, 708 RBI, 261 2B, 479 XBH and .485 SLG.
Following the infield is the outfield that will return center fielder and Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier, right fielder Steven Souza Jr., and a platoon of Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer and Mikie Mahtook in left. Jennings, Kiermaier and Souza combined to hit just 27 home runs along with 87 RBIs, which doesn’t cut it… but when you factor into account that Jennings missed most of the year on the DL (28 total games played) one wonders how much playing time he’ll actually get with the emergence of Mahtook, the addition of Morrison, the versatility of Miller and Richie Shaffer.
Trade-bait – infielders: Nick Franklin, Tim Beckham
Kevin Kiermaier may have tallied five No. 1 web gems on ESPN and 10 for the season, but it was his defense that saved the day. In 133 starts in center, he led all major league players with 42 Defensive Runs Saved, led all major league center fielders with 15 assists, one shy of Melvin (B.J.) Upton Jr.’s club record for a CF (2008). Furthermore, in Baseball America’s Best Tools survey of major league managers, he was named the No. 1 Best Defensive Outfielder (tied with Lorenzo Cain, Royals) and No. 3 Best Outfield Arm in the American League. He has batted exactly .263 with 10 HR in each of his first two seasons and led the Rays in triples (12), stolen bases (18) and batting avg. with RISP (.297), the seventh best in the AL East and 22 of his 40 RBI came with 2 out, second most on the team along with winning his first and the Rays second player to win the Rawlings Gold Glove Award (see video).
In his first fully healthy season in the majors, Brandon Guyer established career highs across the board and played in 128 games, 79 starts (39-LF, 17-CF, 20-RF, and 3-DH) and he also started all 53 games against lefties, 52 of those at leadoff. Additionally, he was one of three AL players to start at least 15 games at all three outfield positions and his .994 fielding pct. ranked fourth among AL outfielders.
Despite striking out 144 times in 426 plate appearances Steven Souza Jr., finished the season tied for third among AL rookies with 16 HR, despite missing 45 games with two stints on the disabled list. He made 102 starts (101-RF, 1-DH), and finished second among major league rookies with 8 outfield assists, most by a Rays rookie since Delmon Young in 2007 (16).
His six different stints with the team in which he started 24 games at all three outfield positions (10-RF, 9-CF, and 5-LF), Mikie Mahtook led all AL rookies (min. 100 AB) with a .619 SLG and .970 OPS and ranked third with a .295 batting average. He set a Rays rookie record with 5 hits, going 5-for-5 with 2 doubles and tied the Rays franchise record (eighth time) and became just the third Ray with a 5-hit game at Tropicana Field.
Richie Shaffer didn’t produce in during his brief cup of coffee with the big club (.189, 4 HR, 6 RBI, 32 K’s in 74 at-bats) but hi minor league numbers cannot be overlooked. In 393 ABs he belted 26 home runs, 27 doubles and drove in 72 runs. Although his natural position of third is currently held by Longoria, he could very well see at-bats with playing time in the outfield and at first.
Catchers Rene Rivera, Curt Casali and Hank Conger will battle it out for the top spot, although Rivera is still listed as the top back-stopper, expect Casali and Conger to push Rivera out of the picture. Casali clubbed 10 homers and added 18 RBI in 101 AB, Conger cracked 11 HRs and added 33 RBI in just 200 AB and Rivera very quietly saw his No. 1 status removed by Casali despite making a career high 87 starts, 64 of those coming in the first 91 games. His .178 batting average was third lowest among major league players (min. 250 PA) and his .213 OBP and .489 OPS were the lowest. As well, he made 11 errors, 4 more than any other AL catcher.
Trade-bait – catchers: Rene Rivera
As for the bench and designated hitter, the Rays will likely have Mikie Mahtook, Richie Shaffer, Nick Franklin, Tim Beckham, Brandon Guyer, Rene Rivera (if not traded) and Logan Morrison having at-bats in the DH spot as well all coming off the bench at one time or another.
In regards to their pitching, the team will head into spring training with arguably the best rotation in the division despite the loss of Alex Cobb till sometime in August following Tommy John surgery and the trade of Karns. Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi are penciled in as four of their starters with Erasmo Ramirez and Matt Andriese vying for the final spot, though Ramirez has the upper hand. However, there has been a lot of speculation that Smyly, Moore, Cobb or Odorizzi could be dealt before or during spring training, which could give rookie sensation Blake Snell the opportunity to compete for a spot in the rotation.
The bullpen always seems to go through offseason makeovers and this season will be no different. Rumors continue to float that the team is looking to deal former closer Jake McGee who was displaced by Brad Boxberger as the closer. McGee is under the Rays control for two more years before he’s eligible for free agency and will earn $4.8 million as he and the Rays avoided arbitration with a new one-year deal signed on Friday. He is most likely to net an impact player in return, which is one area the team lacks.
With the addition of Danny Farquhar via a trade with Seattle, the return of Xavier Cedeno, Alex Colome, Enny Romero and Steve Geltz the pen looks all shored up, although Andrew Bellatti or Matt Andriese could challenge for a spot.
Trade-bait – Pitchers: Jake McGee, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly