Some positives from Justin Turner’s broken wrist, he won’t need surgery. It’s unknown when he will return but the term “weeks,” not “months” was used when talking about his return, which is a good sign. On a lesser front, Nationals star second baseman Daniel Murphy is expected to miss Opening Day as he’s still recovering from October knee surgery. Since joining the Nationals in 2016, Murphy has been on the best run of his career, including hitting .322 last season. Also, the Orioles signed Alex Cobb to their rotation, basically just leaving Greg Holland as the last remaining free agent of note. With that, let’s get to today’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days featuring the Tampa Bay Rays.
Record: 80-82, 13 games behind Boston Red Sox, 5 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card Spot
Notable Offseason Additions: OF Carlos Gomez, 1B CJ Cron, RP Daniel Hudson, RP Dan Runzler, SS Christian Arroyo, CF Denard Span,
Notable Offseason Subtractions: 3B Evan Longoria, RF Steven Souza Jr, LF Corey Dickerson, SP Alex Cobb, 1B Lucas Duda, 1B Logan Morrison, SP Jake Odorizzi,
Best Offensive Player: CF Kevin Kiermaier
Best Pitcher: Chris Archer
C-Wilson Ramos, Jesus Sucre
2B-Brad Miller, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle
SS-Adeiny Hechavarria, Christian Arroyo
CF-Kevin Kiermaier, Denard Span (DH)
SP-Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jacob Faria, Nate Eovaldi
Bullpen-Alex Colome (CP), Dan Jennings, Matt Andriese, Sergio Romo, Daniel Hudson, Chaz Roe, Jose Alvarado, Dan Runzler
Manager-Kevin Cash (4th season with Rays)
Hitting Coach-Chad Mottola
Pitching Coach-Kyle Snyder
1st Base Coach-Ozzie Timmons
3rd Base Coach-Matt Quatraro
Bench Coach-Charlie Montoyo
The Rays blew the everloving shit out of their lineup from last season. In 2017, the Rays as a team hit 228 home runs, 6th best in baseball. In the offseason, they lost each of their top 4 home runs hitters in Morrison, Souza, Dickerson, and the former face of their franchise Longoria. It’s going to be weird seeing a Rays team without Longoria manning the hot corner. It’ll be the first time since they dropped the “devil” out of their name before the 2008 season that he wasn’t the everyday third baseman. With all that subtraction, here’s how the Rays are slated to line up in 2018.
1. Carlos Gomez-RF
2. Kevin Kiermaier-CF
3. Brad Miller-2B
4. CJ Cron-1B
5. Wilson Ramos-C
6. Matt Duffy-3B
7. Mallex Smith-LF
8. Adeiny Hechavarria-SS
9. Denard Span-DH
Not great. There’s not a single bat in that lineup that puts fear in the heart of pitchers. Sure there’s some quality defense in that lineup, particularly in centerfield with Kevin Kiermaier, but at the plate there’s a lot to be desired. Kiermaier spent a lot of time on the DL last season but was still able to provide a lot of value to the Rays. He hit .276 last season with 15 home runs, 39 RBI, 16 stolen bags, and was worth 3.0 WAR. He’s better known for being arguably the best defensive centerfielder in the game and that’s where a lot of his value comes from but he’s also a pretty good hitter in his own right. I can’t toot his horn too much because he went to Purdue so I’m going to stop right there. Brad Miller has had a weird tenure in his two seasons with the Rays. His first season with the team saw him hitting 30 bombs after a previous career-high of 11. In 2017, he hit 9. Injuries played a big part in that but the dropoff is pretty enormous, especially when you consider how big a dip his rate stats took as well. In 2016, Miller hit .243 but also slugged a pretty good .482, resulting in a league average 2.0 WAR. That dropped significantly to a .201 average and .337 SLG, resulting in a -0.1 WAR, all of which are abysmal numbers. It’ll be interesting to see which Brad Miller we get this season, the one that was one of the biggest power-hitting middle infielders in the game? Or the one who can’t hit the broad side of what Jabba the Hut calls an ass?
The pitching situation is going to be interesting in Tampa. I always find that they seem to develop good pitching every year and this season is no different, as there are a lot of talented young arms in the rotation. But that’s where the intrigue lies. The Rays are going to experiment with a 4-man rotation as opposed to the traditional 5, which you may have noticed when I listed the Rays’ depth chart. You gotta wonder how that’s going to affect their preparation. However the oldest guy between Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jacob Faria, and Nate Eovaldi is Archer at 29 (wait, shit, seriously? Guy looks like he’s 19) so it’s not like they’re dealing with some old dogs who refuse to change their routine. But it’ll be interesting to see how this works out because like I said, this is a talented bunch. Archer is one of those guys who is a much better pitcher than his stats might indicate. Last season Archer had a 4.07 ERA but a 4.6 WAR (All Star-level) and a 3.40 FIP with the 5th best K/9 rate at 11.15. Apparently he’s just been the victim of bad luck. Blake Snell has shown some flashes of being an ace-level pitcher but so far he hasn’t been able to put it all together. Faria had a 3.43 ERA last season and may quietly be one of the better pitchers in the American League. I remember hearing one anecdote that said if you were to start a pitching staff with no names, based on just the eye test alone, Nate Eovaldi would probably be the #1 choice. I can’t really argue with that, since the guy’s fastball consistently touches 98 and he’s got a pretty good curveball to boot but for whatever reason, he just seems to get hit. He hasn’t pitched since 2016 thanks to Tommy John surgery but he appears to be ready to go in 2018.
The Rays bullpen leaves a lot to be desired. Alex Colome is the only real pitcher of note, being their closer, and he saved 47 games last season, the most in baseball by about 6 saves over Kenley Jansen, however his rate stats aren’t nearly as impressive as the Dodgers’ stopper. Colome had a 3.24 ERA and only struck out about 7 batters per 9. That’s by far the lowest number out of any closer in the top 10 in saves last season (next lowest is Fernando Rodney at 10.57). If he can’t bring that K/9 rate up, the Rays could be in trouble in the 9th inning. After him, Sergio Romo was quietly really good for Tampa last season, posting a 1.47 ERA in 25 appearances, which is really encouraging because he’s had a rough tenure since losing his closer’s job with the Giants so many years ago. Other than those guys, though, nobody in the Rays’ ‘pen is really worth talking about here.
Overall, I don’t think the Rays are going to be any good. They blew up their team in the offseason and I sincerely doubt they’re going to be any threat for a Wild Card spot, let alone the AL East. Yet they always find some way to play the role of pesky spoiler and I wouldn’t put it past them to be that team that costs another team a playoff berth. That just seems to be what the Rays do. But in all, I wouldn’t argue you too hard if you were to tell me the Rays are going to be the worst team in the American League in 2018.
Projected Record: 68-94, last in AL East
That’s going to do it for today’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I discuss the Texas Rangers, who may need to take a long look at whether or not to blow up the team and start a rebuild after toying with being a World Series threat the last couple years. Let me know what you think of the Rays’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.