30 Clubs in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays

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.

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2017 Results:

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

Depth Chart:

C-Wilson Ramos, Jesus Sucre

1B-CJ Cron

2B-Brad Miller, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle

3B-Matt Duffy

SS-Adeiny Hechavarria, Christian Arroyo

LF-Mallex Smith

CF-Kevin Kiermaier, Denard Span (DH)

RF-Carlos Gomez

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

Coaching Staff:

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

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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?

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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.

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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.

 

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Kansas City Royals

The NFL Scouting Combine continued, this time the quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends were the participants. Quick takeaway, Josh Allen is about as perfect a physical specimen as you’re going to find, the problem of course being that his numbers in games were not very good. But again, after the combine is over I’ll have a breakdown of what I saw in addition to that day’s edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. So with that, let’s get to the Kansas City Royals.

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2017 Results:

Record: 80-82, 22 games behind Cleveland Indians, 5 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: 1B Lucas Duda, SP Wily Peralta, RP Blaine Boyer, SP Jesse Hahn, 2B Ryan Goins, OF Tyler Collins

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B Eric Hosmer, CF Lorenzo Cain, 3B Mike Moustakas, DH Brandon Moss, SP Jason Vargas, SP Chris Young, RP Mike Minor, RP Joakim Soria, RP Ryan Buchter

Best Offensive Player: C Salvador Perez

Best Pitcher: Danny Duffy

Depth Chart:

C-Salvador Perez, Drew Butera

1B-Lucas Duda

2B-Whit Merrifield, Raul Mondesi

3B-Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier

SS-Alcides Escobar

LF-Alex Gordon

CF-Paolo Orlando

RF-Jorge Bonifacio, Jorge Soler (DH)

SP-Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel, Jesse Hahn, Nate Karns

Bullpen-Kelvin Herrera (CP), Wily Peralta, Brandon Maurer, Kevin McCarthy, Miguel Almonte, Brian Flynn

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Ned Yost (9th season with Royals)

Hitting Coach-Terry Bradshaw

Pitching Coach-Cal Eldred

1st Base Coach-Mitch Maier

3rd Base Coach-Mike Jirschele

Bench Coach-Dale Sveum

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Did the Royals win their World Series at the perfect time or what? Basically as soon as they hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy after Wade Davis struck out Wilmer Flores to end the 2015 season, the Royals have been preparing for this moment and at long last it has come: the Royals need to rebuild. I mean just take a look at that “notable offseason subtractions” list. You could fill a pretty quality roster with those guys. I should mention, though, that Mike Moustakas, as of this writing, is still unsigned so it’s not totally unthinkable that he returns to Kansas City considering they had a 7-year deal ready for Eric Hosmer. But with all those losses to their core, let’s take a look at who is returning to Kansas City.

1. Alcides Escobar-SS

2. Whit Merrifield-2B

3. Alex Gordon-LF

4. Salvador Perez-C

5. Lucas Duda-1B

6. Jorge Bonifacio-RF

7. Paolo Orlando-CF

8. Jorge Soler-DH

9. Cheslor Cuthbert/Hunter Dozier-3B

I’ve definitely seen worse, though I’ve also seen far better. The only guy still of note here is Salvador Perez, whom I consider to be the best all-around catcher in the American League. He’s a skilled hitter, is hard to run on behind the plate, and does a good job working with a pitching staff. The main issue with Perez is how he’s used. Catchers typically require more days off than any other position player but Perez seems to be the exception to that rule, though the Royals’ coaching staff seem to be wising up to this. Perez played in 150 games in 2014 and since then his games played totals have gone down in each year, bottoming out at 129 (which is more typical for catchers) in 2017. You may also notice that his home run totals have gone up in every season of his career, boasting a career high 27 bombs in 2017. This suggests that the extra rest has really aided his long-term level of play. Alex Gordon’s play has dropped significantly since the Royals won the World Series and 2017 was probably his worst season since he was threatening to become a catastrophic bust early in his career. Despite continuing to play the best left field in all of baseball, Gordon was atrocious at the plate in 2017, hitting .208 with 9 home runs, 45 RBI, reached base at a .293 clip, slugged a measly .315 and was replacement level with a 0.0 WAR in 148 games played. Like I said before, Gordon’s defense is excellent, but those numbers at the plate are just unacceptable. Offensively as a whole the Royals were just 24th in baseball in runs scored in 2017 and now they’ve lost their three best offensive threats in Hosmer, Cain, and Moustakas. Kansas City is going to struggle to score runs this season.

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Kauffman Stadium is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the game and the Royals typically play very good defense so I’m not too concerned about how they’re going to pitch despite lacking any real star power on the mound. Though to be fair, when they won the World Series in 2015 their Game 1 starter was Edinson Volquez (they did have Johnny Cueto at the time, though he was a midseason addition and he didn’t pitch that well upon joining the Royals). So the Royals are used to succeeding on the mound without superstars in their rotation. Danny Duffy is their ace and he is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball. Last season he went 9-10 with a 3.81 ERA, a 3.46 FIP, struck out 8 batters per 9 innings, and only let up 0.80 HR/9. He has plenty of arm talent and will more than likely get the Opening Day nod for the Royals provided he can stay healthy, which has been an issue as he’s only qualified for the Major League minimum in innings pitched once in his career (2016). The rest of the rotation is made up of some filler guys, such as Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel. They did acquire Jesse Hahn from the A’s in exchange for Brandon Moss, which provides them with some decent depth in their starting rotation, however they lack a true ace, just a bunch of #3-caliber starting pitchers. But again, Kauffman Stadium is very favorable towards pitchers so I don’t think a lack of star power is going to hinder these guys too much.

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There’s a lot to be desired with the Royals’ bullpen. Closer Kelvin Herrera is extremely talented, as his fastball is consistently around 98 mph, but he had a down year in 2017 as he carried a 4.25 ERA a year after back-to-back 2.7 ERA campaigns. Herrera also doesn’t strike out nearly as many batters as you’d expect for a guy who throws as hard as he does, as he’s typically somewhere in the 8 K/9 range and has eclipsed 10 K/9 in a season just twice (2013 and 2016). After him, there’s not much. Wily Peralta was the Opening Day starter for the Brewers a couple times but he hasn’t had a sub-4 ERA since 2014 and last season was particularly disastrous as he had a 7.85 ERA in 8 starts before moving to the bullpen to make 11 more appearances. Brandon Maurer is a talented reliever but 2017 was his second season where he carried an ERA over 6, though his FIP was sub-4, suggesting he was significantly better than his ERA might suggest. There still is much left to be desired in this Royals bullpen however the Kauffman Stadium effect does apply here and will likely help their overall numbers.

Overall, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Royals somewhere near the cellar of the AL Central. In fact, I’d probably put them there if the Tigers weren’t looking so terrible. The Royals aren’t going to be very good, but I don’t expect them to be abysmal. Ned Yost is a good enough manager to where I think he could help this team steal some series’. I think the best case scenario for this Royals team is that they’ll be pesky and cause some teams problems, however they won’t be much more than that and will be looking to try and secure a high draft pick.

Projected Finish: 74-88, 3rd in AL Central

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow where I preview the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were one win away from winning their first World Series since 1988. Let me know what you think of the Royals’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.