The Tampa Bay Rays made a lot of noise this off-season. Very little of it was popular with their frustrated fan base. Evan Longoria, arguably the most recognizable player in franchise history, was shipped out for a trio of minor leaguers. They also parted ways with Logan Morrison, Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson, Lucas Duda and Alex Cobb among others. The return for all these moves was not much aside from C.J. Cron and Carlos Gomez.
2018 Tampa Bay Rays
The first question that comes to mind after the shake-up is where will the offense come from. Last season the team was next to last in the American League in runs scored (just one ahead of Toronto). The extensive off-season moves means that four of their top five leaders in OPS from last season – Morrison, Dickerson, Souza, and Longoria – are not coming back. So if last year’s team struggled at the plate, this year’s version may be downright anemic. Cron has ample power but will have little help around him. Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is a recognizable name for his outstanding defense but has never had more than 40 RBI in a season. The Rays are high on young infielders Christian Arroyo and Willie Adames though both are ticketed to start the year in Triple-A. Consequently, Matt Duffy is penciled in at third base and incumbent Daniel Robertson will play second. Wilson Ramos will return for his second season as the Rays catcher.
Replacing Longoria as the face of the franchise is starter Chris Archer. The Rays will to turn to lefty Blake Snell in lieu of Odorizzi or Cobb as their number two starter. Snell, highly touted since being a first-round pick in 2011, has yet to live up to his billing. He is going to be heavily counted on in 2018 despite a career 11-15 record at the major league level to this point. Manager Kevin Cash has said the team will have a four-man rotation to start the season so look for Jake Faria and Anthony Banda to fill the remaining spots. One potential bright spot for fans in 2018 could have been the debut of top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell. Unfortunately, he tore his UCL early in spring and will miss the entire campaign after Tommy John surgery.
The Rays bullpen might be the strongest aspect of the team. All-Star closer Alex Colome had 47 saves in 2017 and is the anchor. Former starters Nathan Eovaldi, Matt Andriese and Daniel Hudson are available to soak up innings. If the early season four-man rotation idea stumbles, any of those three can give the team spot starts.
Time will tell whether the shedding of contracts and surplus pitching will pan out long term. Fielding a competitive team when the new stadium in the Ybor City neighborhood opens in a few seasons is the plan. But they still have to play this season. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where the Rays will keep pace in the highly competitive AL East.
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