Posted on March 17, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Tampa Bay Rays

Image via usatoday.com

The Tampa Bay Rays were not far away from a playoff spot last season. However, they made several moves over the winter that weren’t necessarily aimed at being competitive in 2018. Was there a method to Tampa Bay’s madness this offseason or did they doom themselves to a lackluster 2018 season?

Rotation

Tampa’s rotation has long been the team’s biggest strength, but the Rays may be taking a step back this year. First, the Rays traded Jake Odorizzi to the Twins and then lost prospects Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon to Tommy John surgery. They also declined to re-sign Alex Cobb, who was arguably their best starting pitcher last season.

That being said, the Rays still have Chris Archer to serve as their ace. Youngsters Blake Snell and Jake Faria also appear ready to pitch at the top of Tampa Bay’s rotation. However, there are some questions beyond those three. Nathan Eovaldi will claim the final rotation spot, as the Rays are set to go with a four-man rotation this year.

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Going with a four-man rotation is a risky strategy, especially with Eovaldi coming off Tommy John surgery. However, the Rays need to maximize the number of starts they get from their best pitchers. More importantly, with Odorizzi and Cobb out of the picture and Honeywell and De Leon unavailable, the Rays are lacking in rotation depth, so health will be of the utmost importance.

Bullpen

The Rays also had an excellent bullpen in 2017, but again, they have lost some key pieces. Key setup men like Tommy Hunter, Brad Boxberger, Danny Farquhar, and Chase Whitley are all pitching elsewhere this season. That quartet combined for 180 innings last season, and none of them had an ERA any higher than 4.11, leaving a huge hole in Tampa’s bullpen.

The good news is that Alex Colome is back as the team’s closer. He should help to solidify things at the back end. Re-signing Sergio Romo should help as well, and Dan Jennings should give the Rays a reliable lefty coming out of the bullpen. But outside of that trio, the Tampa bullpen will rely largely on unproven pitchers. The Rays are high on Jose Alvarado, Andrew Kittredge, and Chih-Wei Hu, who were all effective at times last season. However, all three still have limited big league experience. In short, the Rays aren’t sure what to expect from too many of their relievers outside Colome and Jennings.

Lineup

The Rays were second to last in the American League in runs last season, and this offseason they parted ways with their four most important offensive players. Evan Longoria, Steven Souza, and Corey Dickerson were traded, while Logan Morrison signed with the Twins. To be fair, the Rays have added some pieces to replace them, but Tampa’s lineup will look far different in 2018 than it did a year ago.

If nothing else, the Rays should have plenty of speed. Carlos Gomez was signed in free agency, and he’ll join Kevin Kiermaier and Mallex Smith in the outfield. That will give the Rays speed in their lineup and a great defensive outfield. However, the Rays will be lacking in power. With the loss of Longoria, Souza, Dickerson, and Morrison, the Rays lost 115 home runs from last season.

Brad Miller, C.J. Cron, and Wilson Ramos should provide some power in the middle of the order, and Gomez should contribute as well, but not as much as the Rays are going to need. The team is also without an ideal DH. As it stands, fourth outfielder Denard Span could get most of the at-bats in that spot.

Who will replace Longoria at third base is also a mystery. Matt Duffy is in line for the job, but he missed all of last year with an injury. Christian Arroyo is a promising prospect who could handle the hot corner, but he struggled offensively in his first taste of the big leagues with the Giants last year.

If there’s a silver lining it could be that help is on the way in prospects like Arroyo, Willy Adames, and Jake Bauers. However, that help may not arrive soon enough to help the Rays become a competent offensive team this season.

Prediction

The Rays surprised some people by going 80-82 last year. But they are almost certainly going to see a significant drop off in wins this season. Tampa’s rotation is good enough to avoid a complete disaster, but they’ll definitely feel the loss of Odorizzi and Cobb. Also, their bullpen is less solidified than a year. The Rays also have to replace their most impactful offensive players. Look for the Rays to finish 70-92, a step backward while the Rays wait on some of their top prospects to reach the majors.

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