Tampa Bay Rays

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Tampa Bay Rays?


White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Tampa Bay Rays?

As the 2018 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

What’s there to know about the Tampa Bay Rays?

Well, remember all the players on the Rays that you know? Bad news. They aren’t on the Rays anymore.

That’s not entirely true, I suppose, as Chris Archer is still on the Rays. But he’s got to be looking around the home clubhouse at the Trop these days and wondering, “Where’d everybody go?”

Perhaps trying to emulate the other fish-based Florida franchise, the Rays traded away a bunch of players this offseason, making this roster — one that somehow managed to finish third in the American League East last season — unrecognizable.

Evan Longoria, perhaps the best player in this young franchise’s history, was traded to the San Francisco Giants. Jake Odorizzi was traded to the Minnesota Twins. Corey Dickerson was DFA’d, then traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Steve Souza was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. And look at this lengthy list of guys who were lost to free agency: Alex Cobb, Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison, Tommy Hunter and Steve Cishek.

Can someone go check and make sure the rays in that tank in center field didn’t get traded, too?

So who’s left from this offseason purge? Well, there’s Archer, who despite being an awesome face for the game has finished with an ERA north of 4.00 in each of the last two seasons. He’s still really good, at this point almost a lock for 200 innings and way more than 200 strikeouts. But who’s going to help him out?

The additions of 34-year-old Denard Span and 32-year-old Carlos Gomez were … odd. There are two former White Sox in the mix in Micah Johnson, who’s been on like 17 teams since November, and Daniel Hudson, who the Rays got back for Dickerson. Matt Duffy didn’t play at all last season. Kevin Kiermaier only played in 98 games last year but was quite good, having the best offensive season of his career. After an All-Star season for the Washington Nationals, Wilson Ramos missed most of last season, his first with the Rays.

The best player on the team, or at least the one with the best 2017 campaign, is closer Alex Colome, the pitcher whose name begins “Alex Co” that the Rays still employ. He led baseball with 47 saves last year, and that’s on a team that won only 80 games. Mighty impressive. He’s got 84 saves in the last two seasons combined.

That doesn't mean there's not help on the way. Much like White Sox fans, Rays fans can salivate over a potentially promising future. The organization boasts three of the top 25 prospects in baseball: pitcher Brent Honeywell (No. 18), infielder Willy Adames (No. 22) and "first baseman/pitcher" — that sounds fun — Brendan McKay (No. 25). And they have two more guys in the top 100, including shortstop Christian Arroyo, the big piece coming back in that Longoria deal with the Giants. So the future is perhaps as bright as that sunburst in the Rays' logo.

In the end, though, it ain’t shaping up to be a good year in St. Pete, and the catwalk-filled baseball warehouse has only a little to do with that. The post Joe Maddon/Andrew Friedman Era hasn’t gone too well. Meanwhile, Maddon's won a World Series with the Cubs, and Friedman's been to one with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Any other wacky managers and baseball geniuses out there?

2017 record: 80-82, third place in AL East

Offseason additions: Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, C.J. Cron, Micah Johnson, Joey Wendle, Daniel Hudson

Offseason departures: Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson, Steve Souza, Alex Cobb, Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison, Tommy Hunter, Steve Cishek

X-factor: He's not the X-factor, but it's worth pointing out that the Rays do have a player named "Mallex," which sounds like the name of a bad guy in a superhero movie. While Archer looks real lonely on that starting staff, there's some interesting guys around him. Somewhat strangely, the Rays are going to employ a four-man rotation. The X-factor of the bunch is Jake Faria, who in his first big league season last year turned in a 3.43 ERA in 16 games, 14 of which were starts. He struck out 84 batters in 86.2 innings. Past Archer and Faria, you've got Blake Snell, who struck out 119 guys in 129.1 innings, and Nathan Eovaldi, the one-time New York Yankee who missed all of last season.

Projected lineup:

1. Denard Span, DH
2. Matt Duffy, 3B
3. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
4. Carlos Gomez, RF
5. Brad Miller, 2B
6. Wilson Ramos, C
7. C.J. Cron, 1B
8. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
9. Mallex Smith, LF

Projected rotation:

1. Chris Archer
2. Blake Snell
3. Nathan Eovaldi
4. Jake Faria

Prediction: Fifth place in AL East, no playoffs

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants


The Cubs should roll with a 6-man rotation in 2018

The Cubs should roll with a 6-man rotation in 2018

Joe Maddon's former team — the Tampa Bay Rays — is planning on going with a four-man starting rotation in 2018.

But Joe Maddon's current team may be better served by going the opposite route.

The Cubs are in a completely different place than the retooling Rays and with World Series expectations on Chicago's North Side, the season turns into a seven-month-long marathon, not just the six months of regular season.

Theo Epstein's front office has built a team with an eye on playing all the way through the end of October and will need Maddon's coaching staff to keep everybody healthy and peaking at just the right time.

A six-man rotation could be the best way to accomplish that.

The Cubs are always trying to stay ahead of the curve, setting new trends instead of following. Maybe the way the Rays are thinking of things will ultimately be the newest fad, but that also places a lot of pressure on the bullpen to fill more innings than ever before.

The bullpen bubble burst — at least partially — last fall when every team struggled to get consistent outings from their relievers. The World Series was riveting and intense, but part of the reason it went that way was the inability of almost every Astros and Dodgers reliever to consistently get outs.

Cubs relievers faded down the stretch, too, struggling through a couple of rocky months before a rough October. Part of the reason for that was fatigue.

In 2017, the Cubs were coming off a season that stretched past Halloween and featured career highs in innings for several players. They were hoping to ease that burden and in turn, inadvertently put too much on the plate of the bullpen.

Maddon let his starting pitchers throw more than 100 pitches just 46 times last season and only nine times did a starter toss more than 110 pitches. The season high was 116 by Jose Quintana on Sept. 24 in a complete game shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The thought process was simple: Keep your starters fresh and feeling good in hopes of making another World Series run.

But that didn't quite work out for multiple reasons, including the bullpen issues.

Moving to a six-man rotation could be the best of both worlds in 2018. It would give the Cubs a chance to rest their starters more than normal, giving them an extra day in between outings.

And with that extra day of rest, that could mean Maddon may feel more comfortable unleashing his starters for 115 or more pitches when their performance warrants it, thus taking some of the burden off the bullpen. 

The Cubs also have the personnel to do it, with Mike Montgomery ready to step into the rotation at any time. He gives the team six good options in the rotation and even if any starter goes down to injury, they're in a fine position to simply move back down to a five-man turn.

Thanks to the versatility of the Cubs position players, they don't have to carry as many bench bats and can subsequently roll with 13 pitchers on the 25-man roster. So even with a six-man rotation, the Cubs could still have a normal seven-man bullpen.

There are a couple of issues with the whole six-man rotation, however.

For one thing, starting pitchers are extreme creatures of habit and they plan their bullpens and workouts in between starts around the fact they are throwing every five days. It's tough to see a seasoned veteran like Jon Lester easily adapting to getting an extra day in between outings.

When the Cubs have gone to a six-man rotation in the past, Lester and the other starters have been unhappy with the move. If the players won't buy in, obviously there's no real advantage to going against the grain with an unconventional rotation.

There's also the numbers, which indicate nearly every MLB pitcher struggles when facing the opposing order a third time through. The reasoning is simple: Each hitter in the big leagues is the best of the best and the more often they see a guy's stuff or arm angle on a given day, the easier it is to make adjustments.

However, this Cubs rotation may be the bunch to try something new.

Lester, Montgomery, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish all get better as the game goes on and Jose Quintana's jump is hardly worrisome — .690 opponent OPS first time through the order, .675 OPS second time through and .754 OPS third time.

If ever there was a team and a time to move to a six-man rotation, the 2018 Cubs could be it.

It looks like the Cubs are adding more outfield depth


It looks like the Cubs are adding more outfield depth

Warm up the hot stove!

The Cubs reportedly added another minor-league signing Thursday by inking outfielder Peter Bourjos to a deal:

Bourjos is a Park Ridge, Ill., native who turns 31 on March 31. He was in spring camp with the White Sox a year ago, but didn't make the club.

The veteran journeyman has had stops in Los Angeles (Angels), St. Louis, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, as well, playing in at least 100 games in six of the last seven seasons (including the last four). 

Bourjos played in 100 games with the Rays in 2017, starting 46 and hitting .223 with a .655 OPS. 

In his career, Bourjos has been heralded as a speedster and good defender who can play all three outfield spots, but not much of a hitter. His career slash line is .241/.298/.382 (.680 OPS) and that mark has been even worse the last few seasons (.655 OPS since 2014).

As fast as Bourjos is, he hasn't had much stolen base success, either, swiping 66 bags in 98 tries. After breaking into the big leagues and stealing 32 bases in 2010-11, the veteran has just 34 stolen bases in 54 tries since.

Still, Bourjos represents some solid depth for the Cubs. 

He hit far better against lefties (.752 OPS) than righties (.534 OPS) last season and the Cubs could use another right-handed outfielder to provide more options in an outfield that already includes Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, who can sit against tough lefties.

There probably won't be room for Bourjos in the big-league club right away barring injury, but depth in Triple-A Iowa is never a bad thing.

And if the Cubs hang on to Bourjos all year, he could be a welcome addition down the stretch if Joe Maddon needs a pinch-runner or defensive replacement.