Tampa Bay Rays
2018 Record: 90-72
Third Place, AL East
Team ERA: 3.74 (6th)
Team OPS: .740 (12th)
What Went Right
Blake Snell showed signs of improvement in the second half of the 2017 season, and he rode that momentum to a monster breakout in 2018. The left-hander posted a microscopic 1.89 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 221/64 K/BB ratio over 180 2/3 innings across 31 starts, notching 21 victories in a likely American League Cy Young-winning campaign. There were ups and downs, but Tyler Glasnow’s first impression with the Rays after arriving from Pittsburgh in the Chris Archer trade was a mostly positive one, as he held a 4.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 64/19 K/BB ratio over 55 2/3 frames covering 11 starts. Nathan Eovaldi also pitched well after making it back from Tommy John surgery with a 4.26 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 53/8 K/BB ratio over 57 innings across 10 starts before a trade sent him to the Red Sox. Tampa had a number of relievers/openers post strong seasons, from Ryne Stanek (2.98 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 81/27 K/BB ratio over 66 1/3 frames) to Jose Alvarado (2.39 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 80/29 K/BB ratio over 64 innings) to Diego Castillo (3.18 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 65/18 K/BB ratio over 56 2/3 innings) and more. Joey Wendle was acquired from the A’s on the cheap last winter and turned into an AL Rookie of the Year candidate with a .300/.354/.435 batting line, seven homers, 61 RBI and 16 stolen bases. Mallex Smith stole 40 bases and got on base at a healthy .367 clip. He didn’t produce much in the way of counting stats, but Matt Duffy hit a solid .296/.361/.366 and finally stayed mostly healthy. C.J. Cron put together his first 30-homer campaign (heck, it was his first 20-homer campaign). Injuries cut his season short, but Daniel Robertson posted a .382 OBP before going down. Wilson Ramos hit a healthy .297/.346/.488 with 14 dingers before being dealt to the Phillies. Tommy Pham put up a 1.071 OPS over 39 games after being acquired from the Cardinals.
What Went Wrong
After an excellent rookie season, Jake Faria flopped in his sophomore year, holding a 5.40 ERA over 17 appearances – 12 starts – and spending a large chunk of the season injured or in the minors. Chris Archer posted a 4.31 ERA between 27 starts for the Rays and Pirates, saw a dip in his strikeout rate (25.4 percent) and made his first-ever trip to the disabled list. Fantasy owners that drafted closer Alex Colome got an up-and-down two months (4.15 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) before he was traded to the Mariners to be a setup man. Pitching prospects Brent Honeywell, Jose De Leon and Anthony Banda all had Tommy John surgery. Kevin Kiermaier was again limited by injury, this time missing two months with a torn thumb ligament. And, unlike the previous two seasons, he was worthless with the bat when healthy, sporting an ugly .217/.282/.370 batting line. Brad Miller continued to tumble in the wrong direction with a .256/.322/.429 line before being designated for assignment and ultimately traded to Milwaukee (where he was eventually DFA’d again). Jake Bauers got off to a nice start in his first bit of action with the big club but faded badly down the stretch, finishing with a .201/.316/.384 line. Carlos Gomez’s .634 OPS ranked 203rd out of 214 players that had at least 400 plate appearances.
**Can Tyler Glasnow finally take a big leap in his first full season with the Rays? Glasnow has flashed dominance but ultimately disappointed for the most part on the whole during his time in the majors to this point. However, he showed encouraging signs after the Rays stuck him in their rotation for the final two months of the season. If you remove his one disastrous start against the Blue Jays when he yielded seven runs over two-thirds of an inning, Glasnow posted a 3.11 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 63/17 K/BB ratio over 55 innings across 10 starts for the Rays. The floor with Glasnow is really low because he can be so wild, but his control was much improved in Tampa and his strikeout potential is sky-high. The Rays are likely to continue employing the opener strategy in 2019, but Snell and Glasnow look locked into rotation spots.
**Brent Honeywell was considered by some to be the top pitching prospect in baseball when he went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in February that required Tommy John surgery. The young right-hander figures to get a late start to the 2019 season after missing all of 2018 and probably won’t be an option to join the Rays’ rotation until June or so. However, if Honeywell’s stuff bounces back post-op, his ceiling is enormous. He struck out 172 over 136 2/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A in 2017.
**What can Joey Wendle do for a follow-up? Wendle was picked up from the A’s for a player to be named later last offseason and had a pretty nondescript first three months of the season, but something clicked when the calendar flipped to July and the utility player hit a robust .335/.397/.515 with five home runs, 40 RBI, 40 runs scored and 10 stolen bases across 71 games the rest of the way. Wendle doesn’t stand out in any one area and will turn 29 next April, but he looks like a late bloomer. The left-handed swinger can handle southpaws just fine, does a little bit of everything and boasts multi-position eligibility.
**Tommy Pham was considered a top-20 fantasy outfielder coming into 2018 following his huge showing in 2017, but he flopped for the first four months of the season in St. Louis and the Cardinals shipped him to the Rays at the trade deadline. After a 2-for-22 start to his Rays career, Pham hit an eye-popping .388/.479/.711 with seven home runs, 21 RBI, 32 runs scored and five stolen bases over his final 32 contests. The big finishing kick allowed Pham to finish as the top-20 fantasy outfielder he was drafted as. Pham will turn 31 next March and still hits way more groundballs than you’d like, but his 48.5 percent hard-hit rate ranked fifth in the majors and he should continue to be a nice power/speed threat as long as he can stay healthy.
**Will Austin Meadows have a full-time gig heading into next season? The Rays acquired Meadows from the Pirates at the trade deadline in the Chris Archer trade but kept him down in the minors until late September as they played some service time games. As it stands right now, Tampa appears set in their outfield next year with Kevin Kiermaier, Tommy Pham and Mallex Smith. That said, it’s a long ways until Opening Day and Kiermaier is no bastion of health. Meadows faded after a scorching start with the Pirates this season but was still impressive overall in his first taste of the majors with a .785 OPS, six homers and five steals over 59 tilts. The 23-year-old could be a dynamic power/speed option once he’s holding down an everyday job.
Team Needs: There’s buzz that the Rays could trade C.J. Cron rather than give him a raise in arbitration, which seems a bit odd at first blush considering he hit 20 percent of their home runs this season. However, the idea is they’d replace him with someone who is more versatile and gets on base at a higher clip. Tampa could use some thump in the middle of their order and it wouldn’t be a bad idea – even with the opener likely to return – to get another stabilizer for the rotation. They could also potentially be in the market for a closer after seven different relievers notched saves for them in 2018.