Tampa Bay Rays
2016 Record - 68-94
Fifth Place, AL East
Team ERA: 4.20 (16th)
Team OPS: .733 (17th)
What Went Right
Evan Longoria bounced back after two down years, giving the offense two legitimate All-Star-type pieces in him and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. Brad Miller shook off a horrible April and fulfilled his offensive potential by hitting 30 homers at age 26. Both Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi recovered from disappointing first halves to pitch well down the stretch, and Alex Cobb made a successful return from Tommy John surgery in September, putting the rotation in a very good position headed into 2017.
What Went Wrong
This shouldn’t have been a 68-94 team. The Rays finished with a 100 OPS+, which is perfectly average. The pitching staff, with a 97 ERA+, was only a tad below average. Put the Rays in a different division and they likely would have finished much closer to .500. Still, there were some big issues. OBP was a serious problem, and no one who finished the year on the team topped a .333 mark. The rotation was quite a disappointment early on. The catcher spot was a black hole the entire season. Miller looked more like a first baseman than a shortstop, which limited his value somewhat. The bullpen, apart from closer Alex Colome, was subpar.
** Matt Duffy played third in San Francisco, but the Rays picked him up in the Matt Moore deal with the idea that he could be a long-term shortstop. Unfortunately, he was hurt at the time of the deal and played just 21 games for the Rays before shutting it down. Still, he’s penciled in as a 2017 starter and he should be a defensive upgrade over Miller, who figures to start at first base or maybe left field if the Rays decide to reconfigure their outfield.
** The Rays tried to turn Nick Franklin into their new Ben Zobrist at the end of the year. In just the final two months, he got significant playing time at first base, second base, shortstop and both outfield corners. He also hit well, finishing at .270/.328/.443 in 174 at-bats in spite of a little slump at the end that followed a hamstring injury. Franklin will be a threat for 15 homers and 15 steals if he gets 400 at-bats next season. That said, he still might not be a very good major leaguer; he didn’t rate well defensively anywhere and his on-base ability remains suspect.
** 2017 has to be a make-or-break season for Steven Souza. Two years after the deal, the Rays look like huge losers in the three-team trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego, Trea Turner and Joe Ross to Washington and Souza to Tampa Bay. Souza has struggled to stay healthy and finished with OPSs in the .710s both seasons in Tampa Bay. The power is there for him to threaten 30 homers, but he strikes out way too much, he hasn’t walked like he did in the minors and he hasn’t proven to be all that strong in right field. Plus, he’s turning 28 next April. The Rays likely will stick with him as a regular for now, but time is running out for him to step it up.
** Despite trading Moore at midseason, the Rays still finished the season with an abundance of pitching. Rotation options for 2017 include Archer, Odorizzi, Cobb, Blake Snell, Drew Smyly, Matt Andriese, Erasmo Ramirez and Chase Whitley. Also, in prospects Brent Honeywell, Jacob Faria and Chih-Wei Hu, the team has three more guys who could be ready by midseason. At least one starter figures to be traded for offensive help or prospects this winter.
** Snell is probably the least likely of all of those guys to be traded. In his 19 starts as a rookie, he had the best ERA (3.54) and FIP (3.39) on the staff. Control was an issue, and he couldn’t pitch deep into games while walking 51 batters in 89 innings. Still, some first-year jitters probably played a role there. His ability to avoid the home run ball was just as prevalent in the majors as it was in the minors, so as he cuts down on the walks, he could emerge as a top-40 fantasy starter next year.
Key Free Agents: Logan Morrison
Team Needs: A new catcher is the big priority, but the Rays aren’t likely to spend the money to land Matt Wieters or Wilson Ramos. Ideally, the Rays would also land a quality corner outfielder to either push Corey Dickerson to the DH spot or start over Souza. It won’t come through free agency, but perhaps through the trade of a starting pitcher.