Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Tampa Bay Rays.
This is a season of change for the Rays, starting at the top as GM Andrew Friedman left to take a job with the Dodgers and manager Joe Maddon exercised on opt-out in his contract to head out of Tampa and become the manager of the Cubs. In terms of players, the team made several trades, sending such players as SP Jeremy Hellickson, OF Wil Myers, 2B Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar out of town. A lot of key players heading out but not a lot of big-name players coming to the means it’ll be tough for the team to improve much from its fourth-place finish in the American League East in 2014.
All of these changes come following a season of poor offensive performances but decent pitching stats. Of the main holdovers from last year, only 1B James Loney hit better than .253 in 2014 while 3B Evan Longoria had a down year, hitting just .253 with 22 home runs, 10 fewer than the 32 he hit the year before. On the pitching side, SP Alex Cobb — who is expected to be atop the starting rotation when the season begins — is coming off a season in which he had a 2.87 ERA in a career-high 166.1 innings. RP Grant Balfour returns to the closer role after posting a 4.91 ERA with only 12 saves in 65 appearances in 2014.
If the Rays want to contend for the division in 2015, Longoria will have to have a bounceback year and improve on last year’s numbers because the offense is likely dependent on him being the leader. Balfour will have to pitch better this year to save games for the starting pitchers or risk losing his closer job.
So what does this all mean? Even if things go right for the Rays, they’re probably the fourth-best team in the division, at best, and could end up finishing in last place in the East, which would be the first time since 2007 they finished a season in the cellar. It’ll be a tough season for first-year manager Kevin Cash.