Our previews of the AL East teams, part of our look at all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season, continue with the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished in last place in the division last season.
After finally finding some success from 2008-2013, the Rays are coming off of three straight seasons of sub-.500 baseball; last season’s 68-94 mark is the team’s worst record since winning 66 games in 2007. Entering 2017, it doesn’t seem like the team will right the ship anytime soon. The biggest free-agent acquisitions this offseason were OF Colby Rasmus and C Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from ACL surgery and won’t be ready to play until sometime in the May to July timeframe, with the date varying by different reports. Among the team’s losses are SP Drew Smyly and 2B Logan Forsythe, who were traded to the Mariners and Dodgers, respectively, for mainly minor-leaguers. In the deals, the Rays did acquire P Jose De Leon, who should get a chance to compete for the fifth slot in the rotation, and OF Mallex Smith, who will provide some depth in the outfield as a backup and spot starter. 3B Evan Longoria remains the one offensive star on the team. Top-of-the-rotation SP Chris Archer is also still with the team despite being mentioned as part of trade speculation this winter.
The Rays’ .243 batting average was the third-worst in Major League Baseball, but they were closer to the middle of the pack with a .733 OPS thanks to their 216 home runs ranking sixth in the majors. Longoria’s .273 batting average led the team’s starters, while his 36 home runs also led the team. He also had a .840 OPS, and his 41 doubles ranked as No. 6 in the American League while his 330 total bases were eighth most in the AL. SS Brad Miller was second on the team with 30 home runs — a vast improvement from the 11 he hit in 2015 — but hit just .243, which was a 15-point drop-off from the year before. OF/DH Corey Dickerson added another 24 home runs. The team’s 4.20 ERA was just below the MLB-average 4.18 ERA and the team’s 1,357 strikeouts finished in the top 10. The bullpen’s 42 saves put the team near the bottom of the league. Archer had a disappointing year after three strong seasons; he posted a 4.02 ERA but still totaled 233 strikeouts over 201.1 innings that resulted in a 9-19 record in 33 starts. SP Jake Odorizzi put up a 3.69 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 187.2 innings. He made 33 starts and posted a 10-6 record, the only starter to finish the season with double-digit wins and a record above .500. After getting the call-up around midseason, rookie SP Blake Snell made 19 starts and put up decent numbers: a 3.54 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 89 innings. RP Alex Colome led the bullpen with 37 saves to go along with a 1.91 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 57 appearances.
Rasmus could add some more power to the offense — he’s hit a total of 40 home runs in the last two seasons — but he hasn’t hit better than .238 in the last three seasons so he likely won’t help the team’s batting average, which is where they need to see improvement on offense. The concern with pitching lies with Archer, whose ERA last season was about a half-point worse than his career average. And there’s a question if he’ll be even be with the team by the time the season ends in early October. With trade talk surrounding him during the offseason, it seems inevitable that the chatter will pick up again around the time of the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, but he still has several years left on a team-friendly contract so the Rays could choose to hold on to him. If Odorizzi can maintain the numbers he put up last season and if Snell can keep his performance up for an entire season, they could see an uptick in performance if Archer can get back to the performances he put up from 2013-2015 rather than the lackluster stats he had last season.
The Rays were a last-place team last season, and that’s likely where they’ll finish again this season. As mentioned in previous previews, the AL East is a tough division and the Rays are the worst team in it. The Red Sox are looking to be one of the best teams in the league, and the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles all appear to be playoff contenders, leaving the Rays in the basement of the division. They don’t have the hitting to keep up with the strong offenses in the division.