Its never easy being a Rays fan.
The only thing which vaguely resembles the experience is playing fantasy baseball in a 12 team league but beginning your draft in the 7th round after the other 11 teams have pillaged the player market of Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Clayton Kershaw and the like.
2017 was an odd year for the Rays, well I suppose every year is a different one for us but this was an exceptionally peculiar year. It began with such optimism, a rotation of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Blake Snell and Matt Andriese, a line up with the bats of Corey Dickerson, Evan Longoria and Steven Souza JR and an outfield with Kevin Kiermaier. To further this we made in a very shrewd addition in Wilson Ramos, an all-star catcher with the Washington Nationals who was coming off knee ligament surgery. Maybe we could be quite good, just maybe.
The Rays got off to a pretty rough start going 12-14 in April, notably 3-10 on the road with dropping series in Boston, Baltimore, Toronto and getting swept in New York to the Yankees. Things picked up in May and June as Cash's side went 30-22 with notable series wins on the road in Cleveland, Texas and Minnesota. By the time the All-Star game came around in mid July, the Rays (47-43) led by All Star Corey Dickerson held one of the wild card positions and were just 3.5 games back from Boston atop of the AL East.
It was at this moment the Rays did something very unlike the Rays. They pulled the trigger on various trades to try and take them to the next level. In came SS- Adeiny Hechavarria (Marlins), RP- Steve Cishek (Mariners), 1B- Lucas Duda (Mets) and RP-Dan Jennings (White Sox). Now I highly doubt you will find anyone close to the team admit it, but my view is that these moves sort of went against the core make up of the Rays and disjointed the clubhouse cohesion which has oh-so often added an extra 10% on the Rays output.
As the season went on, the Rays didn't. They struggled to get hot and subsequently fell quickly behind both Boston and New York finishing the season 80-82 after going 12-13 in July, 13-15 in August and 13-14 in September. One of the key factors for this was Corey Dickerson's dramatic second half slump, something which inevitably lead to his off-season trade (something I will revisit later). The All-star DH went .312/.355/.548 with 17 HRS before the mid season classic and hitting .241/.282/.408 with 10HRs in the second half of the season.
Comings & Goings:
OF- Carlos Gomez (1yr $4m)
1B- CJ Cron (Trade via LAA)
OF- Denard Span (Trade via SF)
RP- Dustin Mcgowan (Minor League)
RP- Vidal Nuno (Minor League)
RP- Sergio Romo (1yr $2.5m)
Evan Longoria (Traded to the San Francisco Giants)
Steven Souza JR- (Traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks)
Jake Odorizzi- (Traded to the Minnesota Twins)
Corey Dickerson- (Traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates)
Brad Boxberger- (Traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks)
Logan Morrison - (Free agent signed by the Minnesota Twins)
Lucas Duda- (Free agent signed by the Kansas City Royals)
Alex Cobb- (Unsigned Free agent at time of writing)
Steve Cishek- (Free agent signed by the Chicago Cubs)
Tommy Hunter- (Free agent signed by the Philadelphia Phillies)
Going back to my original analogy of playing fantasy baseball but drafting your first pick in the 7th round, that is the way the Rays operate. And I don't have a problem with way it. Obviously we don't have the financial power of 95% of the league, we can't give players the payday they want and probably deserve when they hit the open market. We play baseball today, with tomorrow in mind, which undoubtedly makes the good times so much better on the rare occasion they come around.
In saying goodbye to Longoria and the rest of the names on the obituary list above its pretty evident that the front office are tearing it down for future to blossom. We've been mediocre for a while and maybe bought to much into the false hope of the first half of last season. But truth be told, we have had 4 consecutive losing seasons and had a lot of money tied up in Longo. Yes, I was sad to see Evan go, yes I would inevitably miss him, yes I wish we didn't do it. But that's the business of baseball for us small market teams. In return, Christian Arroyo, the 5th best thirdbase prospect in the country. Immediately a reason to be optimistic. When pinned with fellow trade acquisitions of Jose De Leon and Willy Adames, to accompany the drafted talent of Brent Honeywell (who has since had TJ surgery), Blake Snell and Brendan McKay the reason for optimism in Tampa is rife.
Rather than listing off fluffy reasons of why I don't think we will struggle that much this year, because its pretty evident that we will struggle (Vegas have our win total at 76, which I think is 10% too high!), I will instead give you a handful of prospects to follow this season as and when they come up. Dont look at the rain tricking down the window, look at the sunny weather forecast for tomorrow.
Brendan McKay (LHP/1B) - Despite going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 6 starts in A ball last year, his skill set is considered to have significantly more upside as a hitter. Taken with the 4th pick in the draft last season, the chances of McKay reaching the Majors are relatively low, but that doesn't mean he is not an exceptional talent for the future.
Willy Adames (SS)- The shortstop came to Tampa in exchange for SP David Price on the trade deadline in 2014 and has since sat atop of the Rays farm system. Having slashed .277/.360/.415 with 10HRS from short in AAA ball last season except Adames to become the Rays everyday shortstop in the not so distance future.
Brent Honeywell (RHP)- Inevitably the future ace of the club, the righty went 12-8 in AAA in 2017 averaging 11k's per 9. Despite unfortunately suffering elbow tendon damage in Spring training and having Tommy John surgery ruling him out of the 2018 campaign, he is arguably the most exciting pitching prospect in the country .
Jake Bauers (1B)- In all likeliness the former San Diego prospect will become the Rays every day first baseman in 2018. Acquired as the center piece prospect in the trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego, Bauers spent 2017 in AAA Durham slashing .263/.368/.412 with 13HRS.
Christian Arroyo (3B)- Having grown up in the Tampa area, being the centre piece in the Evan Longoria trade was very much a homecoming for Arroyo. Currently rated as the 5th best third base prospect in the country, he will more than likely see the day to day job in the hot corner becomes his in 2018. Despite bouncing between the Majors and AAA in 2017, Arroyo managed to hit .396 in just over 100 plate appearances for the Giants AAA affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats.
Chris Archer gets traded to the Dodgers in July
Wilson Ramos gets traded at the deadline
Carlos Gomez gets traded at the deadline.
Denard Span gets traded at the deadline.
One to Watch:
Brendan McKay- The Rays very own Shohei Otani