2018-2019 Offseason Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Felipe Zwanzger – November 15, 2018

2018 Record: 90-72 (3th in AL East)

2018 Payroll: $69,610,000 (29th)


Oakland Athletics v Tampa Bay Rays
Source: Last Word on Baseball

Projected 2019 Lineup

All player projections for 2019 from Steamer

  1. CF Kevin Kiermaier  .237 AVG/.305 OBP/.393 SLG/2.8 WAR
  2. 3B Matt Duffy            .270 AVG/.333 OBP/.377 SLG/1.3 WAR
  3. LF Tommy Pham      .255 AVG/.351 OBP/.428 SLG/3.0 WAR
  4. C Mike Zunino           .209 AVG/.283 OBP/.409 SLG/1.9 WAR
  5. DH CJ Cron                 .242 AVG/.306 OBP/.441 SLG/0.8 WAR
  6. 1B Jake Bauers          .233 AVG/.326 OBP/.387 SLG/0.6 WAR
  7. 2B Joey Wendle         .255 AVG/.302 OBP/.375 SLG/1.3 WAR
  8. SS Wily Adames        .247 AVG/.322 OBP/.379 SLG/1.0 WAR
  9. RF Austin Meadows .264 AVG/.333 OBP/.416 SLG/0.8 WAR

Projected 2019 Rotation:

  1. Blake Snell              189 IP/3.23 ERA/1.19 WHIP/4.0 WAR
  2. Tyler Glasnow        147 IP/3.91 ERA/1.34 WHIP/2.2 WAR
  3. Ryan Yarbrough     140 IP/4.51 ERA/1.39 WHIP/0.9 WAR
  4. Yonny Chirinos      118 IP/4.28 ERA/1.32 WHIP/1.1 WAR
  5. Jalen Beeks             110 IP/4.19 ERA/1.36 WHIP/1.3 WAR

Season Recap

Moneyball 2.0 is in the works in Tampa Bay. The Rays posted their best season since 2013 by winning a surprising 90 games in 2018, easily surpassing most if not all preseason predictions. What makes this most impressive is that the 90 wins came with little to no contributions from Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brent Honeywell, who figured to form the core of the team this past season. Instead it was breakout seasons from likely AL CY Young Blake Snell, rising rookies Ryan Yarbrough and Joey Wendle, and an impressive power show from CJ Cron that propelled the team to success.

Source: USA Today

The Rays made noise on May 19th as Sergio Romo became the team’s “opener”, a role which he saw transferred to Ryne Stanek throughout the year. Their unconventional method of using relievers drew the ire of many, but for the Rays, helped them maximize the contributions from their pitching staff. The Rays bullpen ranked 5th in the AL with a 3.80 ERA and led the league in innings pitched and strikeouts (albeit with a much higher volume of work than any other team in the league).

Tommy Pham (2.6 WAR in 39 Games) and Ji-Man Choi (1.0 WAR in 49 Games) proved to be savvy trade-deadline pickups by the front office. The Rays also traded Chris Archer to the Pirates for a surprising return given Archer’s frustrating performances over the past few seasons. Tyler Glasnow showed flashes of the potential that once made him a consensus top prospect in baseball, while fellow prospect Austin Meadows made his presence felt in the lineup by posting a 114 OPS+ in 2018.

Source: MLB Trade Rumors

Offseason Preview

The one glaring hole in the Rays lineup was at catcher, and this need was filled rather quickly. The Rays traded Mallex Smith (who may be one of the more underrated players in baseball) to acquire catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia. Aside from that, it’s unlikely that the Rays make any other significant offensive additions, given that prospect Christian Arroyo (whom they acquired for Evan Longoria) and Daniel Roberson (2.6 WAR in 2018) give the Rays remarkable offensive depth. The possibility of non-rendering CJ Cron may make the Rays players for Nelson Cruz, who would look fantastic playing at Tropicana Field and makes sense for the team given that a two-year deal may be all it takes to lock up the masher (163 homeruns since 2015 is the third-most in baseball during that time).

The bullpen needs to be addressed with the departure of Sergio Romo via free agency and release of Vidal Nuno. The Rays could decide to ease prospects Jose DeLeon and Brent Honeywell back into action following Tommy-John surgery by stashing them in the bullpen and giving them the flexibility to pitch multiple innings, although they won’t be ready to so until the second half of the season at the earliest. The Rays only have about $30 million in contract commitments for the 2019 season, giving them ample flexibility to add another impact hitter and a few bullpen arms. Nonetheless, I expect the Rays to fill bullpen vacancies via trade. Someone like Yoshihisa Hirano of the Diamondbacks (3.69 FIP and WHIP of 1.08) would seem like a reasonable trade target given that the Diamondbacks may be looking to sell and Hirano is under contract through 2019 for just $3 million, which plays well for the small market Rays. If the Rays are able to eat some of that salary, it may only take a mid to low-tier prospect to pry Hirano away from the D-Backs.

Source: ESPN

The Big Picture

The Rays shocked many by winning 90 games in a division with two 100-win teams. While winning 90 games again may be a stretch for this team, finishing with a record over .500 seems well within reach as they try to compete for a Wild Card spot. The Rays benefit from an immense amount of financial flexibility (even in the small market they call home) and manager Kevin Cash continues to get the most out of his players on a nightly basis. The Rays may be kept in check by the Yankees and Red Sox in the top-heavy American League East during 2019, but much like this year, this team is far better than what we think.

2019 Predictions

  • Predicted Record: 88-74
  • Team MVP: Tommy Pham
  • Team CY Young: Blake Snell 
  • Free Agent Prediction: Nelson Cruz to a 2 year, $20 million deal
  • Trade Prediction: Acquire Yoshihisa Hirano from the Diamondbacks
  • Player to Watch: Kevin Keirmaier 

Bold Season Predictions

  • Christian Arroyo supplants Matt Duffy as the everyday 3B by the All-Star game
  • Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell both finish with ERA’s below 3.30 and 180 innings pitched
  • Joey Wendle follows up his impressive rookie season with a 5.0 WAR season in 2019.

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