A look at who’s done best, worst for Rays at quarter mark of season

ST. PETERSBURG — With the Rays reaching the quarter pole of their season this weekend, there’s a temptation in picking an MVP to go off the normal path and suggest it would be baseball operations president Erik Neander or one of his player personnel experts.

That’s because with all that has gone wrong with the Rays taking a 19-20 record into play Saturday, it would have been a lot worse if not for the contributions of players added this offseason. Several acquired in small deals have had a big impact, such as shortstop Jose Caballero, catcher Ben Rortvedt, starter Ryan Pepiot and infielders/outfielders Richie Palacios and Amed Rosario.

But we’ll play it straight and go with the players, which makes it a tough call between Caballero and third baseman Isaac Paredes (all stats are through Friday).

Caballero stepped into the shortstop void created by Wander Franco’s legal issues and Taylor Walls’ slow-to-recover-from hip surgery. With his edgy play, he has both anchored the Rays’ infield and sparked their offense, including an American League-leading 15 steals.

Paredes is the more traditional choice, with a .293 average, .894 OPS and a team-leading eight homers, 20 RBIs and 1.1 WAR rating, plus solid defense at third base. His contributions have stood out even more, given the struggles of the other veteran hitters.

Winner: Paredes. Runners-up: Caballero, Jason Adam

Most pleasant surprise

Pretty much everyone on that newcomers list, plus outfielder Jonny DeLuca in a small sample size, would be considered here.

Rosario, signed in mid-spring for a bargain $1.5 million, boosted the Rays early, hitting .350 into late April while playing multiple positions. Rortvedt, acquired just before opening day, provided unexpected offense (.333 average, .813 OPS) with the expected strong work behind the plate. Pepiot was the team’s most consistent starter until being knocked out of the May 5 game after being hit by a line drive. DeLuca gave the Rays a big spark after being activated from the injured list on May 3.

Palacios provided the most-needed help — quality left-handed at-bats — given the absences of Jonathan Aranda, Brandon Lowe and Josh Lowe to injury. Palacios also has played strong defense in the corner outfield spots (and more recently at second base) and added much-needed energy, his .282 average and .831 OPS providing proof.

Winner: Palacios. Runners-up: Caballero, Rortvedt

Most missed

The smart-aleck answer would be Randy Arozarena, who played in 38 of the first 39 games but has played like himself only a handful of times, posting a .143 average and .533 OPS. The same could be said about Yandy Diaz, with his .237/.595 start.

But the list is supposed to include players whose absence created the biggest void. Further clarification: Franco actually would be the “winner,” but we’ll disqualify him given his legal problems and stick to injured players.

That leaves the Lowes, closer Pete Fairbanks and starter Taj Bradley, who made his season debut on Friday.

Adam’s strong work (0.66 ERA over his last 13 outings) has offset Fairbanks’ absence. Though Bradley’s injury forced Tyler Alexander and Jacob Waguespack to start or work bulk innings in eight games, the Rays have won five.

Josh’s combination of power and speed make him the more impactful Lowe, but Brandon’s home run swing and steady defense at second make him the most missed.

Winner: Brandon Lowe. Runners-up: Josh Lowe, Bradley

Biggest disappointment

The Rays’ record and some of their stats make clear there is a long list of candidates in this category, starting with Arozarena and Diaz.

But, as both show signs of warming and have track records, there are bigger.

The Rays spent all winter and spring unequivocally touting Rene Pinto as their starting catcher. Then, after acquiring Rortvedt, they decided after a month (with a .214 average and .720 OPS) to pull the plug, sending Pinto to Triple A and calling up Alex Jackson.

With no options and limited trade appeal, Jose Siri likely isn’t going anywhere and will get chances to play. But what he’s done so far, including being pulled from a game for lack of hustle in the field, has not been good: .170 average, two homers, .531 OPS, 41.7 strikeout rate (45 in 108 plate appearances), minus 4 defensive runs saved.

Winner: Siri. Runners-up: Pinto, Arozarena, Diaz, Fairbanks

Rays rumblings

The Rays have the toughest remaining schedule in the majors, per’s strength of schedule metric, after having had the easiest up until this weekend, per … Veteran reliever Chris Devenski was ID’d as the nimble-fingered prankster who on Wednesday attached a gum-rimmed cup to Taj Bradley’s cap, where it sat unnoticed for several innings. … One way to look at the report that accusations will be filed against Franco in a Dominican Republic court in June is an indication that a resolution finally may be near. … Friday’s game opened a stretch of 13 straight against AL East teams. … A Tricia Whitaker-hosted Rays All-Access show on radio broadcaster Dave Wills, who died in March 2023, debuted Saturday on Bally Sports Sun and repeats throughout May. … With the St. Petersburg City Council’s second workshop on the Rays stadium proposal pushed back from May 23, the vote on the deal seems likely to be delayed until after the Council’s June 14-July 7 break. … … Shocking news about the Thursday passing at age 43 of Sean Burroughs, a 1998 first-round pick of the Padres who played briefly for the Rays and at Triple-A Durham in 2006. ... Pride was bursting in the “It still fits” comparisons Wednesday as TV talker Doug Waechter did an on-field segment in his 1999 instructional league T-shirt jersey while colleague Brian Anderson sported his 2008 team undershirt and uniform pants (though with new sliding shorts underneath). … First baseman Kyle Manzardo, traded to Cleveland last year for Aaron Civale, was called up last week but was off to a 2-for-14 start through Friday. … Congrats to Scott Cursi on his 26th season with the Rays, 19 as a bullpen catcher and now seven as the umpires’ locker room attendant. ... Relievers and crossword puzzle buffs Colin Poche and Fairbanks will attend and compete in the June 6 Voices of Hope for Aphasia’s Word Play gala; see for details. … Arozarena tied for third with White Sox outfielder Luis Robert on’s list of big-name players who could be traded, based on Mark Feinsand’s survey of 20 front-office executives; Alex Bregman (Astros) was first, Pete Alonso (Mets) second. … ESPN graded the Rays’ first month performance a D. … You’d think an owner would know better, but after being swept by the Rays last week, the Mets’ Steve Cohen posted on social media: “Tough weekend in Tampa.” … First-base prospect Xavier Isaac went 5-for-5 with two homers, seven RBIs and two walks in high-A Bowling Green’s doubleheader sweep. … If the Blue Jays’ ongoing underachieving leads to the firing of manager John Schneider, might ex-Rays manager Joe Maddon be a change in style and a good fit? … ESPN’s early mock draft projects Plant High/Florida star Jac Caglianone going No. 3 overall to Colorado.

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