Sorry, Tampa Bay Rays, your World Series trophy is in another castle. Maybe near that new stadium site that might be a reality one of these years.
Four of the five teams in the AL East remained playoff contenders into mid-September. Can you guess the one that didn’t? Yep, these Rays, who at the time of this post were 64-86, the only sub-.500 team in the division. There has to be one, right?
Like we’ll do with every eliminated team in our Game Over series, we’re about to examine what went wrong for the Rays, what went right, what’s the best 2016 memory, what they need to fix and what the future might hold.
WHAT WENT WRONG
There were a number of poor outcomes for the Rays this season — they didn’t play particularly well in their division. Or on the road. They didn’t have a single winning month. But really, it all comes back to pitching. The Rays’ strength has always been on the mound and at the start of the season it looked like a rotation led by Chris Archer (who many people predicted as a Cy Young candidate) could be their path to success. The rotation featured high-upside arms such as Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore. As a whole, they disappointed, with a 4.19 team ERA, ranking 18th in MLB. Archer has struck out a lot of batters, but his 4.05 ERA and 8-18 record ain’t winning the Cy Young. Odorizzi was pretty good, but Smyly and his 4.86 ERA didn’t take a step forward. Moore, as you’ll see below, contributed mostly by getting traded. (Mike Oz)
WHAT WENT RIGHT
There isn’t much that went right for the Rays, but their front office made a smart trade on Aug. 1 when they sent pitcher Matt Moore to the Giants and got back a package that included Lucius Fox (not the DC Comics character but the top international shortstop in 2015) and 2015 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Matt Duffy. Both could definitely factor into their future. Back in their present, thirty-year-old third baseman Evan Longoria, who is signed with Tampa Bay through at least 2022, had his best year since 2012. Longoria has been worth 3.9 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference, so he has singlehandedly prevented the Rays from losing 100 games. (Liz Roscher)
TOP OF THE FLAGPOLE (aka THEIR BEST MOMENT)
It wasn’t a regular season game but its significance went well beyond baseball. The Rays visited Havana in March to play an exhibition game against the Cuban national team. How big of a deal was it? President Barack Obama was in attendance, as he became the first U.S. president to make a trip to Cuba since 1928, and Derek Jeter was there, too. Tampa Bay won 4-1, but the final score was far from what was the most important on this day. The game was a symbol of the improving diplomatic relations between the two countries and the hope is that a mutual love of baseball can help that relationship blossom. (Israel Fehr)
CHANGES THEY NEED TO MAKE
During the Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman years, we knew the Rays as overachievers. Now it seems like they’ve become inconsistent and possibly complacent as they wrap up their third straight losing season.
One reason the Rays always remained relevant was their ability to restock and rebuild on the fly. There was always another crop of prospects ready to make an immediate impact and keep the ball rolling. That’s been missing lately, as they’ve struggled in the draft and have yet to see great returns from the David Price or Wil Myers trades. This is an organization that must build from the ground up. Right now though, there’s no foundation. (Mark Townsend)
WARP INTO THE FUTURE
There are a few youngsters, however, to be excited about: Blake Snell made his major-league debut in 2016 and the future looks bright. Sure, he could cut down on his walk rate a bit, but everything else about Snell says top-of-the-rotation talent. His fastball can reach 95 mph from the left side, and he complements that with a strong slider, curve and improving changeup. An already strong rotation added another talented youngster this year.
Shortstop Willy Adames and pitcher Brent Honeywell should also join the club next year. They don’t have the same upside as Snell, but both could prove to be solid major-league contributors. Honeywell throws a screwball, so that’s pretty neat. (Chris Cwik)
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