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Catching up with the AL East: The Rays

They are perhaps the darkhorse of the AL.

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, we will be taking a look at the Red Sox competition in the American League East and digging into what their roster look likes. Obviously the world is throwing a wrench into our normal schedule, but there doesn’t seem like there will be any changes between now and whenever the season does start, so this look should still be relevant whenever the season does start. With that said, given that we don’t know when the season will start I will be taking some liberties when applicable to decide whether or not injured players will be healthy by the time the season begins. Today we look at the Rays.

Offseason Additions

Hunter Renfroe, OF; Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, OF/3B/DH; José Martínez, 1B/OF/DH; Manuel Margot, OF; Randy Arozarena, OF

The Rays, as one would expect, didn’t make any major splashes in the free agent market, but that doesn’t mean they sat on their hands over the offseason. They made a few additions to the roster, and given how much they like to shuffle players in and out on a daily basis chances are they know exactly what kind of role they have pegged for each and every one of these guys. Renfroe will provide big power, Tsutsugo is a bit more of an unknown coming over from Japan, but he looks like he will be productive at the plate. The defense is a question, though. Martinez is a lefty-masher and Margot, an old friend, will provide defense and speed off the bench. Arozanera, meanwhile, is a prospect but he is a good bet to be up at some point sooner than later to make an impact. Xavier Edwards isn’t included here as he is not ready for the majors in 2020, but that is another big value added to the organization this winter.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Offseason Losses

Tommy Pham, OF; Avisaíl García, OF; Emilio Pagan, RHRP; Travis d’Arnaud, C; Eric Sogard, 2B; Austin Pruitt, RHP

Given that a couple of the additions Tampa Bay made this year — Renfroe and Margot, for example — it stands to reason that they sent a bit out the other way as well. Pham was part of the deal that brought Renfroe and Edwards, mentioned above, and his departure irked some Rays players right away. I’m not a huge Renfroe fan so I certainly think they got worse in the short-term with this deal. García is another loss from their outfield, meaning they are replacing two-thirds of their outfield from last year. Pagan was one of the key cogs in Tampa’s bullpen last year, but the Rays grow good relievers on trees. d’Arnaud and Sogard were good role players, but again Tampa has a way to find those guys. As with Edwards above, I didn’t mention Matthew Liberatore as he’s not a major leaguer at this point, but he was a top prospect traded away to the Cardinals.

Lineup

C: Mike Zunino

1B: Ji-Man Choi

2B: Brandon Lowe

SS: Willy Adames

3B: Yandy Díaz

LF: Austin Meadows

CF: Kevin Kiermaier

RF: Hunter Renfroe

It’s sort of a fool’s errand to talk about a Rays lineup as a single entity, because that’s just not how they operate. That is particularly true this year. Tampa Bay is built more than ever to take advantage of platoons and they will be shuffling different lineups in and out of action almost on a daily basis. That said, the core here is Lowe, Meadows and Díaz. The Rays are built more on pitching and defense, but there is plenty of upside here, particularly with Meadows the way he broke out last year before getting hurt. They will be overshadowed by lineups like the Yankees and Astros and Dodgers, among others, but this group is more than good enough to push for a top-third of the league spot.

Bench

Michael Pérez, C; José Martínez, 1B/DH; Joey Wendle, INF; Manuel Margot, OF

Like I said above, the bench for the Rays is not like benches for many other teams, as these guys are all going to play important roles. Martínez, for example, doesn’t provide much of anything on defense but he can absolutely mash against left-handed pitching. He is going to play basically every game in which a lefty starts and when he doesn’t start he can punish left-handed relievers, particularly with the new three-batter rule. Margot is likely to play a bunch against lefties as well and he’ll also be able to provide defense and a running threat late in games. Wendle struggled a bit and was hurt for a chunk of last year, but he’s only a year removed from being a four-win player. Catcher is a weak spot both starting and on the bench, but this is a deep Rays team that can play the matchups better than most any other team in the sport. They also have plenty of help waiting in the wings in Triple-A.

Rotation

  1. Blake Snell, LHP
  2. Charlie Morton, RHP
  3. Tyler Glasnow, RHP
  4. Yonny Chirinos, RHP
  5. Ryan Yarbrough, LHP

There are some questions at the back of this rotation, but that top three has the potential to be right up there with anyone else in baseball. Snell should be healthy and ready to roll this year and pick up where he left off in 2018 when he won the Cy Young. Morton was phenomenal in 2019 and there’s little reason beyond age to believe he won’t be again this year. Glasnow was one of the biggest breakouts in the game before he got hurt last year as well. There is injury and regression risk even among the top three, to be sure, but there’s also a ton of talent here. Chirinos and Yarbrough, meanwhile, don’t have the upside but both guys are much more solid than they probably get credit for. Meanwhile, they also have top prospects Brendan McKay and Brent Honeywell on the cusp of the majors.

Bullpen

Nick Anderson, RHP; José Alvarado, LHP; Diego Castillo, RHP; Chaz Roe, RHP; Colin Poche, LHP; Oliver Drake, RHP; Peter Fairbanks, RHP; Anthony Banda, LHP

This is where the Rays have the potential to really separate themselves and take their season to the next level. There is no sure thing in any bullpen, and that’s particularly true here as there are no major established arms here in terms of years of track record. That said, there is nasty stuff littered throughout the list as well as recent performance. Nick Anderson, for example, was one of the best relievers in baseball. Him, Alvarado and Castillo can be a lights out threesome at the end of games. Poche and Drake have disgusting stuff. Roe is death on righties, and when his command is working he’s a force as well. Tampa leans heavily on their bullpen, and they have a group to make that work this year, too.

Parting Thoughts

Calling the Rays an underdog or a darkhorse may be overkill because they are acknowledged as a very good team. That said, superteams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Astros may leave some room for the Rays to sneak up on some people. Whatever you want to call them, despite some questions this is a team that can very easily win a World Series if a few things go right.