For the fourth time in the past six seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays fought their way into the postseason. Only the Phillies and Yankees can also claim that kind of success, but they both came away with World Series wins. Without question, the low-payroll Rays have been successful despite their inability to win the World Series. From a fantasy perspective, they have supplied owners with great pitchers, both starters and closers, as well as some excellent rookies and prospects in Andrew Friedman's tenure as general manager.
The Rays entered last season without B.J. Upton and James Shields for the first time since Joe Maddon began managing in St. Petersburg. Many expected David Price to get shipped out around the All-Star break, as he is set to hit the free-agent market after the 2015 season. Instead, Price started slowly while the Rays stuck around in the standings, mostly due to an overachieving offense that was getting great production out of free-agent pickups James Loney, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson. In the second half, Price and the Rays rotation picked it up, as the offense fell back.
Wil Myers posted an .831 OPS in 335 at-bats, on his way to winning the Rays' third AL Rookie of the Year award of the past six seasons, joining Evan Longoria and Jeremy Hellickson.
The Rays' offseason was quiet, with the biggest pieces of news being James Loney re-signing to man first base again and Grant Balfour replacing Fernando Rodney as the team's closer.
Due to their 2013 production, expectations are high for the Rays again, both offensively and on the mound. But they'll need youngsters to develop into veterans quickly. And they need some of their veterans to become superstars again (looking at you, Evan Longoria and Matt Moore).
MORE TEAM PREVIEWS:
1. David DeJesus, LF
2. Ben Zobrist, 2B
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Wil Myers, RF
5. Matt Joyce, DH
6. James Loney, 1B
7. Desmond Jennings, CF
8. Yunel Escobar, SS
9. Ryan Hanigan, C
1. David Price, LHP
2. Alex Cobb, RHP
3. Matt Moore, LHP
4. Chris Archer, RHP
5. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
Others: Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Colome
Bullpen: Grant Balfour (closer), Joel Peralta (setup)
• Will David Price get traded before the end of the season? Before we guess on Price's future, let's take a look at his recent past.
Price started slow and finished fast, but he still ended up with his worst fantasy season since his rookie year, back in 2009. A triceps injury landed him on the 15-day disabled list at one point, but once he returned healthy, he was a completely different pitcher than what we saw in the first couple months of the season. His ERA dropped a full run from 3.94 before the break, to 2.87 in 15 post-break starts.
His K/9 also dipped, unfortunately, and that should be the number we're most worried about. In 2010 (8.11), 2011 (8.75) and 2012 (8.74), Price ranked among the best pitchers in the category. But in 2013, his K/9 dropped to just 7.28. Even after he returned from the disabled list, he still only struck out 6.96 batters per nine innings.
With that said, he was still able to post an excellent 2.87 ERA in the second half, with a 7-3 record; his control was above average, with just 1.30 BB/9 IP. The Rays defense also slipped, but that was likely an anomaly.
Still, the question is: Will Price pitch for the Rays all season?
The Rays expect to contend for one of two AL Wild Card spots, but the chances of Price being traded on July 31 are much greater if Tampa Bay is eight games out of that second Wild Card. However, if they are contending, which we expect them to be, they'll likely hold onto him for his immediate value. He pitched in the World Series in 2008, and he has had plenty of postseason experience that young pitchers like Moore, Cobb, Archer and Odorizzi could rely on.
The Rays ended up holding B.J. Upton until the end of his contract, getting nothing for him in 2012, and there were no regrets, really. They took a shot and missed.
As we've seen from some of the offers discussed, the Rays want a lot in exchange for Price. So David will only get traded ... if the Price is right.
• Can the Rays score enough runs to get wins for their rotation? If David DeJesus can be a serviceable leadoff hitter for the Rays, they should be ready to score more runs than the 700 they managed in 2013, when they ranked 11th in the majors. There were 22 teams that had a better batting average at the leadoff spot than the Rays' .250 in 2013.
They ranked that high despite an off year by 2B Ben Zobrist, and Longoria finishing with a 23.4-percent strikeout rate in a career-high 693 plate appearances.
If 2014 goes well, DeJesus will keep the leadoff position, get on base at the same (.344) clip he did last season, and the rest of the lineup would progress from there. Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers need to continue to develop at the plate, as well.
Longoria finally stayed healthy for a full season, and while he set some personal highs, he didn't put up the power numbers we hoped for when we drafted him in the second round. With Myers a year older, pitchers will be kept honest, and Longoria could be the beneficiary.
• Will Jake Odorizzi follow in the long line of great Rays rookies? Here's the lineage of young Rays' pitchers Odorizzi will enter: James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. Odorizzi is expected to be used early in the season because of Hellickson's elbow surgery (which could keep him out until May).
Odorizzi came over from Kansas City in the 2013 offseason, as the Royals packaged him, along with Wil Myers and Mike Montgomery, for Shields and Wade Davis. Odorizzi will now get a chance to be the second AL Rookie of the Year in that package.
Baseball America rates him as the top prospect in the Rays' minor-league system right now. The right-hander held opponents to a .225 batting average at Triple-A Durham in 2013, and he got better as the season wore on.
Odorizzi has a great chance at posting anywhere from 120-150 innings with the Rays, working as their fifth starter out of spring training. As mentioned, the Rays will need to score runs and play good defense to give their pitchers better chances at Ws. A reasonable projection for him would be 7-9 wins, with as many losses, 140 innings, 110 strikeouts and an ERA around 4.20.
Looking back at the 2013 season, those numbers would compare him favorably with players like Orioles SP Wei-Yin Chen or Angels SP Garrett Richards. In other words, Odorizzi can be used in two-start weeks, and against favorable matchups, but he's going to be a much better pitcher long-term than he will be in 2014.
Chris Archer, P -- Archer has a great slider, a good fastball and an above-average changeup, with the difference in velocity between the fastball and changeup an excellent 11mph. If Archer gains more confidence in the changeup, he could have more success striking batters out with it.
Wil Myers, RF -- It was uncomfortable, last season, watching the Fenway faithful get into the head of young Wil Myers after he misplayed a flyball in last year's playoffs. The chants -- and his poor play -- followed him even back to St. Pete. He finished with one hit in 17 plate appearances, and you can bet that Red Sox fans will give him more of that this season. What you don't know about a player, sometimes, is how he'll react to adversity. If Myers can't shake it off, he'll disappoint most of the people that drafted him in Rounds 5-8 of 12-team Rotisserie leagues.
Grant Balfour, P -- The Australian returns to Tropicana Field after three seasons on the other bay in California. In the past two seasons, he has 62 successful saves, including a career-high 38 saves in 2013. He returns to Tampa Bay, where he served as a very good middle reliever from 2007-10. The Rays don't score a ton of runs, and opponents rarely get big leads up on them, so a closer on the Rays will get a good amount of save opportunities (averaging 59 over the past two seasons, which is just under the league average of 61.) He'll be a top-10 closer this season.
AL-Only Guys to Know
Yunel Escobar, 2B -- We know he'll get more than 500 at-bats on this team, and while his average will stick close to .250, he does knock in runners and stays healthy. He should get a combination of 110-120 runs/RBI each season.
Ryan Hanigan, C -- The former Reds catcher hit just .198 in 75 games with the Reds last season, but even so, he's already the best hitting catcher the Rays have. He's excellent defensively, also, which means he can take over the main duties from Jose Molina. Don't believe the batting average from last season, as he hit .279 in the three years (786 at-bats) beforehand.