Sunday, April 5, 2015

2015 Pre-Season Profile: Tampa Bay Rays

Joe Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays for nine seasons, leading them to their first six winning seasons and a World Series appearance.  Now that Maddon has moved on, can the Rays continue their winning ways.

Last Season
77-85, 4th in AL East

For the first time since his first two seasons as manager, Joe Maddon's Rays finished with a losing record.  They have always found ways of overachieving year after year under Maddon even with the poor business plan of the Rays.  They would develop their young players, and then trade them right before they are about to cash in with a big contract (except for Evan Longoria).  It's no wonder Joe Maddon left Tampa when he had the chance, especially after the team decided to trade away ace David Price instead of try and lock him up long term.  All this selling of their best players left the Rays with one of their least talented rosters in years.  It's a miracle their record was as good as it was.

2015 Additions / Subtractions

The Rays continued their selling of their veterans in the offseason.  Leaving the Rays via trade this offseason were Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Jeremy Hellickson, Sean Rodriguez, and 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers.  The only players ready to impact the club now that were brought in were Asdrubal Cabrera and John Jaso.  Eventually, the Rays might see a return for their investments, but it will be a few years down the line.

Most Important Hitter
Desmond Jennings

Desmond Jennings has been poised to have a breakout season for several years now.  In fact, the fact that he hasn't had his big breakout year is probably the reason he is still a Ray since every other good player has been traded.  However, this is a very talented player and hitter that has the potential of being an impact bat in the Rays' lineup.  As one of the few returning players from last year's lineup, he is also, along with Evan Longoria, taking on some veteran leadership responsibilities of the remembering the winning ways of the Rays.

Most Important Pitcher
Chris Archer

The Rays have always been carried by a great pitching staff.  However, with former cornerstones of the rotation like James Shields, Matt Garza, and David Price gone, the Rays need the next generation of pitching stars to emerge.  With Alex Cobb starting the season on the DL, this responsibility fall squarely on the shoulders of Chris Archer.  Archer followed his rookie season with a solid performance in 2014.  Now the Rays are counting on him to be the new ace of the staff moving forward ... at least for 3 years or so before they trade him too.

Player to Watch
Steven Souza

Steven Souza is a perfect example of the Rays' gameplan in forming their roster.  Souza was acquired this offseason in the Wil Myers trade.  By trading away a current star, the Rays were able to bring in a potential future star.  Souza is penciled in to be the Rays' staring rightfielder on Opening Day.  Expect him to be the next breakout guy on the trading block for the Rays.

5th in AL East

If any team is going to finish with 100+ wins this season, it is going to be the Tampa Bay Rays.  This is one of the least talented teams they have fielded in a very long time (outside of the pitching rotation, which might be the only reason they don't lose 100 games), and losing Joe Maddon is going to show as this club will not overachieve as previous young rosters have.  I am not saying rookie manager Kevin Cash is going to be a bad coach, but he just isn't Joe Maddon.  Maddon seemed to pull off a magic trick every year in Tampa, and with him moving on the team will take a step back no matter who is managing.  They might as well go back to being the Devil Rays because they will be that forgettable.

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