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30 in 30

30 in 30: The 2020 Tampa Bay Rays

Plenty of new faces will take the field at the Trop in 2020.

Tampa Bay Rays by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

30 in 30: The 2020 Tampa Bay Rays

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Let’s get one thing straight. It’s just plain sad that every offseason we have to be reminded that the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t long for their home at the Trop. A team this resilient should not have to be subjected to constant chatter about a permanent move to a new city, or worse… a time share north of the border.

Tampa quietly defies expectations so often, on paper such a product should have not trouble holding down a baseball home in the sunshine state. Now, of course, they haven’t won titles. They aren’t pacing the league in wins. But playing in a division with Boston and New York, and owning the league’s cheapest payroll, they won 96 games a year ago. They clinched a Wild Card berth, won the one game play-in, and took the Astros to 5 games in the ALDS. Their Cy Young-winning pitcher from the season before took a major step back, and they still finished with the A.L.’s lowest team ERA. The Rays just know how to figure it out.

A new look offense

The last time we saw the Rays take the field, it was Game 5 of the ALDS. Half of the players from that lineup have since found new homes in the offseason. Travis d’Arnaud, Avisaíl García, and Eric Sogard moved on via free agency. GM Erik Neander swung one of the splashier trades of the winter, swapping Tommy Pham for Hunter Renfroe in a five-player deal. Neander also traded for some outfield depth by acquiring Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena, and signed slugger Yoshimoto Tsutsugo from Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.

So what does all this mean? Well, with Pham and Garcia both gone, Renfroe and Austin Meadows will likely lock down left and right field, respectively. Tsutsugo could see some time in the outfield, but seems to be headed for the DH role. This new-look outfield seems poised to boost the power numbers for a team that was average to below-average in this department a year ago. Renfroe hit 33 homers with San Diego last season with a .489 SLG%. Tsutsugo posted 4 consecutive seasons in NPB with at least 28 homers and a SLG% above .510. Assuming Meadows provides a similar stat line to last season (33 homers, .291 BA, .558 SLG%), the Rays may end up with more pop than they have had in some time.

Rounding out the lineup

With d’Arnaud gone, Mike Zunino seems to poised to take on the bulk of the catching duties out of the gate. While his defense is an asset, the Rays hope he can improve on an utterly abysmal showing at the plate in 2019 (.165 BA and .232 OBP in 90 games). The rest of the infield will likely feature Ji-Man Choi at first, Joey Wendle at second, Willy Adames at short, and Yandy Diaz at third. Aside from Adames, who logged 152 games at short, injuries prompted a lot of mixing and matching in the infield for Tampa last season. Four different players logged 20 or more games at first, second, or third. A healthy Wendle, Diaz, and Brandon Lowe should help solidify things here.

The A.L.’s best rotation

Yes, the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole. Yes, the Astros still have Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. But one could very easily argue that baseball’s most effective starting rotation could be Tampa’s in 2020.

Charlie Morton may have been one of the best signings last year. He led all of baseball with the lowest HR/9 rate, and set career highs in wins, innings, ERA, and strikeouts in 2019. Tyler Glasnow went 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts before missing most of the season with an injury. If Blake Snell can shake of a disastrous 2019 (6-8 record, 4.29 ERA, 1.271 WHIP) and return to 2018 form, these three are as lethal of a combination as they come. Yonny Chirinos is a great compliment here as a fourth starter. The fifth spot could go to home-grown prospect Brendan McKay, who did make a handful of starts last season. He didn’t have a ton of success, but is nonetheless a first-round draft pick who projects as a top of the rotation guy. The fact that he’s gunning for the fifth spot should be all you need to know about Tampa’s depth on the mound.

2020 projection

Tampa has made some excellent acquisitions to their lineup. As far as their lineup goes, the health of guys like Diaz, Wendle, and Lowe are likely the biggest concerns. On the mound, the Rays have proven that they can pace the league even without the help of Blake Snell. If he can return to any semblance of his 2018 self, he will lead a staff of guys who can eat innings and keep the ball in the ballpark. The bullpen, led by Emilio Pagan and Diego Castillo, is chock full of power arms. It all adds up to one of the quietly deepest rosters in all of baseball. There is no reason why another 90-win season would be off the table, nor a Wild Card berth.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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