TAMPA BAY RAYS
Owner: Stuart L. Sternberg, worth $800 million
World Series Titles: 0
Greatest Player: 3B Evan Longoria
Division: AL East
Payroll: 27th, $77,000,000
2022 Result: 86-76, 3rd place, lost to Guardians in AL Wildcard Round, 2-0
General Manager: Peter Bendix
Manager: Kevin Cash, 45; Record: 640-554, 0 World Series Titles
Home Field: Tropicana Field, Capacity: 45,369
Key Addition: SP Zach Eflin. The Tampa Bay Rays don’t outbid teams very often, so when they do, we should pay attention. They did just that when they signed the former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher to a three-year, $40 million deal. Eflin is well-versed in limiting hard contact, posting elite exit velocity numbers. Additionally, his command keeps guys off base, which we saw during his strong postseason, in which he came out of the bullpen.
Key Loss: SP Corey Kluber. Frankly, the Rays didn’t lose much this offseason, mostly shedding payroll in the form of losing underperformers and otherwise non-impact players. One challenge, though, may be filling the 160+ innings that Kluber provided. Kluber was overwhelmingly fine in Tampa Bay, pitching at a level between a middle and bottom of the rotation starter. The Rays have more than enough starting pitching depth, but if eating innings is a more fractured endeavor in 2023, we’ll know why.
Key Injury: SP Shane Baz. The makeup of this roster mitigates how much Baz’ injury will show up in the win column, but losing a star young pitcher to Tommy John will always leave questions of “what if?” in its path. Baz has some of the most electric stuff in MLB, but in all likelihood will miss the entirety of the season, forcing us to miss out on a dynamic trio of Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, and him atop the rotation.
Prospect Alert: 3B Curtis Mead. The Rays frequently win by employing one of the better defensive rosters in the sport. An eventual Mead call-up would demonstrably hurt that aspect of their infield. However, this team lacks serious pop, and his bat is Major League ready. A dry spell and an injury could land him on the roster, forcing Tampa to prioritize power for once.
Scouting Report: The story of the Rays has already been written. It’s the same one as every season. They’ll spend next to nothing putting together a team, trading away future expenditures and lurking in the clearance section of MLB rosters. Their incredible front office and incredible analytics team will find a way to take a seemingly non-threatening bunch to its absolute ceiling, often inciting playoff baseball. A good rule of thumb? If Tampa Bay calls inquiring about a prospect, hang up, block the number, and sign that prospect to an extension.
They’ll be led by a pitching staff that projects to comfortably sit in the top half of baseball, especially given the return of Glasnow. The Rays have two absolute stars atop their rotation and the rest of the staff is made of high-floor assets. Per Fangraphs’ projections, no one on their Opening Day staff is in line for an ERA above 4.00
The main concerns that scare me off the lofty expectations I’m tempted to place on them are two-fold. First, they must stay healthy. The Rays were one of the most injured teams in baseball, and when a team loses so many bodies, there simply isn’t much they can do. Second, they need to consistently manufacture runs. Wander Franco is a star. Yandy Díaz has elite bat to ball skills. Randy Arozarena is a dynamic talent. No one else scares me much at all.
Without the power to hit their way back into games, the Rays risk stranding their pitching staff.
Over/Under Wins: 87, 3rd place in AL East, lose to Astros in ALDS
BetBasics Best Bet: Last year’s betting statistics tell a story that, given the injuries and payroll, makes a lot of sense. They were rather average against the run line, posting an 80-84 record. Neither their margin of victory nor their performance against the run line strayed far away from league average.
Elsewhere, the under hit in Rays games at the ninth-highest rate in all of baseball, which is bound to happen when virtually your entire roster gets hurt and the books are left scrambling to adjust. However, Tampa’s average game scored 0.3 more runs than the over/under. The advantages their coaching staff provided them still show up, especially against bad teams.
This year, two futures stand out as particularly valuable. Their season-long win total is set at 88.5 on DraftKings, with -110 odds on either side. That means the winning bet would require a $110 wager to make $100 in profit. The under, in this case, is more valuable. There are legitimate flaws attached to this lineup, and the American League East is tough. The Yankees are, well, the Yankees. The Blue Jays’ lineup is one of the best in baseball. The Red Sox still have the talent to keep the division fairly close if things break right, and Baltimore is no longer a pushover. There’s potential for this division to eat itself alive, making a low-to-mid-80s win total that much more likely.
Additionally, DraftKings also offers intriguing odds on where the Rays will finish in the division. As things stand, most people would have Tampa as either the second- or third-best team in the East. Currently, taking them to finish second in the division holds +260 odds, and +230 for 3rd place. Their lack of offensive upside scares me off a bet to win the division, and both Baltimore and Boston are less talented. I wouldn’t mind taking either (or both) of those.