The Tampa Bays Rays finished the 2016 season in the AL East basement tied for the second-fewest wins in the majors. Things aren’t looking up in the near future.
There are six divisions in Major League Baseball and therefore six lowly clubs that hold the title of “last place” at the end of every season. For some teams, that bottom spot in the division only appears to be temporary. Perhaps an encouraging rebuild is in the works or the front office has cleared payroll and is gearing up for a big free agent class. For Tampa Bay Rays fans, however, there isn’t a whole lot to be optimistic about.
Tampa Bay has finished 13 games back or more of the first place spot in the AL East each of the last three seasons. Their farm system is encouraging, but lacks any standout stars capable of breaking into the majors by next season. Don’t expect at any big name free agents to sign with the Rays either, as they’ve opened the season with the third lowest lowest payroll every year since 2013.
The Rays have shown a reluctance to go into a full rebuild, holding on to highly sought arms Chris Archer and Álex Colomé despite receiving interest from several teams. Rather, the only significant move the team has made this offseason was signing catcher Wilson Ramos to a two-year deal. Ramos tore his ACL in September and most likely won’t be ready by Opening Day. The move comes off a little puzzling for a team that doesn’t have the pieces to make a pennant run.
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After finishing in the bottom three of the American League in runs scored each of the last three years, there isn’t much hope for Tampa Bay to make much improvement on offense. Evan Longoria was the sole player on the team that qualified for the batting title to finish the season with an OPS over .800. The team is built to rely on its pitching, but even that took a step back last season.
The Rays’ 4.20 ERA in 2016 was their highest mark since 2009. Archer, the ace of the rotation and a rock since he joined his rookie year in 2013, posted the worst full season of his young career. In the bullpen, Colomé was the only full-time reliever with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Even if Tampa Bay was fielding a competitive roster, it will be a tall task to outlast the Red Sox in the AL East. Boston acquired Chris Sale in a blockbuster deal at the Winter Meetings and is returning a fearsome lineup headlined by MVP runner-up Mookie Betts. The Blue Jays are coming off a second consecutive appearance in the ALCS and New York’s young roster is beginning to take shape. Even Baltimore made it to the Wild Card Game, making it a very crowded division that doesn’t favor the Rays’ chances.
There is still time left for the front office to unload Archer despite his down year. Colomé would bring back a very strong package considering what closers have gone for on the free agent market. The Rays don’t have the look of a postseason team. How long will it take for the front office to see it that way?