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2016 Rays season preview

Baseball America's Jim Callis predicted the Rays would win the AL in 2016. How will they get it done?

Will Matt Moore start Opening Day for the 2016 Rays?
Will Matt Moore start Opening Day for the 2016 Rays?

Earlier this month, Jim Callis at Baseball America published his annual three-years-in-advance predictions. He's generally optimistic about the Rays in these (and for good reason), and his picks for 2016 are no exception. While they make the World Series, unfortunately he chooses the Washington Nationals to defeat them. He also notes that he hasn't picked a World Series winner yet, but I would guess that picking winners three years in advance isn't particularly easy to do.

It's just a fun exercise, and it's supplemented by another annual BA feature, the three-years-in-advance lineup that goes with every top 10 prospect list. These don't factor in a lot of realities in baseball though like contracts and market size though. It's simply saying this is what a lineup could look like in a few years if the entire organization stays intact. That's why David Price is listed as their #1 starter in 2016 even though the contract he'll command in free agency will almost certainly be out of the Rays' price range. Also note that this feature was published before the James Shields trade.

In his feature, Callis notes that the Rays will be led by a number of familiar faces; of course Evan Longoria will be there, as will Desmond Jennings (AL stolen base leader), Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson. They'll be joined by the two big pieces from the Shields trade, Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi, and 2012 first rounder Richie Shaffer. He doesn't go into much detail about the roster, but I'll take this opportunity to do just that. I won't predict an entire 25 man roster, but I will have a lineup, rotation and some key relievers. I tried to be realistic with the acquisitions, but keep in mind this is just for fun. Before we turn the clock ahead, what happened to some notable Rays that aren't here?

David Price traded to Texas for SS Jurickson Profar, C Jorge Alfaro and RHP Neil Ramirez. Would either team do this trade? I can't imagine the Rangers parting with Profar, but I can't imagine the Rays trading him to Texas without getting Profar back. I think this is a pretty fair trade compared to other recent deals for top of the line pitchers.

Jeremy Hellickson traded to mystery team after 2015 season. I'd certainly like to be more specific here, but proposing fake trades this long in advance is pretty difficult. Who's going to be a good fit in two years? Who will have the need and financial means to make a deal for a really good player with two years left of arbitration? Which prospects would the Rays get in return? They're probably in the very low levels of the minors now, maybe not even drafted or signed yet. I feel safe assuming it would be a very good return though.

Ben Zobrist leaves in free agency. 2013 is the last guaranteed year of his contract, but with team options for $7 million and $7.5 million in 2014 and 2015, I expect those will be picked up, but he'll then be entering his age 35 season hitting free agency. I bet he could still land a multi-year contract from someone, but would the Rays be that team?

Fernando Rodney leaves in free agency. Even if the contract extension that apparently only exists in Rodney's mind materializes, he'll be pitching as a 36 year old in 2013. Will he last three more years?

Starting lineup, sans DH
C Jorge Alfaro (<1 year of service, pre-arb)
1B Richie Shaffer (1+ years of service, pre-arb)
2B Hak-Ju Lee (2+ years of service, pre-arb)
SS Jurickson Profar (3+ years of service, arbitration eligible)
3B Evan Longoria ($12.1 million)
LF Mikie Mahtook (1+ years of service, pre-arb)
CF Desmond Jennings (4+ years of service, arbitration eligible)
RF Wil Myers (2+ years of service, pre-arb)

Being realistic, this is a really rosy picture for a lot of minor league players. Only Longoria and Jennings will be in the Rays' 2013 Opening Day lineup and still around in 2016. That's actually not unreasonable turnover; of the 2009 Rays regulars, only Longoria and Zobrist are still around. Most of these prospects do have experience in the upper minors, so projecting them to at least reach the majors isn't ridiculous. Alfaro is incredibly raw and could easily never reach the majors, and while Shaffer still hasn't played above short-season ball, he's a pretty polished player that could move quickly.

This lineup should provide pretty consistent support for the pitching staff. They would hope to get a lot of power in the middle of the lineup with Longoria, Myers and Shaffer, and Profar and Alfaro could provide some too if they develop well. With Jennings, Lee and Profar, there's also a lot of athleticism and smart baserunning. This certainly isn't murderer's row, but it's a deep lineup that could be one of the better offenses in baseball.

Which of these players have the greatest chance of not being here? Alfaro stands out as a raw prospect very low in the minors still. Lee's bat has been a disappointment over the last season and a half, and moving from shortstop to second base he's going to have to hit more. I think the Rays will appreciate his speed and defense up the middle anyway. Mahtook probably isn't an above average starter in the end, and he could be pushed by some other internal options. Could Drew Vettleson or Todd Glaesmann fill this spot?

The bench could C Mark Thomas, INF Tim Beckham, OF Todd Glaesmann and CF Ty Morrison. Thomas is a good defensive player that should handle the staff well, Beckham should be able to provide some flexibility that the team values, Glaesmann adds some power, and Morrison would give them another player who can play a really good center field. I didn't list a DH because they're really hard to figure out. Which free agents will be available? Will they be in their price range? Who will be ready to DH rather than play a position?

LHP Matt Moore ($5.1 million)
RHP Chris Archer (2+ years of service, pre-arb)
RHP Jake Odorizzi (2+ years of service, pre-arb)
RHP Alex Cobb (4+ years of service, arbitration eligible)
RHP Taylor Guerrieri (<1 year of service, pre-arb)

This rotation has a really high ceiling, but there are question marks too. Moore and Cobb have established themselves as big leaguers, but Moore is yet to establish himself as a #1, game one starter. I think Moore will become that pitcher, but filling the shoes of James Shields and David Price is not an easy task. Archer and Odorizzi also have experience in the big leagues, but it's pretty limited. Archer will also need to establish himself as a top of the line starter, and everyone should fall in place after that. The Rays should continue to have a deep and dominant rotation.

For the Rays, building a rotation is all about cost control and certainty. I'm sure they don't enjoy trading a Shields or a Matt Garza, but it's necessary for them to remain as competitive as they've been. That's why in this hypothetical roster, I had to trade away Price and Hellickson. Three years from now, they'll simply be too expensive for the Rays, and they'll have to rely on their cheap depth to replace them.

Will Taylor Guerrieri really be here? If he moves one level at a time, he would be in Durham in 2016. Like we saw with Price and Moore in recent years, he could break into the majors as a reliever at the end of a season. Think of the track Moore went on though. In 2011, he started in AA, moved up to AAA and was eventually the team's game one starter against Texas. Maybe expecting Guerrieri to be able to make a big jump like that is overly optimistic, but he's certainly good enough that it shouldn't be out of the question.

LHP Jake McGee (4+ years of service, arbitration eligible)
RHP Alex Colome (1+ years of service, pre-arb)
LHP Enny Romero (1+ years of service, pre-arb)

As Michael Valancius detailed yesterday, McGee was really, really good last year. When Fernando Rodney moves on, McGee will certainly be the team's best reliever. Will he close games? I think yes, if we were to assume the Rays manage their bullpen more traditionally. That's not really their M.O. though, and last year McGee led the bullpen in inherited runners. Maybe they'll prefer the flexibility of using him in any situation rather than just for saves.

In the end, Colome and Romero could very well end up as relievers. They could be victims of a numbers game with the organization's pitching depth, but there are certainly concerns in their profiles. With command issues, potential delivery concerns and questionable consistency of secondary pitches, relief pitching might be the best roles for them. Their stuff could be absolutely explosive in relief. Cesar Ramos is another pitcher I'd expect to see here. He's out of options, so the service time will start accumulating now, and his successful 2012 campaign kind of flew under the radar.

How does this partial roster look? Is this a World Series contender, and is there anyone missing that should be here?