According to an analysis of the language on Reddit, you the Tampa Bay Rays fan base, are unhappy—the least happy fanbase in baseball, in fact. According to the same analysis, you're also the most groundlessly unhappy, although other AL East teams not in Boston and New York are also relatively unhappy, so having to compete with all of that money might have something to do with it.
So to cheer you up, let's talk about something you probably can't afford: Cuban players!
The deadline to sign international free agents ends on June 15th, and although they probably can't and won't there's an argument that the Rays might as well go for it.—they're already in trouble for spending money, so there's no time like the present to spend more.
The Rays are already over their spending limit for the international pool, thanks to a sizable $3 million investment in prospect Adrian Rondon, so for the following two years they will be restricted in their ability to sign international players. It's all part of the VERY FAIR system that allows teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers spend copious amounts of money and absorb 100% fines that are relatively meaningless for them, while the Rays attempt to sign one player above the allocation limit and get the same punishment. When two years of restrictions are waiting for you, you should go big or go home.
The biggest names right now are Yoan Moncada, Hector Olivera, Yadier Alvarez, and Andy Ibanez. MLB Trade rumors has a rundown, and Kiley McDaniel scouted a number of them as well. Moncada and Ibanez are free to sign until after June 15th. Moncada has done private workouts with several teams, including the Rays, and is both represented by an accountant in St. Petersburg and living here currently. The probables for the 19 year old infielder are the Dodgers and Yankees, given the large overage tax he will incur on his possible bonus.
Olivera, who will be 30 in little over a month, and is seeking a five or six year contract. Most experts think he will be able to land a three or four year contract due to a thrombosis condition which can cause blood clots. The Padres have been recognized as being in the running for Hector as well as the Braves and Dodgers. However, Olivera has not yet been cleared to sign, and his contract will likely be influenced by where Moncada goes.
Yadier Alvarez is an 18 year old pitcher with three standout pitches. His fastball can reach up to 98 mph and his changeup and slider are noteworthy. Many teams are interested due to his low asking price, MLBTradeRumors tags the Diamondbacks or the Nationals as contenders. Alvarez is still not eligible to sign yet, his paperwork is being processed.
The Rays are familiar with signing international free agents and the severe penalties that can come with it. Any team that exceeds the international bonus pool that the collective bargaining agreement limits every team to by 15% or more, must pay a 100% tax on the overage and is restricted from signing players for more than $250,000 over the next two years. They also miss out on first and second round international draft picks.
The Rays made this gamble in 2012, which penalized them during the 2013-2014 signing years when they signed Jose Castillo, Jose Mujica, David Rodriguez, and Angel Moreno among others. The Rays will have to decide if any of these prospects are worth incurring the taxes and penalties.
There is another exciting opportunity in Lazaro Alonso, a left handed hitting 19 year old first baseman. Although he will be subject to the international bonus pool, he has some of the utility vibe the Rays look for and develop. He can DH and has played in the outfield. Osniel Madera left at the same time as Alonso and he will not be restricted by the bonus pool. He is primarily an outfielder but has proved flexible in the field. Yoel Rojas, a catcher, also left with Lazaro and Osniel.
At this time, many of the new Cuban players have not been cleared to sign due to paperwork holdups or residency issues but some rumors indicate that most of the bureaucratic issues for signing could clear up for these players as early as March.
Plus with the possibility of US/Cuba relations normalizing in the near future, counting out further influxes of Cuban prospects would be an unwise market decision. The Rays have taken advantage of a tapped international market before and it's paid off, but with the penalties really only affecting small market teams, it will be difficult to strike a balance between risk and reward.
Pitchers and catchers report on February 21st. Officially the first work out is scheduled for the 22nd and position players will be reporting on the 26th. From Marc Topkin, several Rays players were working out at Port Charlotte on Wednesday. Marc also reports the dates of the Rays games that will be televised.
DRaysBay started ottoneu leagues for the 2015 season. If you were some of the readers who expressed interest, invitations to the league have already been sent out. Please check your email and join the Rays, Bulls, Biscuits, Stone Crabs, or Hot Rods. The first step is making an account through Fangraphs and accepting the ottoneu invitation to play. Check with your commissioners for auction dates. If you missed the first signup, but are still interested, don't worry. there will be another signup soon.
Via MLBTradeRumors, Joe Maddon thinks the Rays are in a position to compete this season. The onslaught of trades this off season (30 players involved in 7 trades) keeps them competitive, however this is still some doubt about the outfield given DeJesus' uncertain position and the rumors surrounding him.
This Saturday is not only the start of spring training, it's also Rays Fan Fest. It will be hosted at the Trop and DRaysBay is putting together questions for a sabermetrics panel. Like the Rays on Facebook for more information on the activities and players coming to the event.
Fangraphs posted an article about undervaluing pitchers with ERA and FIP. It's an excellent write up on Jake Odorizzi's history and how valuable he'll be moving forward.
In an era where pitching dominates play, there's some talk about making the strike zone smaller. For an in depth look at what this means for hitters, Scott Lindholm wrote an analytic piece at Beyond the Box Score.
For your edification and delight, here is a picture of Grayson Garvin getting no love (See last comment).