The Rays' principal owner Stu Sternberg is in Philly for the series this week, God bless him, and he had some comments on the current state of the Rays roster. In short, he says their fine, and that this team is still a contender.
Staying afloat and at one point peaking ten games above .500 to lead the division was a monumental feat for the mountain of injured bodies you have to climb to even see what the Rays are doing, but that flash in the pan has finally found its bitter reality. Perhaps it's the return of players from injury that will bring this team back to life, but are the Rays truly fine?
The team currently sits fourth in the division - five full games back, though not out of reach - and 18 runs negative in run differential. As things stand today, they are the fourth team out for the Wild Card, having scored the fifth fewest runs in baseball, but middle of the pack in runs allowed.
The Rays offense is 18th in wRC+ and below perceived average at 94, and the team's wOBA is a paltry 25th at .298. By a measure of WAR, the Fangraphs leaderboard vaults the Rays position players to a whopping 17th.
Meanwhile, the pitching is 14th in baseball's pitcher WAR standings, and it's here the team's strengths shine. The starters stand 6th overall in team ERA, the second highest mark in the AL, with the 10th highest FIP (4th in the AL).
The overused relief core has dropped to 24th in ERA and 28th in FIP, and is officially worth -0.4 wins on the season.
Keep these overall rankings in mind as we see what the owner has to say, speaking with Marc Topkin yesterday afternoon:
"Right now, even though we might not be performing as we'd like to be, or as others would like us to be, I can't point to anything so glaring, or any of our players so glaring, that we could, or would, replace them...
"People say, 'Buyer? Seller?' It will be no different than we've done in years past," he said. "I think we're in almost precisely the same spot we've been in every year since '08. Which is, we're close, we feel we have a really good team. We'd like to see our team on the field all at once. And we'll try to be opportunistic."
He also said they "absolutely" could trade away pieces if they were to drop out of the race over the next 10 days, but "we're anticipating that we're going to be in the hunt come the end of July."
I'm inclined to agree with Sternberg, I don't think the performance on the field has been the real version of the Rays. In other words, they haven't been their best self, and a couple more rolls of the dice should start delivering better results with time. But is it safe to lean on positive regression if team management truly sees this team as a contender?
"We do believe strongly that the organization we have and the roster we have in place are good enough to get us to where we need to get to."
Sternberg goes on to list off the players around the diamond: Longoria and Loney, Forsythe and Souza, Jennings and Cabrera. Management likes the pieces they have on this roster, and do not see the benefit in spending or trading assets to replace what's already available: new bats, guys that haven't had their chance.
"Are you going to get somebody much better than John Jaso? ... Nobody's looking to just give a bat who's a good deal better than John Jaso. And anything else we do in the field will take away from our run prevention, so you've got to balance those things out."
Jaso was injured in his first inning on the first game of the season and still hasn't truly recovered. When he does, Sternberg is asserting, it will be like the Rays went and got that extra piece they might be looking for on the trade market.
You can read Stu Sternberg's comments in full behind the link, but his focus remains on the offense. And perhaps he's right, a return to form for the likes of Jaso and Souza might buoy the Rays enough to let the pitching take over. But among the weaknesses on this team, I can't help but wonder if it's the bullpen this team should be targeting to improve.
Veteran pitchers Grant Balfour and Ernesto Frieri were failed additions to the 2015 team, Steve Geltz and Kevin Jepsen came back down to earth, and the shuttle back and forth to Durham can only bandage so much.
Above, Sterberg says that if the Rays fall farther out of contention they may indeed become sellers.
That might be true, "absolutely" is the adverb quoted, but over the next ten days I might rather see what an extra lively arm might be able to do for this run down bullpen roster.
If management truly feels this roster can contend, maybe a slight push forward would be better than resting on their off-season laurels.