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Looking ahead to the 2017 Roster

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September call ups provide an opportunity to consider who might stick around in 2017.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The season that started with such bright expectations for the Rays is ending with the team playing out the string. The Rays’ won/loss record may only have pennant significance for their opponents for the rest of the year, but the performance of individual players may matter a lot to their future with the team. In this article we’ll analyze the performance of the players on the current roster to show who we think has a job next year, and who’s fighting for one.

It’s quite possible that the Rays will be active in hot stove season, in which case the 2017 roster could look a great deal different than it looks today. But we can still take a stab at anticipating, ceteris paribus, which of today’s players are a lock for 2017, which are in some sort of a gray zone, and which are at the fringes of inclusion on a major league roster.

Major League Roster Core

The players below are likely to form the core of the 2017 team. All are high caliber players who are under team control in 2017. If any of these players are gone it will be thanks to a pretty major trade (and bad news for the Rays marketing office, which has players such as Kiermaier, Longoria and Archer spearheading most of their season ticket incentives).

Kevin Kiermaier: Despite missing approximately seven weeks due to injury, the 26-year-old reached his career high in home runs, walks and OBP, saved 17 defensive runs and has an fwar of 3.2. He’s not even eligible for arbitration until 2018. Kiermaier is probably the least available player in the entire Rays organization.

Evan Longoria: He’s having his best offensive season since 2013, he’s signed to a very long term contract, and will be a relative bargain next year with a $13 million salary.

Logan Forsythe: He’s performing virtually the same as he did during his breakthrough 2015 campaign. He’s hitting better (more homers). Only danger to him is if his jump to a $5.8 million salary causes problems for the self-imposed salary cap.

Matt Duffy: He played well after coming over from the Giants for Matt Moore. He slashed .276/.300/.355 with a home run, 9 runs and 7 RBI in 21 games, playing in pain. While any player having surgery should concern management, if Duffy is healthy he should expect to start at short next year. He can also back up third.

Brad Miller: He won’t play shortstop except in emergencies, but the Rays will find a place for a player who can hit 30 homers, even if it’s a combination of first base, DH and outfield. At this writing he’s hit 28 home runs with an OPS of .799.

Chris Archer: He’s tied the record for most losses by a Rays pitcher in a season, and has enough starts to break that record before the end of the year. But Archer also leads the AL in strikeouts and in games started. He’s under team contract through 2020. And he’s the Rays’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award for his community work.

Jake Odorizzi: He may have been the most effective starter in 2016. He’s still young and the most comparable pitchers to him based on stats through age 25 are Dick Drago, Max Scherzer, and Bob Gibson. He’s here unless the Rays get a massive trade offer for him.

Blake Snell: The Rays brought up top prospect Blake Snell for good in June and he’s been a solid starter. He’s struggled with command lately and needs to learn how to stay longer in games and walk fewer batters. He’s striking out 9.6 batters per nine innings, and is only 23. The Rays will keep working with him and hope he continues to develop.

Alex Cobb: He’s pitched well enough in his first two starts for the Rays to hope he can become an effective starter. He’s eligible for arbitration, but coming off Tommy John surgery I think the Rays will be able to afford him.

Matt Andriese: He may not have a regular rotation spot next year, but he has shown enough to be back as a spot starter and long relief.

Alex Colome: He’s the only member of the bullpen that should be a lock for 2017. He’s won 1 game and saved 34. He did blow 4 saves, but opponents are hitting under .200 against him and his WHIP is 1.01.

Likely Roster Players with A Few Things to Prove

Corey Dickerson He’s hit 20 home runs thus far and is not a bad left fielder when Kiermaier plays center. His fWAR is only 1.1 so far, but he’s also pre-arbitration. The Rays have to hope, with a year in the AL under his belt, his batting and on base averages will increase – if not to the levels he achieved at Coors Field, enough to rate a starting or platoon spot between left field and DH.

Steven Souza, Jr. may have a little to worry about. He was benched once for not hustling. His offensive production might be a slight improvement over last year but at this point his overall contribution is fWAR 1, which means there are better players out there, if the Rays can find them. I believe the Rays will give Souza every chance, but he has to hit better.

Nick Franklin: his offense has been a pleasant surprise this year. In a small sample size (49 games) he’s hitting almost .300. The Rays, with the second lowest OBP in the league, could really use his OBP of .350. If Franklin keeps this up through the end of the season, he will have made a strong case towards being the classic utility guy — a good hitting backup/platoon player who can play just about anywhere. The Rays will have a lot of candidates for this position, so Franklin will have to prove himself again to get the job.

Drew Smyly: His WHIP of 1.28 is lower than Blake Snell’s. However, he’s allowed opposing batters to launch 45 homers against him, which is one of the main reasons for his current 5.05 ERA. Smyly has only been effective in spurts, and the team has many contenders for the fifth starter spot.

Brad Boxberger: The 2015 AL saves leader has pitched pretty well since coming off the DL. He did give up a game losing home run to the Blue Jays on September 12, but appears to be Kevin Cash’s favorite for the 8thinning slot. He’s eligible for arbitration, but I think his record will keep him affordable for the Rays.

Erasmo Ramirez: He was the find of the 2015 pitching staff, but has not been nearly as effective this year. His ERA is only up a few points, 3.84 in 2016 versus 3.79 in 2015, but his FIP is up over more than a run, to 4.79, mostly as a result of an increased home run allowed rate.

Xavier Cedeno: Although He’s injured now, he’s been an effective lefty reliever over the past two years. His 3.70 ERA is higher than last year’s but is accompanied by a 2.63 FIP and 9.36 K/9 that suggest he’s still a strong performer.

Chase Whitley: Matt Silverman took a chance picking up this ex-Yankee while he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s pitched two innings as of this writing with a 0.00 ERA. The Rays will take a good look at him the rest of the year, and give him every chance to make the team and vindicate Silverman’s judgement.

Enny Romero: He’s got a fastball that can top 100 MPH, but he’s struggled to throw it for strikes. He may get another chance next year, but his time is running out.

Guys at the fringes

This discussion includes players under team control and a few free agents who could be brought back:

Catchers: It’s safe to say that no Rays catcher has a job assured next year. Bobby Wilson, because the pitchers asked the team to sign him, and because he’s hit a few home runs to accompany his .240 average, has the best chance to come back, at least in a back-up role. Luke Maile has played well, and Curt Casali’s.138 batting average merited a demotion to AAA. However, both players, and for that matter, many minor league catchers in the system, are right to think that there will be a wide open competition next spring for the catcher job.

Position Players: Logan Morrison started slow at the beginning of the year, then had a hot streak, before ending up just about where he was last year before his season ending injury. His 2016 slash line of .238/.319/.414 with 14 homers in 107 games is a small improvement over his 2015 slash of .225/.302/.383 with 17 homers in 146 games.

Mikie Mahtook’s miserable year at the plate (.168 Batting Average, 1 home run) has almost erased memories of his fine 2015 second half. Richie Schaeffer was a top prospect whose best position (third base) is occupied by the Ray with the longest contract. He’s hitting .231 in limited duty this year and has to show he can mash at the major league level to earn a job. Alexei Ramirez hit one homer already for the Rays, and if he plays well may have a chance to come back as minor league insurance. If leading the Durham Bulls in home runs didn’t get JP Arencibia a September call-up, I don’t believe he has a chance at a job next year.

Tim Beckham and Taylor Motter will have all winter to ponder why the Rays didn’t call them to the majors despite needing a backup shortstop. It’s possible the Rays will give them one more chance after putting them to bed without supper, but they will have to play extraordinarily well to make the team. They will be competing with some other top middle infielders from the minors like Daniel Robertson, Willy Adames, among others.

Pitchers

The Rays struggled all year and mostly failed to put together a reliable bullpen. Steve Gelz led the AL in appearances in 2015 and just hasn’t been effective in 2016. He may have pitched himself off the team next year. The team brought Dana Eveland, back to the majors on September 13. Eveland has the distinction of owning the highest ERA on the roster, with 8.55. He has to prove he can get anyone out. The rest of the bullpen, Justin Marks, Eddie Gamboa, Danny Farquhar, and anyone else the team might throw out there, are all hoping they pitch well enough the rest of the year to merit a close look in the spring.