The Tampa Bay Rays closed out the season as one of the hottest teams in baseball.
From July 31 until the season’s conclusion, Kevin Cash’s squad compiled a record of 37-19, the best mark in the majors over that timeframe. The team was excelling in nearly every facet of the game, receiving key contributions for almost every player on the roster.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. We’ve written this offseason already about the possibility of signing Nelson Cruz or trading for Paul Goldschmidt, but does that meet the Rays’ needs?
Here are the holes I see on the current Rays roster:
The Rays have a pitching problem.
They introduced baseball to ‘The Opener’ in May and enjoyed amazing results. Young starting pitchers were protected from the strongest hitters on opposing teams whenever a reliever recorded the first three to six outs and significantly shortened the game. Ryne Stanek and Ryan Yarbrough were the perfect players to experiment with, and both exceeded their 2018 expectations.
Still, a dependable innings eater would be a welcome addition to their pitching staff and give their ‘Opener’ days a little added extra protection in case a start goes south.
They could add a frontline starting pitcher this offseason with the farm system to make any deal happen. But with Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow already slated to be the front end of the Rays rotation, another arm could help the Rays bridge the gap to their Tommy John prospects (Brent Honeywell, Anthony Banda, and Jose De Leon).
Our take: A veteran arm like James Shields would fit in nicely to soak up innings ... and would just be fun for nostalgia reasons.
For a year, the Rays had the best hitting catcher the franchise had ever seen in Wilson Ramos. After spending half the season on the disabled list in 2017, Ramos debuted in June and gave the Rays exactly what they had hoped for.
He was an All-Star this season for the Rays before a hamstring injury eliminated him from the game and ultimately ended his Rays tenure, as he would be traded before being activated at the trade deadline.
After his departure, the Rays’ catchers combined to post -0.5 fWAR and 58 wRC+, both among the worst in the majors.
Michael Perez, acquired by the Rays at the deadline, hit well during his limited time but would also succumb to an injury that ended his season.
Jesus Sucre was the real albatross that dragged the team’s performance down from behind the plate. He is slated for arbitration and is a candidate to be non-tendered by the team.
Ramos will become a free agent this offseason, so there is a chance a reunion could be in store. If the Rays aren’t able to find another backstop, they could be content rolling with a Nick Ciuffo-Perez combo behind the dish, but it would be more ideal if they could land a big fish on the free agent market.
Our take: Yasmani Grandal has had a rough NLCS after one of his best career seasons. Could the plus defender be a change-of-scenery candidate?
Who’s right (handed)?
If you look at the roster from the highest level, you might think the Rays have a problem in that they may have too many left-handed hitters, but it goes beyond that.
They have a shortage of right-handed batters specifically in the outfield.
Once the World Series concludes, the Rays will have Tommy Pham and C.J. Cron as the only players on their roster who hit right-handed and routinely play the outfield or as the designated hitter.
This is not a new problem, as the Rays opted to try players like Rob Refsnyder and Johnny Field last April in lieu of promoting prospects, hoping to find consistent hitting from the right side. Neither player panned out.
There has been some speculation that the Rays will move on from Cron this offseason, as he is due a decent pay raise in arbitration. However, he is still under team control through the 2020 season and just had the best offensive campaign of his young major league career.
Our take: Here’s where Nelson Cruz, who is averaging 40 homers per season over the last five years, fits into the Rays’ roster should they move on from Cron.
This offseason could be one of the most exciting in franchise history. The Rays have plenty of room in their budget to make a splash somewhere on the free agent market.
If they were to go out and seek an ace from an opposing team, they have no shortage of prospects they could deal away to make a trade happen.
We have several months before spring training arrives. What moves will the Rays make by the time players report?