The Rays 2018 offseason saw plenty of big names - including the biggest Rays name in franchise history - leave the roster. But two of the best Rays performers in recent seasons have stayed put.
Chris Archer and Kevin Kiermaier are going to be fun in 2018. Full stop. They’re going to be locked and loaded, ready to eat your cabeza.
Archer is going to be doing stuff like this on the field:
Chris Archer, Filthy 91mph Slider Movement. How do you know it's filthy? Because Archer struck his "I Just Threw a Filthy Pitch" Pose. pic.twitter.com/UkH3HArzed— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 17, 2017
And stuff like this off the field.
There aren’t too many players in the league right now who balance lovable on the field/off the field better than the Rays ace. (And yes, he is an ace.)
For Kiermaier, he mostly lets his glove do the talking. And it’s gabbier than a three-year-old on a sugar high.
The last few seasons, it hasn’t been just the leather that KK has flashed either. His bat has held plenty of pop as well, sporting an OPS+ of 109 over the past two seasons.
Now, both players come into the season with question marks. For Archer, the question is whether he can turn his process (FIP) into his results (ERA), and finally ascend into that top, top tier of pitchers in the league. For Kiermaier, the question is whether he can complete a full, 162-game season (honestly, Rays fans would even take 145 games in 2018). Kiermaier has missed more than 50 games each of the past two seasons, a fact that is not entirely separated from his intense style of play.
Those questions notwithstanding, the ceiling for Tampa Bay’s Batman and Robin is as high as the Trop’s D catwalk. No hyperbole, Kiermaier could be an MVP candidate if he stays healthy and keeps hitting like he has from 2016-2017. Over the course of his career, KK has been worth 8.6 (!) rWAR per 650 plate appearances. That’s insane. For comparison, Mike Trout has been worth only 0.7 more rWAR/650 PA than KK over the course of their respective careers.
In Archer’s case, his ceiling would be a top-three Cy Young finish. The dude finished fifth in the Cy Young despite a losing record in 2015 (and while Rays fans are smart enough to know win-loss doesn’t matter, the Cy Young voters may not be). If his slider is biting, his fastball has that classic zip, and his changeup is at least dangerous enough to keep hitters off balance, there’s no reason he can’t go out and put up a low 3.00s ERA with better than a strikeout an inning.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the 2018 MLB season, and Archer and KK lead the class in Tampa.