You would be forgiven at the end of the year if you said the Tampa Bay Rays 2022 season ended today.
Injuries are inevitable and have plagued the Rays extensively this season, but the latest report has three key pieces of the roster headed to the injured list for a significant amount of time. All that plus an extra inning loss — a discouraging night for the Rays and their fans.
Tampa Bay was already playing without a full strength Wander Franco, who found difficulty adjusting his legs to playing on Tropicana Field’s cement foundations full time. But it’s gotten worse. Last night the $182 million man fractured his hamate simply swinging the bat. With a 6-8 week recovery time, it looks like 2022 is mostly a lost season for Franco.
It’s possible for Franco to return this season, but the history of hamate bone injuries tells us that even if a player is able to return to playing full time it is more than likely that it will come with a significant reduction in power at the plate.
In his place on the roster will be prospect Jonathan Aranda, who had one cup of coffee earlier this year and has been one of the most consistent hitters in the minors for the Rays system.
It seems likely the Rays will utilize strong defender Taylor Walls at short stop more often up front, but the injury to Franco offers a significant opportunity for playing time, particularly after the Rays option of utility man Vidal Brujan following the acquisition of INF Yu Chang.
The Rays entered the season with three capable center fielders, and are now left with just one following a knee injury to Manuel Margot and a recurrence of Kevin Kiermaier’s left hip issue has caused previously IL stints.
Defensively the Rays should be ok on this count as well. Outfielder Brett Phillips has slumped at the plate but plays elite defense in center, and it should be noted the Rays may be able to deploy young outfielder Josh Lowe in center as well. The Rays have also re-promoted outfield Luke Raley to take KK’s roster spot.
On the brighter side of what could have been just a doom and gloom article, Jeffrey Springs seems set to lose potentially a month of time but may be in the best position to return this season to the Rays in a timely manner, hopefully missing only 2-3 starts thanks to the upcoming All-Star Break.
The context of this IL placement is important as well: Springs was a reliever from 2018-2021 and has not weathered this many innings in some time, and also has a 5-month old child in the hospital.
After his most recent start in Boston, Springs joined the team on Monday night, fought through four innings on Tuesday Nnght, and was back on a plane Wednesday morning, all the while working out at the Trop and spending nights in the hospital with his baby. The effort was admirable, and the clubhouse’s appreciation was palpable, but the tears in his eyes after the Rays 8-4 win told the biggest story of the night. Ultimately, this IL stint may also be what’s best for the pitcher both personally and professionally.
In his stead the Rays have promoted fellow lefty Josh Fleming, who will likely follow an opener against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field on Monday.
So, is the season over?
Injuries are absolutely nothing new for this Tampa Bay Rays team, which keeps dancing back and forth with the Red Sox to be the leader in the Wild Card standings. All but 9 of the 28-men who started the season on the Opening Day roster have hit the injured list this year at some point.
The Rays may be known for trading away top players, but in fact they are not a team that tanks. They play with a high floor and a deep roster. In a season like 2022 that means Tampa Bay will stay competitive; it’s by design. The Rays are always “competitive enough.”
So, is the season over? Not by any means. Another four games against Boston is on deck, then three against Baltimore and an opportunity to rest legs during the All-Star break.
Indeed, over the next month of games the Rays will play just 6 against teams above .500 and all of those will be at the Trop (Boston: July 11-14; Toronto: Aug 2-3). This season has already shown us the Rays can compete in 2022.
Let’s see what the kids can do.