It’s that time of year again, where three blogs — X-Rays Spex included — were asked six Tampa Bay Rays centric questions by Daniel Shoptaw of C70 at the Bat blog, for their annual Playing Pepper series. We love playing Q&A with Daniel, so of course we obliged him in the request! You can read our responses below, as well as the rest of the Q&A session over at C70 at the Bat.
1. Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there a move you wished they had made that they didn’t?
I would call it a decent offseason. The Rays made some good moves, like the acquisitions of Wilson Ramos and Colby Rasmus – which shore the defense behind the plate and in the outfield – as well as the re-inking of Logan Morrison. In kind, the addition of Mallex Smith, who is a Gold Glove caliber outfielder at all three spots, adds to the Rays superb outfield.
However, they lost fan favorite Logan Forsythe in the trade with the Dodgers for Jose De Leon, which set them back in certain terms. Tampa Bay could use another left-handed relief pitcher, an outfielder and/or bench depth, and someone who could increase the on base percentage numbers of this lineup.
2. Evan Longoria seemed to have a bit of a bounce-back year last season. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s only 31. What are the expectations for him this year?
Regression happens, and Longoria will likely regress from last season’s campaign. How much will he regress is the question.
The ZiPS projection system has Longoria slashing .266 BA/.318 OBB/.485 SLG/.803 OPS/.336 wOBA/113 wRC+ with 30 homers, 79 runs, 88 RBI and a 3.5 fWAR – down from last season, yet not terrible by any stretch of the imagination. ZiPS also projects a 12% drop in ISO (from .248 to .219), however, his exit velocity and improved launch angle suggests that might be a tad pessimistic.
3. What kind of job competition will go on during spring training?
There is competition at the catching position with three players – Curt Casali, Luke Maile and Jesus Sucre – vying for two roster spots. This, of course, is while the Rays await the return of Wilson Ramos, who is recovering from knee surgery.
On the infield, with Matt Duffy’s slow recovery from offseason heel surgery, INF Daniel Robertson — who’s looked better at the plate, and in the field, since the start of Spring Training — could make the team as a utility infielder behind Tim Beckham, given their newfound need for a right-handed bat. That, however, depends on whether the Rays add a right-handed hitting outfielder. Robertson is also competing against Michael McKenry and Nick Franklin for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
As for the bullpen, Alex Colome and Xavier Cedeno are certainties, as are Brad Boxberger, Shawn Tolleson and Erasmo Ramirez. Beyond that, Danny Farquhar, Ryan Garton, Ryne Stanek and Jose Alvarado are battling for spots.
There have been trade rumors swirling around Ramirez, which would open a roster spot, while Boxberger is expected to start the season on the DL, which will open another.
4. Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?
That’s a tough question, but I have to go with Mallex Smith if only for the amount of work he puts into perfecting the art of bunting.
5. What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?
If only I could see into a crystal ball. Instead, I will defer to analytics and computers.
Bouncing back from a 68 win season is no easy task, yet the PECOTA projection system likes the Rays’ off-season moves and is forecasting Tampa Bay as the sixth best team in the American League, and second best team in the AL East with a mean average of 84 wins to 78 losses. A lot of things will have to go right for the Rays to end the season as contenders.
An interesting side to the projection, PECOTA pegs Tampa Bay’s defense to save 27.0 fielding runs above average (FRAA) — tied for fourth best in the AL. When compared with the other teams in the AL East, the Rays (tied with Toronto) the others by a fairly negligible margin…unless you’re the Baltimore Orioles and are projected for a -4.3 FRAA.
Overall, the Rays are projected for a total WAR of 32.6 (12.1 pitching and 20.5 non-pitching) — second best in the AL East behind Boston (39.4).
6. Who is your all-time favorite Ray and why?
Hands down, Ben Zobrist. The former Ray, in my opinion, exemplifies what it means to be a solid ball player and an all-around good human being. And while he may be regressing – growing older has an effect on all of us – Zobrist still works hard and his reputation precedes him.
I met BenZo a few years back when I taught at a different elementary school. A student had won a promotional contest in which his class got the opportunity to meet him. Knowing my love of the Rays, the school’s community coordinator went out of her way to let me meet Zobrist privately. And while it was like talking to Springsteen, in that I geeked out really hard, Zobrist’s character and everyman demeanor shined through and put me at ease. Being the nerd that I am, I will always cherish the baseball he autographed for me.
Note: We submitted our responses before the Rays acquired free-agent catcher Derek Norris. The section dealing with the battle for a catching spot (in question 3) on the roster has changed dramatically.
Thank you so much for making us a part of this again, Daniel!
Rays 2017 roster construction
Have you ever wondered how the Rays’ current 40-man roster was constructed, yet haven’t the time to do a ton of internet sleuthing? Our friend Robert Selg (Rays Republic blog) has your back! Robert created a great tool (embedded below) that does just that, and it extends all the way back to 1998 when Chuck Lamar was the General Manager.
Rays’ stadium location search, and what comes next
If you’re like me, you likely were dismayed by the news that the Rays’ top choices for a new ballpark location are not available, while Stu Sternberg’s diagnosis that the team’s future in Tampa Bay is very much “unknown.” Friend of the blog Noah Pransky (Shadow of the Stadium blog, WTSP news) deciphered the signal from the noise, and went out of his way to remind everyone that this really isn’t news at all. Rather Pransky found another effort by to regain leverage in some capacity.
…the Rays aren’t ready to do much of anything in the next few months, writes Pransky, most likely because of the lack of political opportunity. A strong season or shift in Tallahassee priorities could change that.
Pinellas remains light years ahead of where Hillsborough is in terms of courting the team. Readers of this blog understand they’ve always been, simply because of funding.
You can read his well reasoned article at Shadow of the Stadium blog.