While the Rays are still expected to deal a hurler or two, it appears that Chris Archer is off the hot-seat for the moment. (Photo Credit: Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

40 days remain until pitchers and catchers report to camp, and all is quiet on the eastern front for the Tampa Bay Rays, at least for the moment. Talks around the league are expected to pick up as teams prepare for the start of the new season, and the Rays still have pitching depth to deal from — with Alex Colome and Jake Odorizzi the likeliest trade targets.

While Chris Archer was dangled on the market, it appears that his spot on the trade hot-seat has become cold and dusty — this in spite of a recent spate trade rumors around the Rays’ ace and Miguel Sanó … although sexual assault allegations tend to put the kibosh on things (and for good reason, seriously fuck that guy).

Make no bones about it, the Rays will enter Spring Training in the midst of a well needed reset/reboot, and likely as non-contenders in 2018 because of it. Yet a few questions lay in the wake, which Bill Chastain (MLB.com) enumerated on Sunday:

  1. Can Matt Duffy make a successful return after injuries cost him all of the 2017 season?
  2. Is Jake Bauers the answer at first base?
  3. Will Blake Snell continue on the track he followed in the second half of the 2017 season after a disappointing first half?
  4. Can Steven Souza Jr. elevate his performance to a higher level in 2018 after showing great improvement in ’17?
  5. Is Brent Honeywell a lock to find a spot in the Rays’ rotation?

My goal is to answer those questions with a little help from the experts.

…On Matt Duffy

After a wasted 2017 campaign, spent recovering from a pair of surgeries, Duffy is expected to enter Spring Training 2018 healthy and ready to compete for a spot at the hot-corner as the heir apparent to Evan Longoria. Duffy performed to a 4.9 fWAR at the hot corner in 2015, and it stands to reason that there should not be a reduction in performance at third base if he, indeed, is healthy.

Other experienced infielders like Ryan Schimpf, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle, and Micah Johnson could contribute in 2018.

For what it’s worth, the Rays view Wendle favorably for his history of hitting and quality glove work.

(Wendle is) really a high-quality defender and is about as reliable as they come said general manager Erik Neander.

…On Jake Bauers

The Rays have not yet named their first baseman now that Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda became free agents at the end of the season. Moreover, the direction the team takes — either toward a complete overhaul or the slow rebuild the team has been on since 2014 — will likely determine whether the Rays will sign any veteran free agents, like Mitch Moreland. Another intriguing possibility is Jake Bauers, who is already in the Rays organization at Triple-A Durham.

Bauers made a big impression on Kevin Cash during Spring Training last season, slashing .371 BA/.392 OBP/.465 SLG/.857 OPS. Bauers not only hit for power, but he also showed great plate discipline and put together quality at-bats.

He didn’t take off like many expected him to with Durham last season, although Bauers still showed a quality approach at the plate. His ability to hit the ball the opposite field also makes him a real threat.

The 22 year-old recovered from a slow start in 2017, ending his campaign with a respectable .263 BA/.368 OBP/.412 SLG/.780 OPS line, with 13 homers and 20 steals — something Cash made mention of during the Winter Meetings this past December.

You look at what Jake Bauers and Willy Adames did in Triple-A at a very, very young age, said the Rays skipper. I personally kinda like the fact that they got off to slow starts and you look at where their season ended up it was really impressive. From all reports … they really matured throughout the year. Both guys like to play a lot. They want to come up to bat in that big spot. They’re going to get to play a lot in spring training. … Solid guys.

The ever evolving Brad Miller, positionally speaking of course, could shift back to first base — the position he played at the end of 2016 — or Miller could platoon the spot with Bauers.

…On Blake Snell

It would be safe to say that Snell, who went 0-5 with a 4.85 ERA in 10 starts before the All-Star Break, had an abysmal first half last season, which resulted in a trifecta of demotions to Triple-A Durham. To be fair his stuff played well, although the southpaw struggled with command and control which prevented him from pitching deeply into ball games. Snell made a few adjustments after the break — moving to the center of the pitching rubber for one, and attacking the zone with his fastball for another — and enjoyed better results, going 5-2 with a 3.49 ERA in 14 starts.

Without Alex Cobb (and potentially Jake Odorizzi) in 2018, the team hopes Snell’s early struggles last season were an anomaly rather that the rule.

…On Steven Souza Jr.

According to Chastain:

After an injury-plagued 2016 campaign (120 games), Souza showed a lot of improvement in ’17. The power-hitting right fielder batted .239 with 30 home runs and 78 RBIs. He seemed to run out of gas late in the season, hitting .183 in August and .152 in September. The slow finish could be attributed to Souza’s not being able to fully condition himself for the season since he spent the previous offseason rehabbing from hip surgery. If he can get a little bit closer to his early months of ’17 and find more consistency, the Rays’ chances for success will be greatly enhanced.

That said, Souza and Kevin Kiermaier are locks in right and center next season, leaving a question mark hanging over left field. Both Corey Dickerson and Denard Span have become the subject of trade speculation, with one or the other potentially not getting the opportunity to attend camp in Port Charlotte.

Nothing would surprise me if I get traded or flipped or whatever the terminology is. I guess until I show up to spring training then it will probably sink in that I’m a Ray, Span told Roger Mooney (Tampa Bay Times). There are so many possibilities, but I definitely would love to put on this hometown uniform. It would be a dream come true. It was something I always imagined.

Playing devils advocate, should both players break camp at the end of March, Dickerson will likely get some playing time in left, although he’d likely be the main DH. To his credit, Span has some value to the team on the field and in the clubhouse, so the Rays could begin the season with Span in a corner outfield role.

…On Brent Honeywell

The number of open slots in the starting rotation could help determine where Honeywell starts the season. One spot opened when Cobb left for free agency, and that will likely be battled over by Honeywell, Ryan Yarbrough, Austin Pruitt and Nathan Eovaldi — the latter of which both have big league experience. The team is expected to deal at least one starter elsewhere, which would open up at least another spot in the rotation.

My gut tells me that Honeywell will start the season in Durham, where he can work on command without accruing big league service time. How much additional time he would need in Triple-A fails to be seen at them moment.

In Conclusion

Next season likely will not be pretty. The roster will be composed of players on expiring contracts and others playing out their rookie contracts with an eye toward contention in 2019 and beyond.

Chastain summed things up well, saying:

At this juncture, the Rays are solid up the middle with catcher Wilson Ramos, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, with the second-base position to be determined.

As usual, the Rays have a stable of quality pitchers in their starting rotation, though one or more of that group might be used in trades to bolster the organization. So even if the Rays are active during the remainder of the offseason, they should still have a solid group of starters for 2018 — provided they live up to expectations.

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