The Rays nearly won their first World Series in 2020 but fell short to the Dodgers. It was a series to behold as the two teams deployed completely different styles of operation with both leading to success. Can Tampa Bay get back to the Fall Classic using that same kind of play style?
Key Additions: Fransisco Mejia, Luis Patiño, Chris Archer
Key Subtractions: Blake Snell, Hunter Renfroe, Charlie Morton
Tampa didn’t make too many moves over the offseason, but they did make one that will have a major impact. Trading Blake Snell away seems like a questionable move for a team that made it to the World Series a year ago. Snell has been one of the more productive left-handed starters since he broke into the league in 2016 while winning the Cy Young in 2018. There was some tension between Blake and the team given how he was handled in the postseason and it may have been the beginning of the end for the two sides. Whatever the cause of the split, the two parties are no longer together and Tampa Bay has to find a new ace.
Even with the team losing some solid pieces in Morton, Snell, and Renfroe, they should be fine. I don’t think the team will be quite as good as last year, but the Rays find ways to be great. Tampa Bay seems to have some sort of black magic working that no one else can seem to find. They should be on pace for an 85 win season without a star thanks to their bullpen and timely production at the plate.
The Rays had one of the better pitching staffs in baseball and despite losing two key pieces, they should be able to do it again. The way Tampa Bay operates may actually be better without the likes of Snell. That may seem odd, but the team is so calculated in how they want to handle matchups that not having a star who gets in the way of a game plan may help. Nick Anderson has quietly been one of the best pitchers in baseball since making his debut and he will headline the bullpen. Throwing in guys like Diego Castillo, Chaz Roe, and Yonny Chirinos should only make this one of the league’s best run-stopping groups.
Outside of Brandon Lowe, I’m not entirely sold on any of the position players on this team. Willy Adames was better last year but his lefty/righty splits are odd and the walk percentage scares me. If he can make a few more adjustments at the plate and show continual growth I’ll start to become a fan. Austin Meadows was rough in 2020. He struggled to stay on the field and when he was, it was brutal. He needs to be an offensive force if the Rays hope to make another playoff run. Kevin Kiermaier can’t stay healthy enough and a few of they guys that performed well last year will have to prove they can do it over the course of a full season.
Someone people fell in love with last year is Randy Arozarena. The guy was an absolute force in the postseason after posting a 179 OPS+ in the 2020 regular season. His production was other-worldly and fans have started to pencil him in as a stud for this team going forward. The Rays may have found a diamond in the rough but I’m not buying it quite yet. Arozarena was a solid prospect in the Minors, garnering some top-100 buzz, but no one thought he’d be essentially Mike Trout for a 46 game stretch. That’s the thing that gets me; it was just 46 games. Pitchers are going to hone in on this guy now that they know what he’s working with and he’ll need to make serious adjustments this year. I don’t think he’ll fall off a cliff or anything, but to think he’ll hit for an OPS+ above 150 in 2021 is a big stretch for me. He’s good, but he’s not that good. Tampa Bay has a knack for finding ways to win games. It seems unsustainable but somehow they always make it work. One of these years it won’t; this might be the year.
Someone who might be that good is Wander Franco. The top prospect in baseball is eyeing the Bigs this season and it’ll be fun to see what he does when he gets there. Franco won’t begin the year in Tampa, but he should end it in a Rays uniform. The switch-hitting infielder has one of the better bats to ever come through the Minors. Throw in his chance to stick at shortstop and the potential to have all five tools and you’ve got a stud. The Rays haven’t been shy about bringing guys up over the years so I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long before Wander makes his debut. He’s looked good in Spring Training, giving people a taste of what he can really do. Willy Adames seems to have shortstop locked down so there might be some questions about where Franco will play. What can’t be questioned is his ability to play in the Majors. Find him somewhere to play and enjoy the show.
Tampa Bay is a team I’m never really sold on but I don’t think it is smart to count them out. They’ve continually found ways to win even when it doesn’t seem like they should. It’ll be interesting to see how long they can keep this act of low spending, big wins up.