Tampa bay Rays
Winning Windows: Tampa Bay RaysBy Radar Rob | Updated on September 8th, 2020
What the Rays are able to do with the minuscule year-to-year payrolls and the financial giants in the AL East, is downright amazing. It is a real testament to the front office and player development staff to be able to compete year in and year out. The Rays' farm system is so deep and so talented, it seems like the winning window for this team is perpetually open, so let's dive in. We are going to zoom ahead and see what this team could look like at the beginning of the 2022 MLB season, which I view as the peak value of this roster.
Winning Window: Foreseeable Future
Last World Series Appearance: 2020
Next World Series Appearance Prediction: 2022
Catcher: Let us begin with catching. Mike Zunino has disappointed with the bat since returning to his home state of Florida. The Rays do have Top Prospect Ronaldo Hernandez not too far away, but I'm not 100% sure he will be tabbed to make the Rays Opening Day roster in 2022 given the subpar offensive output at A-Advanced Charlotte in 2019. So, I took some liberties here and have the Rays acquiring Chance Sisco from the Rays for at least Taylor Walls and Joshua Lowe. I figured the Orioles will be starting Adley Rutschman a vast majority of the time (as they should) and they can afford to sell a catcher like Sisco for prospects to fill other holes and utilize either Pedro Severino or Brett Cumberland as Rutschman's backup.
First Base: I am a big supporter of Yandy Diaz. I love the offensive approach that yields a high on-base percentage. Yes, the typical first basemen power profile isn't there, but the power can still come, I mean, have you seen Yandy's arms? They barely fit in the standard MLB uniforms; he might eventually have to get traded to a team that deploys the uniform vest with the shirt-sleeves combo to allow the blood to flow to the lower parts of his arms. His body will likely grow out of third base completely in the near future, yielding the position to one of the many Rays athletic, young players. The Rays do have Nate Lowe who can serve as a nice left-handed compliment with a bit more home run power, but at this point for me, Yandy needs to be in the lineup everyday.
Second Base: It's reasonable to believe that Vidal Brujan is going to displace Brandon Lowe from second base in the near future. Brujan is being touted as the next Albies-Altuve type player to hit at the top of the lineup and wreak havoc on the basepaths. The tools are loud, but the splits have become a little concerning in the upper minors, as Brujan has struggled against lefties (.552 OPS in 2019), but shouldn't be a huge problem since the Rays can deploy Brosseau there against tough lefties if need be.
Third Base: Yup, Wander Franco. It could be Adames here, or even Brosseau, if Adames is traded and Franco slots in at shortstop. Either way, you are gonna find a bat here, especially if it is Franco, who will be a perennial MVP candidate in my eyes. The bat-to-ball skills are elite. I tend to think of Jose Ramirez (a smaller third-basemen) here, but one that hits for way more average. Get excited for this one folks.
Shortstop: Willy Adames' bat has surprised me a bit in the last couple of years. We know the defense is really good, but up until the beginning of last year, I was ready to sim-trade Adames to make room for Wander Franco, but now I think Adames should be apart of this impressive, elite core the Rays will have. If the bat falls off a bit, there is also Joey Wendle available off the bench to fill in for Brujan or Franco in the event one of them slides over to shortstop.
Left Field: Brandon Lowe will most likely be pushed out to left field for Vidal Brujan, which is fine because Lowe is an athlete and will fare just fine in the outfield, and he also has the hitting profile that fits for a corner outfielder. In the event of an injury to Lowe, Meadows can move to left, Renfroe can move to right, and Nate Lowe can DH.
Center Field: So, I sim-traded Kevin Kiermaier away. I generally don't like the aging defense-first/speed-guy/mediocre-bat/multi-year-contract profile, and I think the Rays are also aware of this, so, they will do a Rays-like thing and trade him while he still has value and the contract is justifiable. I also am really excited about Randy Arozarena. His 1.003 OPS season in the minors in 2019 is what got me there, and so far his play in 2020 warrants more consistent playing time.
Right Field: Austin Meadows is struggling a bit in 2020, but the skills, track record, and pedigree are still there and I believe he will return to 2019 form as he enters his prime years. Renfroe may be a more talented right-fielder than Meadows in two years, at which point I will flip-flop the two, but for now, I have Meadows in right and feel comfortable with that.
Designated Hitter: I would like to see what Nate Lowe can do here or even a trade return of my sim-trades of Kiermaier, Margot, and Choi. I think it's possible for Nate Lowe to be ultimately be better than his younger brother Josh, who was a first round pick of the Rays. Nate has put up solid numbers in the minors, giving him a hitting profile that has a better chance of carrying over into the majors than the high-strikeout/power type of first base prospect. The Rays may also want to sign an aging veteran that can still hit to lead the young lineup and clubhouse for a potential World Series run.
The Rays have pitching depth as far as the eye could see. It's been their M/O in recent years to utilize their draft picks to sign advanced college and high school pitchers. In 2022, it's going to be a matter of who is healthy and effective. Right off the bat I have Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow leading the rotation, followed by one of my personal favorites in Brendan McKay, and Brent Honeywell Jr. (if he can be healthy), and closed out by Ryan Yarbrough, who has some of the best soft-contact rates in the league. Again, if healthy, this rotation is elite, and will be made better by an elite bullpen.
The primary question mark is around Brent Honeywell Jr. If Honeywell Jr. is unable to find consistent health, Joe Ryan may be ready to slot in to the rotation come 2022. Ryan has elite K/9 rates in the minors despite below average velocity and and interesting pedigree, hailing from DII Cal State Stanislaus. The Rays could also deploy Michael Plassmeyer, Josh Fleming, or Tobias Myers in case any other rotation candidate finds themselves on the injured list.
The Rays utilization and development of their bullpen pieces has pioneered a deployment strategy picked up by many other teams in the last few years. Generally, they take one thing a pitcher is really good at, and either exploit it, or amplify it, like Chaz Roe's slider, or Oliver Drake's changeup, for example. It's going to be tough to predict which projects the Rays choose to take on in two years, so I simply filled the bullpen with existing internal talent, since there is more than enough of it anyways.
I don't wish to get into the business of predicting bullpens, given year-to-year consistency unpredictability, especially two years away. It's a risky game, however, since bullpens arms are on the lower-end of the cost spectrum, and the Rays will do Rays things and find elite bullpen arms out of obscurity in the same way Bill Belichick finds high-end tight ends from lacrosse fields, I don't worry too much. If I am worried by any one thing here, it would be Jose Alvarado's ability to reduce the walk rate and to stay healthy, but otherwise you are looking at a potentially lethal bullpen that strikes out a ton of guys with electric stuff. I do have Shane McClanahan moving to the bullpen just because the profile seems to fit cleaner and because the Rays have so many darn good rotation options.