Fort Myers Florida Weekly

Rays–A look ahead

The Tampa Bay Rays have been around since 1998, when they joined the American League as an expansion team called the Devil Rays. Their history can be broken into three phases:

A: Pre-Evan Longoria

B: Evan Longoria

C: Post-Evan Longoria

The Rays are now going into Phase C, trying to find their way through the jungle of the American League East without the best player in franchise history for the first time since the 2007 season.

They traded Mr. Longoria to the San Francisco Giants just before Christmas. Merry Christmas, Rays fans.

Mr. Longoria, a third baseman, was the team’s cornerstone and key to their rise from the depths of the standings to a pennant and World Series appearance in 2008, his rookie season.

That was the dawn of the Longoria Era. The Rays showed a startling 31-game improvement that year, won 97 games and the division title. It was the first of six consecutive winning seasons for the former doormat.

That seems long ago and Longoria ago. …

The Rays will report to spring training at the Charlotte Sports Complex coming off four consecutive losing seasons.

Now what?

What will 2018 look like for this bargain basement team stuck in a division with financial heavy hitters such as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees?

Heck, who is going to play third base?

As Florida Weekly prepared this preview over Christmas weekend it wasn’t even clear who would replace Mr. Longoria at third base. He will be missed. That much is certain. Mr. Longoria is a three-time All-Star and winner of three Gold Gloves. He hit the most famous homer in franchise history, the walk-off blast down the left-field line in Game 162 of the 2011 season in Tropicana Field that propelled the Rays into the playoffs.

Not only was he good he was durable, playing at least 156 games every year between 2013 and 2017 and the first four of those years played in at least 160 games.

Third base?

Will it be Christian Arroyo, who was acquired in the trade? Mr. Arroyo is from the Tampa Bay Area, having played at Hernando High School in Brooksville, which is not far north of Tropicana Field.

Will it be Matt Duffy, who missed the 2016 season after heel surgery complications?

Maybe it will be minor-league shortstop Willy Adames, who could be converted into a third baseman.

What about Ryan Schimpf, who was listed first on the depth chart at third base over Christmas?

This question might be answered during spring training.

And there is a bigger question: Can the Rays compete in the Post-Longoria Era?

Although their prospects for 2018 don’t appear good in the dawning of the post-Longoria Era it’s not as if the Rays are a clown show, some sort of second coming of the 1962 New York Mets, a legendarily bad team that lost 120 teams. They were 80-82 last year and finished ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles.

The Rays still have talent. Just not as much, it appears, as the Red Sox and Yankees.

Shortstop Adeiny Hechavararria is a legit big-league shortstop, an infielder with range, soft hands and a strong arm.

As Florida Weekly prepared this preview around Christmas there was talk of more trades. Great uncertainty surrounded the look of the 2018 Rays.

It could be a long season for Manager Kevin Cash and the team’s fans.

The starting rotation has fine arms with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Austin Pruitt, Jake Faria and Blake Snell heading the staff.

The Rays will need Mr. Archer to pitch like an ace. In 2015, he was 12-13 with a 3.23 ERA but in 2016 he was 9-19 with a 4.02 ERA. In 2017 his record (10- 12) was better than the previous year but his ERA was slightly higher, 4.07.

If the Rays starters and bullpen can get the game to closer Alex Colome the team will be in good shape. Mr. Colome was 2-3 last year with a league-leading 47 saves.

In addition to losing Mr. Longoria the Rays may be going into the season without another slugger – first baseman Logan Morrison, who hit 38 homers last year. Mr. Morrison was a free agent early in the winter and had not signed with another team.

Brad Miller, who hit 30 homers in 2016, was penciled in at first base. In 2017, Mr. Miller hit .201 with nine homers and 40 RBI in 110 games.

Second baseman Daniel Robertson hit .206 with five homers and 19 RBI in 218 at-bats last year.

DH Corey Dickerson is coming off an outstanding year. He hit .282 with 27 homers and 62 RBI in 2017.

The 2017 season was the first for veteran catcher Wilson Ramos with the Rays and he hit .260 with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Tampa Bay’s starting outfielders are all dynamic players with big upsides.

Left fielder Mallex Smith is one of the game’s fastest players and is coming off a season in which he hit .270 with four triples and 16 stolen bases in 81 games.

Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is one of the game’s best defensive players, a Gold Glove winner in 2015 and 2016. In 2015 he also won the Platinum Award as the best overall defensive player.

Right fielder Steven Souza, Jr. had a breakout year in the power department, hitting .239 with 30 homers and 78 RBI.

Will all these pieces be enough for the Rays to compete in the first year of the Post-Evan Longoria Era?

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