Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tampa Bay Rays: Significant Surprises, Monumental Disappointments, and Second-Half Expectations

The Tampa Bay Rays have been an exhaustive letdown, posting an aggravating 44-53 record  9.5 back of the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles and tied for last place within the division at the MLB All-Star break.

Injuries have cursed the Rays, losing former all-star pitcher Matt Moore for the year to an elbow injury, shelving pitcher Alex Cobb for multiple weeks to an oblique strain, sending pitcher Jeremy Hellickson to Double-A affiliate Port Charlotte for an extended rehab session after shoulder surgery, disabling designated hitter/outfielder David DeJesus to a fractured hand, recently disabling catcher Ryan Hanigan (his second stint to the DL this season) to an oblique strain, and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers is reportedly out until August with a wrist injury.

With the rash of injuries, the Rays have been forced to regularly start the aging Jose Molina, who is batting .195 in 149 at-bats, journeyman pitcher Erik Bedard, posting a 4.76 ERA in 75.2 innings, and second baseman Logan Forsythe, who, up until recently, has been a disappointing acquisition, but has improved – hitting .250 with two doubles and a home run in July.

Trade rumors surrounding former Cy Young Award winner and club ace David Price have been circling for months. Price has one more year under club control and is allegedly due $20-plus million in arbitration, then becomes a free agent after 2015.

Rays' utility man Ben Zobrist has also been the conversation of trade. Zobrist has one-year remaining in his contract and is due to earn $7 million this season and $7.5 million in 2015.

Although Price won't admit it, the trade rumors, along with the excessive amount of injuries, has got to be a distraction in the locker room.

With that said, the Rays have been on a tear, winning 11 of the last 15 games, getting a major boost from rookie outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, and seeing a resurgence in its starting pitching. Winning the AL East isn't out of the question, either. With 65 games remaining, and the AL East continuing its nosedive, the Rays could potentially climb back.

The post-season certainly isn't out of the question, but with the hefty price tag attached to Zobrist and Price, as well as the depleted talent to the Rays' farm system, does Tampa Bay want to risk passing on top-tier prospects to replenish its minor league affiliates for a slim shot at the playoffs?

Multiple teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals and most recently the Seattle Mariners, have inquired about Price and what the fee will be to trade for the all-star, but so far nothing has been confirmed. General Manager Andrew Friedman has to make this trade if the Rays are to rebuild and reload for the 2015 campaign.

The Rays success these past six seasons can be attested to a solid minor-league system, but the talent pool in Montgomery and Durham have diminished with players being called up, players traded, and prospects who just haven't panned out. Friedman needs to make the Price trade and stock up on future prospects if a small-market team like the Rays is to survive.

Fans will recall the magical 2011 season where Evan Longoria hit a home run in the bottom of the 12th inning during game 162 to propel the Rays to a playoff berth, but no such enchantments will boost the Rays this time around. Tampa Bay has to make the necessary trades if they are to be in any sort of playoff discussion in 2015. If the Rays hold onto Price while dropping to its knees in prayer, the Devil Rays days may be on the horizon.

Significant Surprises

The consensus seems to be Kiermaier, but reliever Jake McGee has been exceptional. Posting a 1.52 ERA in 41.1 innings and seven saves, McGee has solidified himself as the number one option as Manager Joe Maddon's closer in 2015.

Monumental Disappointments

Once again, the consensus is former closer Grant Balfour, but Longoria is supposed to be the team's leader and clutch hitter. Longo has been anything but – batting .257 in 373 at-bats with 11 home runs. Maybe the lack of presence batting in front and/or behind him is the problem, but the clutch hitting is missing.

Second-Half Expectations

Tampa Bay has been grinding to get back into the playoff picture since mid-May. While the Rays make it interesting by getting close to .500, the team will eventually tire out, finishing fourth in the AL East – ahead of the New York Yankees and behind the Boston Red Sox.

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