Three teams finished the 2017 season with 80-82 records, but the Tampa Bay Rays are the first stop after finishing third in the American League East and a 3-4 record against the 8-win Kansas City Royals. The LA Angels sit atop of the 80-win totem pole with a second-place finish in the AL West.
Despite consistently sitting four to six games below .500 since mid-August, the Rays weren’t completely eliminated from playoff contention until Sept. 25. This was, of course, a result of the competition in the Wild Card race.
However, the entire season shouldn’t be considered subpar, as the Rays lingered north of .500 as late as Aug. 11, due mostly to superior pitching. Tampa Bay was led on the mound by ace Chris Archer, who, despite his 10-12 record, mowed down opposing hitters with a team-high 249 strikeouts (Alex Cobb was next in line with 128 Ks) and an astounding 4.15 strikeout to walk ratio. Rays pitching was also good late in games with an AL-best 53 saves, which is amazing for an 80-win team.
Good pitching often translates to good defense, which was somewhat the case for the Rays. Though they ended the season sixth in the AL in errors with 100, the Rays were second in the AL in defensive efficiency at .701, behind only the New York Yankees at .703.
After what could have been a promising season, the Rays’ woes came at the plate. They finished in the bottom five of every major offensive category in the AL, including tallying the most strikeouts. The bright spots came in the form of power with 32 triples and 228 homers, for third and sixth, respectively, in the AL.
With third baseman Evan Longoria gone, the Rays are going to need to find someone to step in to fill his offensive void. Even after a down year offensively, Longoria gave more offensive output in 2017 than his current replacements (Ryan Schimpf and Christian Arroyo) combined.
The Rays have hit the reset button and could use a third baseman who is either young or willing to mentor prospects. Mike Moustakas is the top free agent at the hot corner, but he’ll likely head somewhere where the winning is hot. After a few months as a rental for the Yankees, Todd Frazier brings a plethora of experience in all the right places to mentor up-and-coming players for the Rays organization. Especially guys who posted sub-.200 batting averages in 2017.
Another void the Rays could hit the open market looking to fill is first base. As the 40-man roster currently sits, second baseman Brad Miller is listed as the lone one bagger. Mike Napoli is still available, and at 36 years old isn’t overly appealing to many teams. With Miller making the switch to first, Napoli, who made the switch from catcher, would be a solid mentor to help him make the change.
The Rays were far more competitive in 2017 than anyone could have anticipated. The same likely won’t be the case for 2018, so it’s safe to expect a full rebuild.
Photo by Brigham Berthold