Sunday, November 19, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Five questions as Tampa Bay Rays enter second half of season

RECOMMENDED READING


The Rays reassembled Thursday for a workout at the Trop in advance of resuming play tonight against the Red Sox. They open a seasonlong 10-game homestand, full of the obligatory optimism about being 45-41 and a half-game off the AL wild-card lead despite a slew of injuries, but also with issues that could impact their short- and long-term future. Here are five major questions:

When is Evan Longoria coming back?

The Rays don't really know. Executive VP Andrew Friedman said Thursday that they are "confident" that their star third baseman will return at some point, but the nature of the injury — a partial tear of his left hamstring — prevents them from putting a definitive timetable on it, unlike a broken bone that heals in a set time. Longoria returns today from a vacation in Cabo and his appearance at the ESPY awards in Los Angeles (assuming he didn't trip on the red carpet) and will resume some baseball activities, though Friedman said the work and treatment being done in the trainers' room is still more important. There is a loose framework that after 7-10 days he will start another rehab assignment, which suggests, with no further setbacks, a return in early to mid August. "Hopefully in the next couple weeks it will be a little more evident of what we can expect," Friedman said.

Who, among the healthy players, needs to step it up the most?

There's a long list, but the answer has got to be among the quartet of Desmond Jennings, Carlos Peña, Luke Scott and B.J. Upton, who have combined for only a .221 average and a .679 on-base plus-slugging percentage. How about Upton, right, who was hot for a while but cooled off and since late May is hitting .205 with a .565 OPS and 52 strikeouts in 38 games? Jennings, who was twice dropped from the leadoff spot, is hitting .200 with a .265 on-base percentage in 32 games since coming off the DL after a left knee sprain? Peña, left, who somewhat expectedly has a .201 average and 110 strikeouts (in 368 plate appearances), but only 13 homers and a .372 slugging percentage (the same as the Indians' Casey Kotchman, whom Peña replaced). And Scott, who was brought in just for his bat and, while leading the team with 42 RBIs, has been injured and inconsistent much of the year, hitting .205 with only a .669 OPS (lower than Kotchman, Boston's Mike Aviles, Seattle's Kyle Seager)?

Can they still make the playoffs?

Amazingly, despite all that has gone wrong thus far, yes. With health, absolutely yes. While the 7½ games between them and the first-place Yankees look sizable, the Rays are only a half-game behind the wild-card-leading Angels and Orioles, who look like they might be finally ready to return to reality, and ahead of a group of other contenders, the Indians, Tigers, A's, Red Sox and Jays, none of whom look particularly threatening.

Will the Rays be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

The timing of 3B Evan Longoria's return will be a key in the decisionmaking, as well as that of OF Matt Joyce, right. Executive VP Andrew Friedman said their overall health is "kind of the linchpin" in what they do. Traditionally, the Rays have never been big buyers at the July 31 deadline, so don't expect much. Knowing Longoria will be back sooner would allow them to try to address other concerns (catcher, shortstop). If he will be out longer, they could either seek another interim replacement or more offense at another spot, such as a low-cost pickup like the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, top left. In a worst-case scenario — Longoria delayed, losing most of the 17 games before the deadline — they could deal potential free agents-to-be such as B.J. Upton, Carlos Peña, Luke Scott and others for talent and/or savings that helps in the future.

Besides health, what's their biggest concern?

It's got to be the defense, which much to their surprise and dismay, has been among the majors' worst (ahead of only Baltimore). That's bad enough, but there's residual impact as well. Their pitchers end up being less effective and more taxed. And their offense, already historically bad as the first team in the DH era (1973) to have a winning record at the break hitting as low as .232, is further challenged.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

     
   
Comments
Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

After collecting intelligence at last week’s GM meetings, the Rays soon will launch their offseason mission of trading at least a couple of veterans to reduce payroll.The question is how far they will go — how many players they deal, and how big of n...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rocco Baldelli’s promotion on Rays coaching staff now makes him major league field coordinator

Rocco Baldelli’s promotion on Rays coaching staff now makes him major league field coordinator

The Rays completed the reorganization of their coaching staff by giving Rocco Baldelli the title of major league field coordinator.In being promoted from first-base coach, Baldelli will implement ideas and information from the staff, while assisting ...
Published: 11/17/17
Rays hope to cash in on Alex Cobb leaving

Rays hope to cash in on Alex Cobb leaving

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Rays were banking on pitcher Alex Cobb declining their one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer based on the lure of a longer-term and more lucrative deal elsewhere as a free agent.With that decision official Thursday, now the ...
Published: 11/16/17
Commissioner Rob Manfred likes Ybor City stadium site, but must see more support to keep baseball in Tampa Bay

Commissioner Rob Manfred likes Ybor City stadium site, but must see more support to keep baseball in Tampa Bay

LAKE BUENA VISTA — MLB commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t want to talk Thursday about what might happen if the current effort to build the Rays a new stadium at the Ybor City site falls through."I’m more focused on working with the community to figure o...
Published: 11/16/17
A message to Rays fans from Alex Cobb

A message to Rays fans from Alex Cobb

Here is a message from RHP Alex Cobb after he officially left the Rays Thursday in declining their one-year, $17.4-milllion qualifying offer to seek a bigger and longer pact elsewhere:"Getting to this point in my career is truly bittersweet."Twelve y...
Published: 11/16/17
UPDATE: Rays to gain draft pick for loss of free agent pitcher Alex Cobb

UPDATE: Rays to gain draft pick for loss of free agent pitcher Alex Cobb

UPDATE, 5:01: Cobb did not accept the offer by the deadline, as expected.DEVELOPING: Sometime before today's 5 p.m. deadline, the Rays will get official word that their $17.4-million slight gamble on Alex Cobb paid off.The Rays made the free-agent ri...
Published: 11/16/17
As he prepares to leave the Rays, how will you remember Alex Cobb?

As he prepares to leave the Rays, how will you remember Alex Cobb?

Presuming Alex Cobb declines the Rays’ one-year, $17.4-million qualifying offer by 5 p.m. today, he has pitched his last game for Tampa Bay.Cobb has received preliminary interest from "lots of teams" already, agent Dan Horwits said. The Cubs and Twin...
Published: 11/16/17
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says progress must continue on new stadium to keep Rays

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says progress must continue on new stadium to keep Rays

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made clear Thursday that identification of a site for a new Rays stadium is merely the first step for area leaders to show they want to keep the team long-term and that there needs to "consistent forward movement" on the ...
Published: 11/16/17
Sternberg: Tampa Bay Rays' share of new ballpark could be $150 million

Sternberg: Tampa Bay Rays' share of new ballpark could be $150 million

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Wednesday that the team is "genuinely excited" about the proposed Ybor City site for a new stadium and more than "cautiously optimistic" the project can be completed. But ...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17

Rays journal: No big deals at GM meetings, but possible groundwork laid

By MARC TOPKINLAKE BUENA VISTA — Rays officials left the GM meetings without making any big deals — such as trading Alex Colome or Chris Archer to the Cardinals — but more knowledgeable about the possibilities. "Expectations were to utilize these few...
Published: 11/15/17