Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

"Hope" the operative term as Rays prepare to report to camp

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and economist Benjamin Ola Akande are credited with first using the phrase, and in much deeper contexts than baseball, that "hope is not a strategy."

But as the Rays head into the final week before opening spring training, that seems a fair and applicable framework for assessing their chances, after a busy and debatable offseason, of returning to contention in 2017.

Because to improve the requisite 20-25 games, they have to hope a lot goes right. Such as:

• One of the remaining big bats on the market — headlined by Matt Wieters, Chris Carter, Mike Napoli and, less so, Franklin Gutierrez — is willing to sign on, putting opportunity ahead of potentially more dollars elsewhere; or they make a trade, to add some needed offense after the trade of Logan Forsythe.

• Five key players coming off surgeries — newcomers OF Colby Rasmus and C Wilson Ramos, returnees SS Matt Duffy, OF Steven Souza Jr. and 1B Logan Morrison — heal properly, don't have setbacks, are ready for or shortly after opening day (except for Ramos) and regain past form.

• Brad Miller can handle the shift to second base from first (after being moved last year from short to first) and Duffy the full-time move from third back to shortstop (where he played in the minors) they planned on when acquiring him for Matt Moore in August.

• One of the experienced relievers left on the market can be signed, one of their young arms emerges and just-signed RHP Shawn Tolleson regains 2015 form to provide needed depth and experience to the bullpen.

• Starters Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Blake Snell and likely Matt Andriese or Erasmo Ramirez all — or mostly all — get off to better beginnings and eliminate questions/concerns raised by their 2016 inconsistency.

Overall, the Rays have had an interesting winter, praised by some, panned by others. As one team exec asked, would their work be viewed more favorably if they had traded Forsythe and LHP Drew Smyly first then added Ramos, Rasmus, Tolleson, Morrison, OF Mallex Smith, touted prospect RHP Jose De Leon and a TBA bat and reliever? Maybe so.

But now they just have to hope it works out.

ALEX THE … HUH?: RHP Alex Colome made the AL All-Star team and ranked fourth in the league with 37 saves but wasn't among the 24 — 24! — relievers MLB Network considered in determining the game's best. Showing good humor, Colome tweeted back, "Hi guys" with a waving emoji. … Colome got left out again when the Rays unveiled a list of 23 promotional giveaways and none featured him.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Reading even more (fairly or not) into the promo schedule, of the 10 giveaways slated for after the July 31 trade deadline, only one features a player (Snell). Weekday themed promotions and concerts are expected to be added. … Fox has a short list of finalists to replace in-game TV host Todd Kalas. … Side note to the signing of Rickie Weeks: the Rays considered him for the top pick of the 2003 draft but instead took Delmon Young. … As much as Forsythe will be missed, consider that after returning from the DL June 10, he hit .252 with a .315 on-base percentage and .423 slugging percentage. Over that time, though in fewer games and with less power, Tim Beckham hit .286/.338/.468 and Nick Franklin .272/.323/.445. … ESPN's Keith Law had three Rays among his Top 100 prospects: INF Willy Adames 43rd, RHP Brent Honeywell 54th, De Leon 73rd. … Though the Rays released injured OF Jason Coats, who was said to blow out his elbow the day he was claimed off waivers from the White Sox, they are responsible for the costs of his Tommy John surgery and rehab. … Given it's Super Bowl Sunday, which current Ray would have done best on the football field? Souza would claim to, but we'll take CF Kevin Kiermaier, as either a receiver or defensive back. … Tropicana Field will be the 13th stadium where smokeless tobacco is not allowed to be used, a ban supported by the Rays and MLB and made official recently by the St. Petersburg City Council vote. … Former Devil Rays reliever Lee Gardner was elected to the Triple-A International League Hall of Fame, due to his 2000-05 work at Durham.

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