Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays may need to make radical changes to continue success

ST. PETERSBURG

Here's a sobering thought to start your baseball offseason: What if this Rays run is over?

What if we've seen the best we're going to see from this little-franchise-that-could for a while? What if the window of five consecutive winning seasons and three postseason appearances is about to slam shut?

The Rays are at a crossroads. They could somehow piecemeal a competitive team next season around superstars Evan Longoria and David Price. Or they could take a step back.

Only one thing is certain: Changes are coming. They always do with the Rays, win or lose. Such is life when you're a small-market team trying to make it in a big-market league. But this offseason seems more uncertain and unsettling than in the past.

B.J. Upton almost certainly played his last game with the Rays on Wednesday night. Carlos Peña and Luke Scott, too. Everything else is up in the air, from who is coming to who is going. As the Rays face, perhaps, their most important offseason ever, here are a few random thoughts for how the Rays should approach the next few months.

It's time to trade a pitcher

The Rays' formula of building around pitching works. Well, it sort of works.

Despite an anemic offense, the Rays have put together one of the best records in baseball over the past five years.

But let's think about this: The Rays missed the playoffs in 2009, missed the playoffs this season and would have missed the playoffs last season if not for an epic collapse by the Red Sox and one of the most incredible final days in baseball history.

So, let's not act as if the blueprint is foolproof. It doesn't matter how good your pitching is, and this season was about as good as it gets; you have to score runs to win. The Rays are at home today because they didn't score enough runs. They need hitters.

There are three ways to acquire heavy hitters. You can draft and develop them. You can sign free agents. Or you can trade for them.

Well, there are no Mike Trouts or Bryce Harpers coming up from the minors, and the Rays don't have the money to sign Grade A free agents. That leaves a trade as the most likely option, and you have to give up something good to get something good. What do they have that's good? Starting pitching, way more than they need. It's time to part with one or two or three to get someone who can hit baseballs into the gaps and over the fences on a consistent basis.

It's time to trade James Shields

That won't be easy, considering what we saw Tuesday night. Shields might have thrown the best game in Rays history, a two-hit, 15-strikeout masterpiece.

And they still lost. Didn't that just epitomize the Rays? Great pitching completely wasted by a total lack of offense?

Look, I see the argument for keeping Shields. He might be the best No. 2 pitcher in baseball. He eats up 200-plus innings a year, saving wear and tear on the bullpen. He's a bulldog who sets a fine example on and off the field for the Rays' young staff. And as good and promising as this staff is, you can't say there is anyone ready to assume Shields' role as that workhorse behind Price.

But Shields is due $10.25 million next season and turns 31 in December, and if you put him on the block, he likely would fetch a pretty decent bat, maybe even two. Would you prefer to part with a Jeremy Hellickson or Wade Davis? Probably. But if you're another team, you're asking for Shields. He is the Rays' best bait.

Forget Evan Longoria's injury as an excuse

You see Longoria crack three homers Wednesday night and wonder where this team would be if he had missed only two months instead of three. There's no question his absence hurt. A lot. But, injuries happen. Losing one player cannot cripple an entire team. If it does, it means you don't have a good lineup, and they didn't because Peña, Scott and Matt Joyce didn't pick up the slack.

Here's the deal: Hoarding all those pitchers, assuming Longoria won't get hurt next season and expecting to find some good bats on the scrap pile of second-tier free agents is like begging to barely miss the playoffs. Again.

A sobering thought, don't you think?

Comments
No big deal for Rays at winter meetings, but it’s still coming

No big deal for Rays at winter meetings, but it’s still coming

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Here’s the one thing we definitely know:Rays officials headed home from the winter meetings and back across I-4 Thursday without making deals to trade any of their bigger-name, higher-paid players. Not closer Alex Colome, not third...
Published: 12/14/17
Are Tampa Bay Rays going to make a major deal involving Alex Colome, others? Well …

Are Tampa Bay Rays going to make a major deal involving Alex Colome, others? Well …

UPDATE, 4:02: It doesn't sound like the Rays and Cardinals will be making a deal today, Derrick Goold writing for the St. Louis Post Dispatch that Cardinals execs "leave the Walt Disney Dolphin resort with good feel for what Tampa Bay would be willin...
Published: 12/14/17
Rays re-sign pitcher Jonny Venters, among 13 invited to spring training

Rays re-sign pitcher Jonny Venters, among 13 invited to spring training

LAKE BUENA VISTA — LHP Jonny Venters got as far as Triple A in September. Now the former All-Star is positioned to make it all the way back to the majors for the first time since 2012, re-signing with the Rays and headlining Thursday’s announcement o...
Published: 12/14/17
Veteran Jonny Venters, prospect Joe McCarthy among 13 Tampa Bay Rays spring invitees

Veteran Jonny Venters, prospect Joe McCarthy among 13 Tampa Bay Rays spring invitees

Inspiring veteran LHP Jonny Venters and intriguing prospect 1B/OF Joe McCarthy are among 13 players invited to major-league spring training camp with the Rays.Others coming as a result of signing minor-league contracts with invites are: RHP R.J. Alan...
Published: 12/14/17
Tampa Bay Rays lose RHP Burch Smith in Rule 5 draft, keep Nick Ciuffo

Tampa Bay Rays lose RHP Burch Smith in Rule 5 draft, keep Nick Ciuffo

The Rays lost RHP Burch Smith in Thursday's Rule 5 draft but were happy to see him get an opportunity in Kansas City.They also were pleased to hang on to C Nick Ciuffo, who was left exposed but not selected.Smith, 27, was acquired from the Padres as ...
Published: 12/14/17
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 4

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 4

UPDATE, 11:09: RHP Steve Cishek, who was a very effective addition to the Rays pen last season, has reunited with pitching coach Jim Hickey, agreeing to a deal with the Cubs.UPDATE, 10:40: Like most teams, Rays officials are heading out of the meetin...
Published: 12/14/17
Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

As part of its deal to buy a massive package of 21st Century Fox assets, Disney will acquire Fox Sports Regional Networks, which control the local cable rights to a slew of professional teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning.Assu...
Published: 12/14/17
Tampa Bay Rays making progress in trade talks

Tampa Bay Rays making progress in trade talks

Without getting into specifics – especially the who and the where – Rays officials are for the first time talking optimistically about making a trade before the winter meetings end Thursday.Speaking at around 5:15, senior VP Chaim Bloom s...
Published: 12/13/17

Winter meetings journal: Rays trade for money to sign top international free agent

LAKE BUENA VISTA — While most of the business conducted at the meetings impacts the big-league team one way or another, the Rays are working to finalize a move they hope pays off big sometime in the 2020s.In trading Wednesday to acquire $1 million in...
Published: 12/13/17
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 3 – updated with news

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 3 – updated with news

UPDATE, 5:55: Trade talks apparently picked up this afternoon, perhaps related to previous activity by other teams, and for first time Rays officials sound like something could happen tonight."At this point today, some of those conversations are movi...
Published: 12/13/17