Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

Rays Tales: Let’s play ‘would you rather’ with the revamped lineup

Out with the old, in with the new ... or vice versa?
In this file photo, Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Jake Bauers (9) hits a double against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
In this file photo, Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Jake Bauers (9) hits a double against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 30, 2018 at Tropicana Field. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published Feb. 2
Updated Feb. 2

ST. PETERSBURG — Barring what would be an unexpected deal at this point, the Rays appear content with their remixed lineup.

And, naturally, happy about their moves, bringing in INF Yandy Diaz, OF Avisail Garcia, OF Guillermo Heredia and C Mike Zunino.

But here’s a question to ponder while waiting for that football game Sunday night to mercifully end and officially put baseball on the clock:

What if they didn’t make any of those moves, and instead kept the group they had at the end of last year’s 90-win season?

Rather than Diaz, Garcia, Heredia and Zunino, would you rather have 1B Jake Bauers, DH C.J. Cron, OF Mallex Smith and whatever catcher (Robinson Chirinos? Jonathan Lucroy? Kurt Suzuki?) they would have added?

Hmmmmm.

Smith showed he could be a dynamic and disruptive force atop the lineup, hitting .296 with a .773 OPS and 40 steals. Cron had a team-high 30-homers with a .253 average and .816 OPS. Bauers, considered among their cornerstone prospects, had an up-and-very-down debut, finishing at .201 with 11 homers, 48 RBIs, a .700 OPS.

But to the Rays, each had flaws or fit issues.

With Smith, it seems they think they’re selling high, that Mallex maxed out. Cron’s lack of versatility, swinging right-handed, limited to first and DH, made him an expensive ($4.8 million) spare part. And Bauers, well, I’m still not sure why they moved him, except that they really, really wanted Diaz — enough to throw in $5 million.

So what do they have instead?

Zunino will get the majority share of the time behind the plate. Diaz, who also hits righty, will play first, third and potentially some DH and outfield. Garcia, a righty-hitting veteran looking to regain 2017 All-Star form, will play against all lefties and compete for at-bats vs. righthanders, kind of like the Carlos Gomez role. Heredia can fill across the outfield when there is an injury, though may be battling Brandon Lowe for the final roster spot.

How well the new guys do will be a referendum on the moves. It’s early, but current projections, such as Steamer on fangraphs.com, are not promising, and, notably, with limited playing time:

Diaz: .271, 5 HRs, 33 RBIs, .734 OPS, 1.1 WAR, 85 games

Garcia: .255, 8 HRs, 30 RBIs, .736 OPS, 0.3 WAR, 55 games

Heredia: .252, 2 HRs, 11 RBIs, .683 OPS, 0.2 WAR, 30 games

Zunino: .210, 16 HRs, 43 RBIs, .693 OPS, 1.6 WAR, 86 games

Conversely, all with regular playing time:

Jake Bauers, Indians: .245, 16 HRs, 60 RBI, .753 OPS, 1.1 WAR, 117 games

C.J. Cron, Twins: .262, 24 HRs, 74 RBI, .805 OPS, 1.7 WAR, 121 games

Mallex Smith, Mariners: .263, 6 HRs, 50 RBIs, .697 OPS, 2.3 WAR, 142 games

There obviously are other factors that shaped the Rays’ decisions and affected the fit, such as planning on full seasons from DH/1B Ji-Man Choi and OFs Tommy Pham and Austin Meadows, all acquired via in-season trades; CF Kevin Kiermaier staying healthy; the potential mid-season arrival of prospect 1B Nate Lowe. Also, that they spent $30 million to sign RHP Charlie Morton for two years.

“Certainly there’s some big shoes to fill in the guys no longer here,” senior VP Chaim Bloom said. “With the new additions we feel like we added a lot of flexibility and versatility, and most importantly talent and upside. This group, they all have the potential to really impact the club this year, and there is upside there to be really impactful players.”

TV time?

The unprecedented expansion to covering 11 spring games is a strong sign the Rays will be operating under a long-awaited rich new TV deal, maybe still being finalized. There was a report last spring by Sports Business Daily of talks on a 15-year pact with Fox worth $1.2 billion-plus, averaging $82 million a year, a hefty hike from the previous deal that supposedly topped out at $35 million. The Rays didn’t say anything then, and still won’t.

RELATED: Rays go international ... and it’s working

Prospecting

As the latest analyst to lavish praise on the Rays’ farm system, putting nine of their prospects in his top 100, ESPN’s Keith Law also raised what may be a popular topic this spring: Should 2017 top pick Brendan McKay remain a two-way player or stick just to pitching?

“I think that time has come,’’ Law said. “They’re going to have to make that decision now. They don’t necessarily agree. But every scout I spoke to who saw him last year said, ‘Just put him on the mound.’ He could eventually be a good two-way player, but there is such a disparity between where he is as a pitcher and where he is as a hitter that you’re probably holding him back as a pitcher.”

Playing at Class A, McKay went 5-2, 2.41 with 103 strikeouts in 78 innings on the mound, .214 with six homers, 39 RBIs, 52 strikeouts in 192 at-bats and a .727 OPS at the plate. The Rays go into 2019 planning to keep him pitching and hitting.

Rays rumblings

Numbers for new players include 2 for Diaz, 10 for Zunino (who wore 3 in Seattle but wasn’t getting Evan Longoria’s old number), 24 for Garcia and 50 for Morton (with Austin Pruitt switching to 45). … Pham was fourth in MLB Network’s top 10 leftfielder rankings, Kiermaier only 10th in center. … Initial spring workouts will start at 10:30 or 11 a.m., the later times a continuing nod to studies showing sleep benefits. … LHP Colin Poche, among the most intriguing spring invites, was labeled “the most unhittable arm in the minors” by fangraphs.com in posting a 0.82 ERA and averaging 15 strikeouts per nine innings. … PSA: You need a ticket, mobile or printed, to attend the free Feb. 9 Fan Fest. … The promotions schedule is due out next week. … The Tampa Bay Times launched a fan friendly Facebook group page called Rays Fever. … An interesting mlb.com exercise to field 2019 teams only with prospects projected the Rays would have the fourth-best squad, after the Padres, White Sox, Braves.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Rays manager Kevin Cash had more than a few points to make during his Q&A session on Monday in San Diego. [MARC TOPKIN  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Beyond the opener, Mike Zunino, Tommy Pham and Brendan McKay, here’s the rest of the story from Cash in San Diego.
  2. Yonny Chirinos may join the Rays' rotation full time next season, possibly signaling an end to consistent use of the opener. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough did well enough that the Rays could go back to using five traditional starters.
  3. The Rays' Tommy Pham played through elbow injuries at the end of last season. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
    Padres say they are still “working through” some things with results of physical, likely concerning his elbow.
  4. Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow (20), right, and Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis d'Arnaud (37) walk back to the dugout after the first inning in Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Houston. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    The cheating scandal and sign-stealing investigation will be a popular topic during this week’s winter meetings.
  5. Steven Souza Jr. hit 30 home runs for the Rays in the 2017 season while improving his defense and baserunning, but hit only .239. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Talented and entertaining outfielder is a free agent after being non-tendered by D-backs, and Rays do need some help.
  6. Could a reunion with outfielder Steven Souza Jr., shown during a 2016 game, be possible for the Rays?
    What they’ve done so far, what they’re looking to do, Hall of Fame possibilities, and rumblings.
  7. GM Erik Neander spoke Thursday about the challenges of making the Rays better. [MARC TOPKIN  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Trading Tommy Pham created some financial flexibility heading to winter meetings but the challenge remains.
  8. Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Tommy Pham (29) celebrates inherent dug out after hitting a two run homer in the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays, September 27, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    Pham said he enjoyed the team Rays had, expected to be pushing with them for a 2020 World Series championship.
  9. Rays fans grew accustomed to scenes such as this last season. Tommy Pham got thrown out on the bases 20 times, which was third-most in the majors. It was also part of a disturbing trend. He was also thrown out 15 times in 2017 and 18 in 2018. DIRK SHADD | Times Photo [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    John Romano | Deciphering Tampa Bay’s offseason moves feels like playing 3D chess. You cannot judge their trades simply by the stats on the back of a baseball card.
  10. San Diego Padres' Hunter Renfroe bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the third inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso) [RALPH FRESO  |  AP]
    Trade with Padres also yields Rays touted prospect Xavier Edwards, costs them Jake Cronenworth.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement