Let's Go Tribe's American League Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Rob Carr

Our look at the Tribe's competition around the American League continues with the Rays, who look primed for another trip to the postseason.

Between now and Opening Day, we'll be taking a look at each of the other American League teams, to see what they've done during the offseason, and examine their outlook for 2014.

Find other entries in the series here

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Tampa Bay Rays

2013 Record: 92-71 (2nd in AL East), 4-2 vs. Cleveland

700 runs scored (9th of 15 in AL), 646 runs allowed (5th of 15 in AL)

The Rays sort of stumbled through the first half of the season, but from June 29 through July 30 they went 23-4, catapulting them from 4th place into 1st. They stumbled again through August and early September, but won 8 of their last 10 games to for a tiebreaker for the second Wild Card spot. They had to travel to Texas, where they won, putting them into the Wild Card Game. That put them in Cleveland, where (as we all know too well), the Rays won again. Tampa Bay was defeated by Boston in the ALDS, a disappointing end, but the team's fourth postseason appearance in the last six years. Over those six seasons, only the Yankees have a better overal record than the Rays.

Tampa Bay was one of the better offensive teams in the American League in 2013. Playing in a pitchers' park suppressed, but their wRC+ (which accounts for park factors) of 108 was tied for 3rd in the AL. Evan Longoria was the team's best hitter, as he continues to be one of the top players in baseball. Wil Myers, whom the Rays acquired for James Shields last offseason, was called up at midseason, and went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award after posting strong numbers in 88 games. Tampa Bay was at or above average offensively at every position except catcher, where they put up with Jose Molina's poor bat in exchange for his excellent pitch-framing and game calling.

Molina isn't the only plus defender on the team; Tampa Bay probably had the best overall defense of any team in the league. Tampa Bay's group of young pitchers gets a lot of attention and credit, but park factors and the defense behind them deserve a lot of the credit for the starting rotation's 3.81 ERA, which ranked 3rd in the AL.

Key offseason additions:

Ryan Hanigan (C), Grant Balfour (RP), Heath Bell (RP)

Key offseason departures:

Roberto Hernandez (AKA: Fausto), Kelly Johnson (2B/OF), Jose Lobaton (C), Fernando Rodney (C), Luke Scott (DH), Jamey Wright (RP)

2014 Payroll: ~$75 million

Projected 2014 Starting Lineup (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

C

Ryan Hanigan

3

1B

James Loney

1

2B

Ben Zobrist

5

3B

Evan Longoria

5

SS

Yunel Escobar

3

LF

David DeJesus

1

CF

Desmond Jennings

3

RF

Wil Myers

3

DH

Matt Joyce

2

TOTAL

26

Indian who has killed the Ray:

Jason Giambi - .292/.443/.544, .987 OPS, 32 HR in 616 PA

Ray who has killed the Indians:

Evan Longoria - .244/.381.433, .814 OPS, 5 HR, 25 BB in 155 PA

Projected 2014 Starting Rotation/Bullpen (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

1

David Price

4

2

Alex Cobb

3

3

Matt Moore

3

4

Chris Archer

2

5

Jake Odorizzi

1

RP

Bullpen

2

TOTAL

15

2014 Outlook:

The lineup is above average, and when you factor in defense, Tampa Bay has one of the best collections of position players in the league. When you factor in their affordability, I'm not sure there's a set in either league I'd rather have. Evan Longoria is signed for another ten years, but at an average of just $13.7 million a season. Tampa Bay's willingness and ability to lock up good young players to longterm deals has paid off handsomely so far, and would serve as a great model for the Indians to follow with their own young talent.

Tampa Bay's rotation was dealt a minor blow when Jeremy Hellickson required surgery in January to "remove loose bodies." He's expected back in mid May, and a team could do a lot worse than Odorizzi as a fill in for a few weeks. David Price is the old man of the group, at the ripe age of 28. With so much youth in the rotation, there's a lot of upside there. There's some sense that this will be Price's final season in Tampa Bay, due to his rising cost as he progresses through his arbitration years. In fact, many expected the Rays to move him this offseason. It strikes me as unlikely that the team will fall out of contention before the trade deadline, but if they do, expect rumors of a trade to fly around baseball.

The Rays look to me like one of the five best teams in baseball, with talent that is the envy of small market teams everywhere, and a good number of large market teams too. The AL East is too tough to consider any team a strong favorite, and the existence of the second Wild Card spot makes the postseason even more of a crapshoot than it used to be for teams that don't win their division. I can imagine the Rays winning 95 games, but missing out on the division title by a game or two, and getting bounced in the Wild Card Game, but I can also imagine a parade through the streets of Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg come the end of the season. The talent is there.

PECOTA Projection: 89-73 (1st in AL East), 719 runs scored, 643 runs allowed

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