Who’s better: The ’17 Rays, or the ’18 edition?

by Gary Shelton on May 29, 2018 · 8 comments

in general

Longoria was a mainstay for years for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Longoria was a mainstay for years for the Rays./CARMEN MANDATO

Tuesday, 3 a.m.

On Memorial Day, do you remember?

The Tampa Bay Rays were for sale, piece by piece, and how did you feel? Evan Longoria was gone, and Logan Morrison, and Steven Souza? Alex Cobb was gone, and Corey Dickerson, and Jake Odorizzi.

And it felt empty. Last year's MVP was gone, and last years All-Star, and the Captain. The bulldog and the power and the danger. It felt like the last Rays' star to leave should just shut out the lights. There have been a lot of bad Rays' team, but rarely has the team felt more desolate, more hopeless.

Of course, you could add this:

It wasn't as if the Rays were breaking up the '27 Yankees, you know.

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Dickerson is off to another good start./CARMEN MANDATO

Dickerson is off to another good start./CARMEN MANDATO

And so the team was stripped for parts, and the home runs left along with their strikeouts. In their stead, there was a team that a lot of us (yeah, me included) thought might lose 100 games.

Ah, but the Rays reached .500 Monday afternoon with a 1-0 victory over Oakland. And you have to admit it. This team has been better than. you thought it would be. It isn't going to make anyone's playoffs, of course, but after a perfectly dreadful start, it's been more fun that you would imagine.

So is this team underpaid? Or were last year's Rays overpaid?

A comparison:

First base:Brad Miller (2018); Logan Morrison (2017): Even if. you don't consider the input of C.J. Cron (listed here as a designated hitter), the edge goes to the Rays. Miller is hitting .246 with five home runs. Morrison is hitting .200 with five homers. Edge: 2018.

Second base: Joey Wendle (2018); Miller (2017) : The move of Miller from second to first has been a good one. Miller seemed lost at second. Wendle, on the other hand, is hitting .284. Of course, if the Rays can't find another place to play him, second base would be manned by Daniel Robertson, a solid defender who is hitting .259. Edge: 2018.

Shortstop: Adeiny Hechavarria (2018), Hechavarria (2017): Hechavarria has been slick both seasons for the Rays. His average this year is 16 points higher than last year's. Edge: 2018.

Third base: Matt Duffy 2018; Evan Longoria 2017:  It might sound like blasphemy to a Rays' fan, but Longoria was showing some wear last year. This year, Duffy is outhitting him .303-.250. With Christian Arroyo behind him, the Rays look solid. Edge: 2018.

Left field: Johnny Field (2018), Corey Dickerson (2017): There was a reason that Dickerson was an all-star last. year. He's solid again this season, hitting .310. Field is hitting just .266. Edge: 2017.

Centerfield: Mallex Smith (2018), Kevin Kiermaier (2017): Kiermaier patrolled center excellently, and hit .273 a year ago. Smith is hitting .297, and he drove in the winning run Monday. But Kiermaier's defense separates him. Edge: 2017.

Right field: Carlos Gomez (2018), Steven Souza (2017):  Souza has had a tough, injury plagued season, hitting just .163. Gomez is hitting just .194. This one might reverse itself if Souza's power kicks in. Edge: 2018.

Starting pitcher: Blake Snell (2018); Alex Cobb (2017): Cobb joined the Orioles late into the season, and he's just 1-6 with a 7.32 ERA. Snell has been superb, going 6-3 with a 2.78 ERA: Edge: 2018.

Starting pitcher: Chris Archer (2018); Archer (2017): Archer has been sharp lately, and he's outpitched his 3-3 record. But Archer was just 4-3 last year.  He's rarely far from .500. Edge: Push.

Starting pitcher: Jake Faria (2018), Jake Odorizzi (2017): Odorizzi is 3-2 with a much better ERA than Faria. Edge: 2017.

Closer: Who hasn't pitched? (2018) vs. Alex Colome (2017): Colome has been shaken for most of the season. Still, he had 11 saves, and he had secured his role. Edge: 2017.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry May 29, 2018 at 9:09 am

You could be right. It still seems wrong to trade a guy like Archer who has a manageable contract by all standards other than the Rays. I mean they only have 2 legitimate starters as it is. Bullpen days are a joke.

But once you trade 1 face of the franchise in Longoria, it gets easier to trade others in Archer and Kiermaier. Never mind that KK gets injured a lot. Most fans consider him indispensable except with a big contract and not big production don’t be surprised if the Rays offload him before next year. After all they have to keep an eye on the future. And the future is a bunch of young guys with very low, close to minimum wage contracts that has management salivating.

Reply

Gary Shelton May 29, 2018 at 8:49 pm

Larry. I understand your opinion on Archer, but that contract is one of the reasons he’s so tradable. But as thin as the team is, I think they would have had to have gotten big years from Snell (who has had one), Faria and Honeywell.

I was talking to a guy I respect today at lunch, and we were talking about Longoria’s contract. IT’s simply too hefty for an aging third-baseman. And I liked the guy.

One thing’s for sure. This is hard on the fans. Bullpen days are tough, and the constant trading of the only players you know are tougher. I think Kiermaier may have to prove that he can stay healthy before he’s worth as much to someone else as he is the Rays.

I know I’m weary, honestly weary, of watching baseball with one eye on the cash register.

Reply

Larry May 30, 2018 at 4:40 am

Just 1 last thought. The Rays are proving that when the motivation is to cut payroll, they can trade anyone regardless of what they get back. Look at that last trade. I don’t think any other team in MLB trades 2 important players off their roster for so little in return. So in normal situations you would be right about KK. His value is less in the open market due to his injury history but that matters little to this team who values nondescript Class A pitchers so much.

The key piece in their trading strategy so often is payroll. How much can they off load? Sorry to be so cynical but when it comes to the Rays how can one be anything else?

This is not to say they haven’t made some trades that have worked out for them. They have. But it’s hard to analyze so many of their trades because they keep moving the pieces around.

As long as the Yankees and the Red Sox are willing to spend the big bucks and be smart about it the Rays will always be looking up the mountain. When management knows they aren’t in a position to win, they have free rein to cut payroll to the bone and use the excuse of building for the future.

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Gary Shelton May 30, 2018 at 8:55 pm

It’s true they’ll never have the cash that Boston or New York has. That’s always been true. But the Rays have made some good moves. I don’t know about the Span and Colome deal; that seems designed to cut salary primarily.

I don’t blame you for being cynical. I think it’s the only way to stay sane as a Rays’ fan. But the team IS better than I thought it would be, and the young players DO look promising as their cycle begins.

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Cecil DeBald May 29, 2018 at 8:51 am

Nobody likes to see guys like Longo traded, but small market teams just can’t afford to keep their good players at some point. Look for more of them to be gone before the trade deadline, and more guys brought up from Durham. In a division where the two best records in MLB are at the top of the east, it’s a battle royal just to stay in the running for that 2nd wild card. Rays are a fun team to watch with a group of young, motivated guys hustling around – I can’t understand what more a baseball fan could want – what? Want them to be the Yankees?

Cecil

Reply

Gary Shelton May 29, 2018 at 8:51 pm

Cecil:

I understand the fans’ viewpoint, though. If your buddy is talking to you and says “let’s go see a game tonight,” who do you want to see? It’s hard to pull for the Rays. As I said, Longo was understandable. He reached the big money part of the game, and it didn’t make much sense to pay an aging third baseman his contract. But my fear is that the jettison point comes too soon in Tampa Bay. Of course, that may be just me.

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Larry May 29, 2018 at 6:01 am

You could write this same article next year because a bunch more guys will be sold off or lost to free agency like Hechavarria, Ramos, Gomez, Miller, Romo, possibly Archer and who knows how many others.

The Rays are very similar to a Triple A franchise because just like the minor leagues the top players always move on, players are constantly being shuffled back and forth during the year and the team payroll is always low.

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Gary Shelton May 29, 2018 at 8:44 am

Perhaps. But I think the Rays are closer to being stable (because of low contracts) for a while. Heck is gone. And Gomez and Ramos Archer will go either this seasonn or in the off-season to come. But the Rays did a lot of payroll restructuring last off-season.

Who else has a big contract? (Kiermaier, but injuries have made it tough to trade him>)

Still, baseball — especially the small market teams, and of them, especially the Rays — is a state of flux. You know that.

I thought the point this time was that they did fairly well in most of the players they did jettison. But that’s just me.

I agree that in short order, most of the young players we’re pleased with now will be gone, because they’ll graduate to bigger contracts.

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