Rays have to answer questions in 2020

by Gary Shelton on February 13, 2020

in general

Snell will try to return to top form./CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 4 a.m.

At the first step of the journey, the Tampa Bay Rays had answers. And questions.

Isn't that what a baseball season is? A never-ending search for answers?

Oh, the Rays are better off than most teams. They have a star pitcher in Charlie Morton and a rising phenom in Willy Adames. Austin Meadows was sensational last year. The starting rotation is solid, even if the last two slots will be handled by the tag-team method. There is more power on hand.

Ah, but what fun would the beginning of training camp be if we didn't wonder about the future?

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For instance:

What version of Blake Snell will we see? It's a huge question. Two seasons ago, Snell won the Cy Young Award. Last year, he fell to six wins and his ERA soared to 4.29, which is unsettling. Frankly, Snell has four seasons in the majors, and in three of them, he's won six games or fewer. Snell worked just 107 innings. If he has another bad year, it won't help. But Snell's stuff remains top-notch. It's hard to see him winning the Cy Young Award again, but if he could get 14-15 wins, it would help.

Who closes the games? It was a surprise last week when the Rays dealt Emilio Pagan, who led the Rays with 20 saves, only seven of them before August. So who does that open the doors for? And please tell me it isn't Jose Alvarado. Maybe it's just me, but could I suggest Nick Anderson? He had a dazzling 2.11 ERA last year and dominated his innings.

Where do the Rays play Jose Martinez? If you've read the reports, they suggest that Martinez has an unhealthy relationship with a glove. Such reports suggest he'll play designated hitter and watch Ji-Man Choi play first base. The belief is that he'll see some time at first and maybe visit left field some.

Likewise, where do the Rays' put Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo? How many designated hitters can a team have? The gut feeling is the Rays let Tsutsugo play his way out of third base. They're paying the guy $6 million a year; he has to be in the lineup most days. Designated hitter and some outfield duty are possible.

How about the chemistry? It's crucial. Last year's Rays team was a mix of happy and solemn, and it worked. Left-fielder Tommy Pham will be missed. He hit a healthy .273 and made sure the lineup didn't smile too much. The lineup was mature and serious with him in it.

Will Austin Meadows slump? Sure, it's going to be hard for Meadows to repeat last season when he hit .291 and had 33 home runs. But he shouldn't be too far off of it, should he? He's a good hitter.

Who will be the fourth outfielder? That's a big question. The prospects are Randy Arozarena, who came over in the trade with St. Louis, and Manuel Margot, obtained from San Diego for Pagan. Margot was once the 24th-ranked prospect in the minors.

Will the opener continue? Yes, it will. The Rays love the opener. That's got to be a little frustrating for Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos, both of whom have had their moments. Brendan McKay deserves a longer look, too.

Will the starting three be among the best in the game? Well, they could be. Charlie Morton was terrific last year, and Snell was terrific the year before, and Tyler Glasnow pitched well when opponents weren't stealing his signs.

If they don't close, what will the Rays do with Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo? Will the Ray use them sparingly at the start of the season. Both throw hard enough to succeed, but their command of the strike zone is like a fading radio signal.

Can the Rays be as good behind the plate as they were last season? It's hard to see how. Travis d'Arnaud was a find, and he was well paid to jump to the Braves. It's hard to expect a lot of offense from Mike Zunino, who hit just .165 last year. There are a lot of bodies in camp for the Rays. Maybe they'll find another d'Arnaud.

What can we expect from new left-fielder Hunter Renfroe? When he's in the lineup, you can expect power. He hit 33 home runs for the Padres, which is a lot for a guy with a .216 batting average.

What is the next big Rays' trade? Given how fluid the roster is, it could be anyone. As soon as the Rays' traded for Margot, one report said that could mean that the Pittsburgh Pirates are interested in stellar defender Kevin Kiermaier, who is scheduled to make $46 million over the next four season. That's a lot for a guy who hit .228, no matter how wonderful his defense is.

Can the Rays make another run at the playoffs? They should. They won 96 games last year despite injuries, and the Boston Red Sox no longer seem interested in the race. The Red Sox have spent a decade as a money machine, but they've traded away a Cy Young winner and an MVP.

Who is the most likely All-Star from the Rays? It's hard not to go with Morton; he's the best player on the team. But if I had a sneaky suspicion, it would be shortstop Willy Adames, who has a star quality about him. If he can get off to a faster start, he can turn the Rays into his team.

Will Stu Sternberg be seen in a Montreal Canadiens jersey this year? Maybe. Maybe an old Expos' hat. But it's more likely he'll continue to flirt locally. Montreal knows it has to build him a stadium to get him to come. But Stu will still make millions when he sells.

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