The offseason remains young. If you are unsure whether that is actually the case, David Price remains a starting pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays and there remains a real chance some other team will head until 2014 wtih a legitimate ace at the top of their staff and an excited fan base looking forward to a year to remember. But even though there are still two and a half months remaining until spring training games begin, the Rays have filled several of their needs and we can finally start to picture what their team will look like in 2014. Let’s take a look at how the composition of the Rays’ roster appears right now, who is guaranteed a spot and who will be set to compete in spring training, and get a feel for what the Rays have and what they still need as the offseason winds down.
A trade of David Price would give the Rays’ rotation a real hit, but they have five legitimate big league starting pitchers even without him. Cobb and Moore are coming off big seasons when they were not injured, Hellickson is determined to rebound, and Archer will keep working on his changeup as he hopes to build on a great rookie year. Then there is Odorizzi, who had a breakthrough year at Triple-A in 2013 to go along with several strong appearances in the big leagues. He broke through with his fastball command and tightened up his secondary pitches as the year progressed, and he looks like a legitimate major league option for right now. All five pitchers after Price have things to work on, but if they can continue their development, the Rays’ rotation could be even better than it was this year.
Do the Rays need another starting pitcher? They did show that they are open to signing a veteran started when the brought Roberto Hernandez into the fold last season, but with Odorizzi ready to make his presence felt, such seems unlikely to take place. Alex Colome, Enny Romero, and Mike Montgomery will be options in case of injury, and that is even before the Rays acquire another starter in a potential Price trade. With or without Price, the Rays’ starting rotation will remain a strength of their team.
The Rays actually have quite a few quality relievers coming back for 2014 in Peralta, McGee, and Torres, and Bell and Oviedo give the Rays two former closers to help fill out their bullpen. The Rays’ carried seven relievers for most of the year, that would seem to open the floor for two more relievers to seize roles. Lueke and Ramos are both out of options, but after mediocre performance the last few years, the odds are that at least one of them will be set packing at the end of spring training if not sooner. Lowe made only 11 big league appearances last year, but he rebounded strongly at Triple-A and his great stuff makes him a favorite to win a role. Gomes and Beliveau also deserve consideration, but their remaining minor league options will likely ticket them to begin 2014 back at Triple-A. The Rays could possibly use one more reliever–Jamey Wright certainly has a spot if he elects to return–but the Rays bullpen is looking strong for next season. The only major question is who will close.
The Rays finally have achieved some stability at the catcher position after Hanigan was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds and signed to a three-year extension and Molina was re-signed to a two year deal. Hanigan will be the starter with Molina his backup, although it is worth nothing that Molina will still get plenty of time–Hanigan has started more than 75 games in a season just once. Expecting him to start more than 90 to 95 times may be unrealistic. Lobaton and Gimenez, meanwhile, have stuck around thus far but appear to longshots to make the Rays’ roster. Lobaton literally has no chance with Hanigan and Molina both in the fold, and expect a trade. Gimenez, meanwhile, could fit thanks his great versatility and right-handed bat, but he will face an uphill battle to make the Rays in that capacity.
Bringing back Loney solidified the Rays’ infield, bringing back what might be their best ever unit for the second straight year. Loney may regress, but whatever he loses should be counteracted by Zobrist’s rebound after somewhat of a down year. What is also cool is that Zobrist’s versatility allows him to be the Rays’ backup shortstop as well. That leaves Rodriguez on unstable footing. He is versatile, but the Rays don’t like his defense on the left side of the infield. The only reasons he is still on the team: his right-handed bat and the fact that as of this moment, he is the only Rays major leaguer aside from Evan Longoria who is comfortable playing third base.
The Rays’ outfield could be the group that improves the most in 2014 thanks to full years from Myers and DeJesus to go along with more progress from Desmond Jennings (at least the Rays hope). The backup picture is where it gets interesting. Sam Fuld is gone, so the Rays need a backup centerfielder. Myers did play passably there, but the Rays need a true backup and that could very well be Guyer. Guyer has a chance for a fourth option thanks to the thumb injury that prevented the Rays from calling him up, but that seems unlikely after he played in 98 games at Triple-A. In all probablity, the Rays will have to either put him on their roster or designate him for assignment, and that would only enhance his already strong case for a roster spot. Guyer’s arm strength is not what it was after shoulder surgery, but he still has the speed to play center and the ability to be a solid hitter against left-handed pitching at the very least. Guyer seems primed to make the Rays out of spring training and finally get his chance to establish himself in the major leagues. Joyce, meanwhile, does not appear to have much playing time available in the outfield, but we will likely see him play regularly at designated hitter against right-handed pitching.
Designated Hitter: Matt Joyce (vs. RHP), Sean Rodriguez/Brandon Guyer (vs. LHP)
This position does not exactly look like a strength right now, but the Rays could get decent production. Joyce, for all of his flaws, has a .250/.352/.448 line (121 OPS+) the last four years and remains a solid if inconsistent hitter. Rodriguez and Guyer, meanwhile, will both be in the lineup against right-handed pitching the way the Rays’ roster is currently constructed, with one in left field and the other at DH. Evan Longoria will also get his share of starts at DH, but are the Rays comfortable enough having Rodriguez play third when they do that?
Adding up the locks, we come to 22 players–if Price is not traded, the Rays will likely send Odorizzi back down to Triple-A to begin the year. Of the remaining three spots, two will likely be filled by relievers with the last left for a position player. That is Gimenez’s opening right there–if the Rays do not add another hitter the rest of the season, Gimenez will likely make the roster as a 25th man. He may actually be the second-best defensive third baseman on the Rays right now behind Longoria! But we have to expect the Rays to add another hitter, and someone who could DH while also playing some third base would preferable. We looked at Eric Chavez and Mark Reynolds as first base options for the Rays prior to the Loney signing, but either could make sense as a part-time DH and corner backup. Signing Chavez’s lefty bat, however, would mean that Joyce’s time with the Tampa Bay Rays would be over, so that could give Reynolds an edge. There is also room for a right-handed infielder like Jamey Carroll if the Rays decide to go that route.
The Rays remaining tasks this offseason: trading Lobaton, figuring out what is happening with their other out-of-options players, deciding whether to sign one more reliever, and acquiring one more bat. The Tampa Bay Rays’ 2014 roster looks to be as strong as ever, and after a few more minor tweaks, it will be ready for primetime.