The Tampa Bay Rays would love to off to a better start than this. At 16-23, they are ahead of only the Houston Astros in the American Leaguet. Inevitably, talks of the Rays’ incredible run ending have already begun. Yesterday, Jon Paul Morosi discussed how the could Rays end up dealing David Price at the trade deadline and even scuttling into a rebuilding phase. Let’s be honest–while there is a high probability that the Rays will rebound, there is certainly a chance that they don’t. The regular season may end with the Rays outside the postseason picture. But there is something that needs to made clear: even if this season does not work out, the Rays will be just fine in 2015.
In 2009, just one year after their World Series run, the Tampa Bay Rays dealt with a multitude of issues. Their starting rotation, especially Scott Kazmir and rookie lefty David Price, failed to live up to expectations. Their bullpen had little depth, and Grant Balfour especially had a disastrous year. And in terms of the position players, B.J. Upton, Pat Burrell, and Dioner Navarro had horrific seasons to counterbalance breakouts from Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett. Eventually, the Rays found themselves 10.5 games back in the AL East in late August, and they decided to mail in the season, dealing Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Sure enough, they went 13-19 in September and October to finish with a disappointing 84-78 record. The next season, however, the Rays were right back at the top of the AL East. They trusted most of their players to rebound and made a few key acquisitions, particularly in their bullpen, to regroup in a big way. They also used the last couple months of the season to give Wade Davis his first big league time, and he emerged as a key pitcher for them in 2010. The Rays knew things were bad in 2009, but they did not panic and set themselves up for success the following year. If the Rays falter again this year, it will be the exact same situation.
So far in 2014, the Rays have several problems that have brought them down. Injuries to Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeremy Hellickson have dismantled the rotation, and David Price and Chris Archer have not done enough to pick up the slack. The bullpen simply has not gotten going, in large part because the rotation has been unable to provide any length. Then there is the offense, which has not been terrible but has been exceedingly inconsistent. However, the Rays have the capacity to succeed next year even if this year does not turn out the way they hoped. All their starting position players and every starting pitcher but Erik Bedard is under contract next season. The injured players will return, and the Rays can acquire a few relievers and bench players to set them up for a promising 2015. The Rays will not let one season undermine everything they have achieved.
That being said, the Rays could trade Price the way they dealt Kazmir in 2009. That Kazmir trade gave the Rays Sean Rodriguez, who was their starting second baseman in 2010, and Alex Torres, who eventually turned into an effective reliever. A Price trade would return significantly more value, and provide key contributors for 2015 and beyond. The Rays could even make more moves than that and deal Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce, who will both be free agents after next season. That would not only net the Rays additional young talent, but also give prospects like Kevin Kiermaier and Hak-Ju Lee a chance to show what they can do at the big league level. It would be frustrating to see the Rays trade as many as three key players, but they would not be doing so to start a rebuilding process of indefinite length. They would acquire near big league-ready players to help them next season while also seeing what their currents prospects can provide. There are many worse things than that.
There is still a very good chance that these recent struggles by the Tampa Bay Rays will be forgotten in several months. Even if the Rays never come all the way back, though, 2015 will be as promising a season as ever. Any trade they make will be with an eye towards coming back immediately, and there is every reason to think that they can do so. The Rays may struggle this season, but it will be a long time before we see them give up on the present and rebuild.