The Tampa Bay Rays need to switch gears. Yes, they can still make the playoffs, but not in the current incarnation. They are not the Rays of old and to get that way they need hungry players, like Jerry Sands, Vince Belnome, Cole Figueroa, and Kevin Kiermaier, to take start taking a more active hand in the day-to-day lineup. I know you are going to put the brakes on and say, “Wait a minute, Thomas. Those guys aren’t major league ready.”
Well, maybe, but the current version of the Rays are not going anywhere. Where did it go wrong? Injuries to the pitching staff could be blamed and rightly so, but the trouble goes deeper. It buried itself deep and has been largely ignored because of their success. Player development in recent years has been a problem. GM Andrew Friedman’s ability to draft a decent player could be likened to Wil Myers chasing breaking pitching off the plate. When is he going to learn? When he does draft decently, there are serious character questions that derail the player’s ascension, as is the case with Josh Sale and Taylor Guerrieri?
How the Rays have gotten around this is through skillful trading and finding players that, given a new life, can perform at or above average. It has worked great for them but it only masks the lack of quality new recruits. The Rays need to find a mixture of youth and experience. They are becoming top heavy on more veteran players and that is failing them. To date, the Logan Forsythe trade has failed. Cole Figueroa needs to take his spot on the roster. The role that Figueroa can do that Forsythe is incapable of is spark-plug. The Rays desperately need more of them. Not powerful or a very fast runner, Figueroa offers less in all aspects than Forsythe, except desire. Figueroa has nothing to lose, so as long as he goes down being aggressive and MAKING opponents get him out, fans will have no reason to complain.
As well, player development could use a shot in the backside. When Rays fans management complain they are not getting the high draft picks that they used to, I will refer them to the St. Louis Cardinals. Recently, they called Oscar Taveras. An international free agent, the Cardinals signed him and he worked his way through the system, along the way being compared to Vladimir Guerrero and even Albert Pujols. He is just one example of how the Cards handle their players. Since the year 2000, the Cardinals have had one losing season, 2007. That’s it. Yet, they can find and develop players like Oscar Taveras.
The point is the Tampa Bay Rays have to be adept at shifting philosophies. As much as you might want to blame Joe Maddon or the players for this season, a lot of the blame has to rest squarely on the shoulders of Andrew Friedman and company’s poor recent draft record. The Rays perennially stand on the edge. This year has proven that, if anything goes wrong, they fall off.