The Tampa Bay Rays have certainly been busy lately. The team traded Wil Myers, the player who had looked like the foundation of the team’s future until the moment he was dealt. They also sent away catcher Ryan Hanigan after just one year on the team and outfielder Matt Joyce, a solid hitter and former All-Star. New head of baseball operations Matt Silverman clearly viewed change as necessary as he has acted swiftly in pursuit of a better long-term future for his team.
However, it might be more interesting to focus on the players the Rays didn’t trade. For example, they kept intact their end-of-season rotation of Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly. That quartet, all in their mid-twenties, may just form the best young starting staff in baseball when they’re joined by Matt Moore later in the year.
In the outfield, the team kept Kevin Kiermaier and Desmond Jennings, who together will run down quite a few fly balls. Kiermaier’s defense was as good as advertised in his rookie year, and he got off to a surprising start at the plate. With continued success as a hitter, he could become one of the Rays’ most valuable players.
There has been talk of the team trading Ben Zobrist, who was named team MVP by beat writers in 2014, and also team leader Evan Longoria. Neither came to fruition as the Rays showed that the rebuild called for by some people is not on the way. If Zobrist can continue to excel in what could be his final season with the team and Longoria can get back to his previous level at the plate, that will be a great way for the Rays to begin fixing their offensive issues.
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Elsewhere on the infield, Yunel Escobar remains with the Rays as their starting shortstop. Escobar is coming off a rough 2014, with his poor defense being especially surprising, but the Rays passed on a chance to send him–and the money he’s owed–to Oakland last August. Trading him now would admittedly be selling low, and the Rays will give Escobar a chance to either reaffirm his place in their future or give them a better return when he is eventually dealt.
One player the Rays couldn’t trade was 37 year old Grant Balfour. Between his awful 2014 performance and his $7 million salary for next season, Balfour’s trade value has been reduced to nothing and the Rays decided that their best bet was to keep him around. We know it may be temporary–Balfour could be released at any time–but the Rays are hoping Balfour can contribute something to their bullpen next year. They have so often taken advantage of the fluctuating performances of relievers, and Balfour could be their next successful reclamation project.
Even the Tampa Bay Rays players who haven’t been traded, though, have received the message that their are no safe spots on the team. Everyone will arrive to spring training in the best shape possible and prepared to fight for their jobs knowing that Matt Silverman is unafraid of making further changes. 2014 was a turbulent experience for the Rays, and they hope that with the players still around, they will find a way to ensure it doesn’t repeat itself next season.