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RCG Mailbag: Have Tampa Bay Rays Improved Their Future This Offseason?

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Aug 15, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings (8), right fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39), third baseman Evan Longoria (3) and teammates high five against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Overall

The Rays’ pitching staff is slightly better with Colome replacing Hellickson while Jepsen, Frieri, and potentially Dominguez join the bullpen. First base and third base, meanwhile, are basically the same (maybe the Rays have a slightly worse situation backing up James Loney), as is centerfield.

The Rays have clearly improved their catcher spot. The mix of Hanigan, Jose Molina, Curt Casali, and Ali Solis did not cut it last year, but there will be no repeat of that. Rivera projects to be better (and more healthy) than Hanigan as a starting catcher, and Jaso and the backups will not have much pressure on them.

Speaking of Jaso, he will also improve the DH spot versus right-handed pitching over DeJesus, Joyce, and the backups. Versus lefties, on the other hand, the Rays should be about the same.

The corner outfield spots are interesting to talk about. Are the Rays better or worse with Kiermaier, Souza, Guyer, and (for now) DeJesus replacing Myers, Kiermaier, Joyce, and Guyer? The question basically comes down to Souza versus Myers, which as we said above, is anybody’s guess. Kiermaier should be good enough, especially defensively, that the Rays will not miss Joyce very much.

At the middle infield spots, Cabrera versus Escobar is a push that leans in favor of the Rays while Zobrist to Franklin is a clear drop-off. Notice that I didn’t distinguish between shortstop and second base.

On the whole, the Rays are better at catcher and DH while being worse at a middle infield spot. If I’m going to estimate WAR, they’re 1 win better at catcher, half a win better at DH, and 3 wins worse at the middle infield position. They’re also half a win better on the mound. If you trust my judgement, the Rays will win one games less than they would have in 2015 because of their moves, which obviously isn’t very much.

To be super clear about what I mean by that, I am saying that the Rays would be one game worse than what they would have been with the players they had at the start of the offseason. I am not saying that you should expect the Rays win 76 games next season–if they gave 2014 a mulligan, they could have easily won eight more games than the 77 they actually won and possibly more. Whatever their “true talent win number” is, they are now about 1 win worse than that.

For the future, meanwhile, most of the prospects are solid while Robertson is something special. We can count Oscar Hernandez as a loss if you would like–at least until he returns to the system–but the Rays clearly did improve their future through their moves.

At the end of the day, the Rays made their present slightly worse and their future slightly better. That seems like an anticlimactic way to sum up everything, but it certainly appears to be the truth. Decent all of their transactions, the Rays certainly aren’t rebuilding–they’re still giving 2015 a try while slowly amassing players for coming years.

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