Tampa Bay Rays: What’s the Game Plan for the Present and Future

Aug 1, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 1, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

With the handful of moves that the Tampa Bay Rays have done this offseason, what has it done for them this season and beyond?

A team’s off season moves provide a look into how each team will approach the present and the future. The Chicago Cubs will make only minor moves as they feel they have a good young team The Cleveland Indians added an expensive power hitter like Edwin Encarnacion because they feel they are one player away from winning it all. Atlanta has added prospects with an eye beyond 2017. So, where are the Tampa Bay Rays going based on their off-season moves? It’s a little hard to tell and I’ll show you why.

Their first move was to sign catcher Wilson Ramos to a $12.5 million two year deal. It was a typical Tampa Bay Ray’s move as they secured a former All-Star player who had fallen on hard times due to injuries.

You can’t argue with the over all philosophy but the signing has its issues. Ramos won’t play until around June and then only as a designated hitter. He won’t see action behind the plate until around September. All told, the Rays will not have a proven major league catcher for most of 2017.

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The Rays hope Ramos will be ready for full time duty behind the plate in 2018. However, the seriousness of his 2016 injuries does not make that a sure thing. Even if Ramos returns to his past level of excellence, he is probably gone at the end of the 2018 season and the Rays will have done nothing to solve their long time catcher issues.

Next to commit to a contract (he just officially signed) was Colby Rasmus. Another typical Rays signing, Rasmus had a terrible year in 2016 due to mostly to injuries. He posted a .206/.286/.355 slash line with 375 at bats in 107 games. A former all-star, Rasmus is now reunited with his former Toronto batting coach Chad Mottola and, hopefully, his numbers will improve. He has a one year contract and does fill the Rays immediate need for a left fielder but one way or another, he is probably gone after the 2017 season.

The Tampa Bay Rays next significant move was the trade of perhaps their best bargaining chip, Drew Smyly, to Seattle for three minor leaguers. This was a mystifying deal as the Rays desperately needed another right handed hitter.

Only one of the three players obtained from Seattle, pitcher Ryan Yarborough at #17, made the Rays’ top 30 prospects and is seen as at least two years away from the majors. The other player with potential is Mallex Smith a left handed hitting center fielder with speed and that’s hardly what the Rays need at this time.

The next move for the Rays was the trade of Logan Forsythe to the LA Dodgers for top pitching prospect Jose De Leon. Forsythe was arguably the second best hitter on the Rays team, a right handed hitter and was owed a very reasonable $14.25 million over the next two years. De Leon may turn out to be a top of the rotation starter but six of the Rays top 15 prospects pitching at Triple A next year, do they need another pitching prospect?

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Last but not least was the recent re-signing of Logan Morrison to a $2.5 million one year deal. Morrison had a checkered season with the Rays in 2016 starting with a horrible first two and a half months of the season and finishing with a September injury. In addition, he hits left handed and will probably force Brad Miller to make yet another position change to second base.

Maybe all of these moves make sense to the Ray’s management but they are a bit confusing to me. Is the team playing for 2017, 2018 or some season in the distant future? My best guess is that the Rays are looking at 2018 as their breakout year.

Hopefully, Wilson Ramos will be healthy and productive and Steven Souza Jr, will live up to his potential. The Rays will have seven Triple-A top 30 pitching prospects ready or close to ready for the majors. In addition, first baseman Casey Gillaspie, shortstop Willy Adames, left fielder Jake Bauers and infielder Daniel Robertson will compete for positions in the field. An also sure mid season trade of Alex Cobb could bring in more major league ready talent.

The Rays have an under .500 win vs. loss record over the past three years. This season may or may not be a fourth but they will be hard pressed to contend in the tough American League East.

Next: Why Not Casey Gillaspie at First?

However, 2018 may be another story. A core group of a dozen or so solid position players and pitchers combined with a deep and talented group of rookie players could turn the Rays into the Chicago Cubs of 2018.