The Tampa Bay Rays after shocking the America league by winning 90 games and narrowly missing out on a wild card berth in 2018 are back and ready to take on all of baseball in 2019 with what continues to be one to the youngest teams in baseball
The Rays average age of 26 is the youngest in baseball according to ESPN
The Rays also have the lowest payroll in the American League at 52 million dollars. So what will the Rays get for that $52 million dollars?
How about another 90 plus win season and a wildcard playoff berth.
How about the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Blake Snell who just signed a five year $50 million dollar contract. The Rays also signed pitcher Charlie Morton to a two year $30 million dollar contract during the off-season, so $16 million of that $52 million will go to Snell and Morton.
So much for the Rays not wanting to spend any money to improve the club.
Full disclosure. I was one of the many folks who thought the Rays would lose 100 games last season and be one of the worst teams in baseball.
I was happy to be wrong on both counts.
Vegas has put the over/under on the Rays win total at 84.5 in 2019. I will be taking the over.
The Rays picked up infielder Yandy Diaz, outfielder Guillermo Heredia, pitcher Charlie Morton, catcher Mike Zuninio, along with pitcher Emilio Pagan who did not make the final roster as Adam Kolarek took the last bullpen spot.
Diaz, Morton, and Zuninio are expected to contribute in a big way as the Rays will try to end their playoff drought.
With Matt Duffy’s injury looking like it will be a long term type of injury, Diaz will get plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills. The Rays are hoping that he can blossom into the power hitter that they need after not re-signing CJ Cron.
Mike Zuninio will be the starting catcher with Mike Perez as the backup. Zuninio is very good defensively and also adept at handling the pitching staff. Offensively, Zuninio strikes out around 35% of the time but does have some pop in the bat as he has hit 95 career home runs and the last two seasons Zuninio has hit at least 20 home runs.
Around the infield the Rays will generally go with Ji-Man Choi at first, Joey Wendle at second, Wilily Adames at short, and Yandy Diaz at third.
Look for Daniel Robertson and Brandon Lowe to get extenive playing time early in the season as manager Kevin Cash can use these two guys at multiple positions in the field.
Rookie Austin Meadows will start in rightfield and get the opportunity to prove that last year was no fluke when he torched AAA pitching hitting .344 with 10 home runs in 96 at bats.
A healthy Kevin Kiermaier will patrol center and Tommy Pham will get the start in left field.
Avasail Garcia and Guillermo Heredia will be the extra outfielders. Garcia could also share DH duties with Diaz and Choi.
The Rays will once again employ the opener strategy using a relief pitcher to pitch the first three to six outs and then bring in a long relief man. This strategy, as much as it was hated by baseball purists was very successful and a huge part of the Rays winning 90 games.
Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow will be the three traditional starters with two openers rounding out the “five man rotation.”
Ryan Yarborough, Yonny Chirinos, and Jalen Beeks are the candidates right now for the long relief role.
Cash has not named a closer and says that he will not. Jose Alvarado is the favorite right now to be given the opportunity to be the closer, however it may be closer by committee until someone settles into that roll.
The pitching will again be the strength of this Rays team. Let year the Rays were sixth in baseball with a 3.74 ERA which was good for second in the American League.
The Rays will open up the season against the Houston Astros featuring one of the best pitching match-ups of opening day as Blake Snell opposes Justin Verlander.
This should be an exciting and fun team to watch all season. It should end with the Rays playing meaningful baseball games in October for the first time since 2013.
Let’s Go Rays. Play Ball!!