It has only been a couple short weeks since the Cubs clinched game 7 in Cleveland on the 2nd November and ended their 108-year curse. Yet the ruthlessness of Major League Baseball is evident in the fact that Theo Epstein, just named Executive of the Year in the biggest understatement of the 2016 season, is already back to work.
The Cubs, clearly the best team in baseball, are once-again looking forward to next year, so think how the other 29 GMs must be feeling. As soon as Michael Martinez grounded one to Kris Bryant at third and the ball reached the mitt of a jubilant Anthony Rizzo waiting at first, the off-season began. But to move forward you must first reflect.
That’s the purpose of this series of posts, highlighting the highs and lows, strengths and flaws of each franchise in turn during 2016. From this we can begin to evaluate what each club’s offseason might look like, which gaps will be addressed first and who might upset the apple-cart in 2017. This week we’re starting with the AL East:
Tampa Bay Rays:
2016 recap: The first thing that should be said about the Rays is that expectations were low heading into 2016, the team was at the bottom of the payroll standings with just above $71 million spent on player salaries. Despite this, young, talented pitching in the form of Chris Archer, Matt Moore and Jake Odorizzi was supposed to make this team competitive with superstar Evan Longoira at third and Kevin Kiermaier patrolling in center. While this plan obviously didn’t succeed – the team went 68-94- 2016 could be seen to be a down year, not a disaster.
Offseason agenda: It may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that a team that lost 94 games shouldn’t tear everything down, but the Rays need not panic. The rotation is young, meaning two things: inexperienced but also talented.
Chris Archer endured a horrible year, losing 19 games with an ERA over 4 for the first time since 2012. A step backward perhaps, but someone like Archer doesn’t become a bad pitcher overnight. Jake Odorizzi was a solid starter for the Rays, with a 2.0 WAR and 3.69 ERA along with Drew Smyly and Matt Moore before the latter’s trade to the Giants at the deadline. Blake Snell also proved he could handle major league hitters, posting a 1.9 WAR in 19 outings.
The Rays offense was mild, scoring a major league 24th 672 runs rendering the Rays unable to compete against the offensive juggernauts of the Red Sox and the Blue Jays in the AL East. Some offensive additions therefore would be welcome, but the worst mistake the Rays could make now would be tying themselves down to long-term contracts with veteran players. Youth needs to be allowed a chance to flourish in Tampa.
Final Word: The 2017 free-agent class is not worth the Rays shelling out big-bucks (used comparatively) for. Much of the Rays core remains intact, losing only three players to free agency. Young pitchers instead can be given the chance to grow and underperforming hitters given a chance to turn things around at the plate. Much like the Yankees, the Rays may be better off making low-key additions and waiting for the 2018 free-agent class before a major rebuild beings.