Tampa Bay Rays: 2016 Winter Meetings Preview

The 2016 season seemed over before it begun for the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished dead last in the American League East at 68-94. This is the third straight year they’ve finished either fourth or fifth in the East, but this season was by far their worst season since the Devil Ray days. The Tampa Bay Rays lost more than 90 games for the first time since 2007, when they were the Devil Rays, and were tied with three other teams for the second-worst record in baseball.

If you absolutely had to dig through the mud and find a positive that came out of the 2016 season for the Rays it would be the surprising home run total. For the first time in club history, the team had four players put together 20+ homer season, Evan Longoria, Brad Miller, Corey Dickerson, and Logan Forsythe. Home runs are nice to look at, but it takes much more than that for a team to be successful.

With the Winter Meetings upon us, the Rays have a busy week ahead as they try and improve their team in preparation for next season.

Positions of Need

Bullpen: This is the big one for the Rays. In 2016, the bullpen combined for a 19-33 record with a 4.23 ERA in 487 innings pitched. Closer Alex Colome and Xavier Cedeno were the bright spots in the pen, but outside of them, there was much to be desired. The Rays may not have the money to sign one of the big-name closers on the market, but that’s not to say they can’t bolster their bullpen through trade. It’s possible they could send one of their young starting pitchers to a team in return for a top reliever. Adding another piece to the bullpen would take a lot of stress off of the starting rotation, and could prove to be a big help moving forward.

First Base: Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce split time at first base for the Rays in 2016 season, but with both unlikely to resign with the club, first base is left as a question mark for the team. Richie Shaffer, who was thought to have a shot at first after last season, was traded to the Mariners, and while they do have some internal options, the Rays may want to make a move this off-season to add a first baseman.

Catcher: The catcher position was a sore spot for the Rays all season long. Hank Conger, Curt Casali, Luke Maile and Bobby Wilson all spent time behind the plate, none of which made a case to be the starter next season. While all showed decent defensive ability behind the plate, they were all severely lacking offensively in 2016. The four of them combined collected just 59 RBI and batted under .230.

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Potential Targets

Bullpen: I mentioned before that the Rays signing Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon is pretty much out of the question, as they simply do not have the money required to land one of these big closers. However, possible lower-ranked targets could be Brad Ziegler, who closed 22 games sporting a 2.25 ERA last season. Ziegler would fit in perfectly at the back end of the bullpen, either closing game or setting up for Colome.

First Base: An affordable free agent that could help the Rays at first is Brandon Moss. Moss hit 28 homers with the Cardinals last season and would provide a significant power boost to Tampa Bay’s offense. Veterans Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli could also be considerations for the team this off-season, as well as moves outside the free agent market.

Catcher: The problems at catcher may be the most likely problem for the Rays to address this off-season, as a number of free agents catchers are available. This includes Matt Wieters, A.J. Ellis, and Dioner Navarro, to name a few. None of these guys jump off the page as star catchers, but all would be an improvement over the platoon the Rays had in 2016. It also wouldn’t be out of the question to sign one of these guys to split times with one of the younger guys like Maile or Casali.

Possible Trade Pieces

With the position that the Rays are currently in, don’t be surprised if the Rays are willing to move anyone if a good enough offer falls into their lap. Yes, this includes third baseman Evan Longoria and ace Chris Archer. Archer, who has been a trade candidate for some time now, would generate the biggest return, as his numbers were not a good indication of how good he can be. Brad Boxberger, who led the league in saves in 2015 could also be a trade piece, as teams looking for closers may have to look past the free agent market.

One Bold Prediction

I think the Tampa Bay Rays will surprise some people at the Winter Meetings. Chris Archer will be shipped off to a team looking for starting pitching in return for prospects and a valuable MLB-ready offensive piece. I don’t believe they can do enough this winter to compete in 2017, but trading Archer for some offense would undoubtedly help them in the long run.

The Winter Meetings start early next week, so be sure to stay tuned for updates here at INSC. The Winter Meetings are always one of the most fun parts of the off-season, and it has been a pleasure being able to sure this excitement with all of you!

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