For the fourth season in a row, the Tampa Bay Rays battled their way into the playoffs in 2022. Butm for the first time since missing the playoffs in 2018, the Rays were eliminated before they were able to reach the Division Series round.
The Rays made the playoffs in 2022 despite winning only 86 games, their lowest total since 2017, and finished 13 games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East. They were eliminated by the Cleveland Guardians in the AL Wild Card round 2-0.
Expectations for 2023
The Rays said goodbye to longtime outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and Trade Deadline pickup David Peralta, allowing both to leave via free agency. While continuing to operate with one of the lowest payrolls in MLB, Tampa Bay will continue to leverage pitching depth and young position players to try to remain competitive in the AL East.
Coming into the Spring Training, the Rays are projected to be mid-pack in the AL East, with Fangraphs projecting them to replicate their 2022 record again this season; pretty much every projection system has them right around that 86-88-win range. With the Yankees and Blue Jays projected to finish above them in the division, they Rays will most likely be playing for a Wild Card spot this season. Still, this isn’t really much of an indictment of what is probably a top-10 roster in MLB — it’s just that the AL East is a hard place to thrive, even if you’re as creative as the Rays.
Via Roster Resource:
- Yandy Diaz - 1B
- Wander Franco - SS
- Randy Arozarena - LF
- Brandon Lowe - 2B
- Harold Ramirez - DH
- Manny Margot - RF
- Isaac Paredes - 3B
- Christian Bethancourt - C
- Jose Siri - CF
Francisco Mejia - C
Taylor Walls - INF
Jonathan Aranda - UTIL
Luke Raley - OF/1B
The Rays’ biggest singular strength is probably Wander Franco, but there’s a lot here that slides in after Franco as a force to be reckoned with. Brandon Lowe had a down year in 2022, but still projects as one of the best second base options in the league. Isaac Paredes was incredibly good for about 380 PAs last year, and though that came with serious xwOBA overperformance, he still projects to be a more-than-quality option at the hot corner. Randy Arozarena is similar, another large 2022 xwOBA outperformer that nonetheless is one of the better left field options in the league. The Rays have a bunch of bats that they can rotate through the DH spot, which should make that a source of useful contributions as well.
And after all that, we get to the pitching staff, which, as a group, looks to be one of the best in baseball. Both the rotation and bullpen look like a top-10 units, with a bunch of useful options behind Shane McClanahan, and the potential return of Tyler Glasnow from Tommy John Surgery and an oblique injury sometime over the course of the season. Pete Fairbanks was basically unhittable last year in a limited sample, and Jason Adam was one of the league’s best relief options over the course of the season; those two names headline a deep relief corps.
Again, all of these things exist on a roster that also features Wander Franco, who projects to be something like a top-20 MLB position player.
Right now, it looks like right field, which seems like a bit of a drag on a roster with various average-to-above pieces everywhere else. A platoon of Josh Lowe and Manny Margot seems okay, but Lowe hasn’t done much in the majors while Margot, who has generally been a defense-first contributor, was comparatively better with the bat and worse on defense last year. The Rays usually cobble together pretty good production with guys you’ve never heard of, but right field seems like a place where that might not happen this year.
But, not to worry, because...
Reinforcements from the Farm
...you’ve got Curtis Mead ready to show up and rake, just as soon as the Rays figure out where to play him. If that’s left field, stomaching his lack of defense, then Arozarena moves to right and voila, no more problems from a Lowe/Margot platoon. Despite not appearing in a game at the MLB-level, it was reported in early-March that the Rays had begun discussion regarding a possible contract extension with Mead, which speaks to the likelihood that he could playing games at the Trop sooner rather than later.
Beyond Mead, the Rays are still the Rays, and developing pitchers is one of the things they do best. Pitcher Taj Bradley has been sitting at the top the team’s offseason prospects rankingswi and ll likely find his way to Tampa Bay by midseason, if not sooner.
Osleivis Basabe has hit everywhere in the minors and looks like a fine defensive option should injury or ineffectiveness befall the infield, e.g., if Paredes’ bat seriously regresses.
Braves history/outlook against the team
Atlanta and Tampa Bay last matched-up in 2021, when the Braves lost a three-game series to the Rays in Atlanta after the All-Star break. The two teams split a four-game set in 2020, as each team was swept at home by the other in back-to-back two-game series early in the pandemic-shortened season. The Braves last took a season series from the Rays in 2018, when they went 3-1 against them across a pair of two-game sets.
The Braves and Rays will match-up in St. Petersburg this year, when the two teams face each other in a three-game series prior to the All-Star Break, July 7 through July 9.