Restoring the rosters: No. 21 – Tampa Bay

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This is part of a series of articles examining what every team’s roster would look like if given only the players it originally signed. I’m compiling the rosters, ranking them and presenting them in a countdown from Nos. 30 to 1.
No. 30 – Cincinnati
No. 29 – Kansas City
No. 28 – San Diego
No. 27 – Milwaukee
No. 26 – Baltimore
No. 25 – Chicago (AL)
No. 24 – Chicago (NL)
No. 23 – Pittsburgh
No. 22 – Detroit
At this point, having been around for a mere 12 years is only a modest disadvantage for the latest expansion teams. Most of the other clubs here still have a couple of players drafted or signed prior to 1996, but those players are largely on the downsides of their careers. Unfortunately, while the Rays were allowed to start drafting players in 1996, they didn’t start really piling up talent until 1999 and there have still been some lean years since. They’ve gotten a whole lot better, but the Rays still rank in the bottom third here.
Rotation
James Shields
Jeff Niemann
David Price
Andy Sonnanstine
Jason Hammel
Bullpen
Dan Wheeler
Bobby Seay
Brian Stokes
Seth McClung
Chad Gaudin
Doug Waechter
Brandon Backe
The rotation is still one pitcher short, but that should change when Wade Davis or Jeremy Hellickson emerges next year. Price still projects as an ace, and Shields should look nice as a No. 2 starter for a few more years.
Closing out games is the one major leaguer the Rays did draft and develop in 1996: Wheeler. The bullpen is stacked with quality arms that have produced mixed results. Stokes, though, has turned into a decent enough sixth- or seventh-inning guy as a Met, and Gaudin’s ability to shift between the rotation and pen makes him fairly valuable.
Seay, along with Travis Lee, was one of the 1996 draft picks declared a free agent on a technicality. He signed with the Rays after being picked by the White Sox, so he’s listed here.
Lineup
CF B.J. Upton
LF Carl Crawford
3B Evan Longoria
RF Josh Hamilton
1B Jorge Cantu
DH Aubrey Huff
2B Akinori Iwamura
SS Reid Brignac
C Shawn Riggans
Bench
OF Jonny Gomes
OF Elijah Dukes
INF Edgar Gonzalez
C Toby Hall
It’s hardly a big surprise, but the outfield is the Rays’ strength: Crawford, Hamilton, Upton, Dukes, Gomes, Delmon Young, Rocco Baldelli, Matt Diaz and Fernando Perez, with another quality center fielder on the way in Desmond Jennings. I opted to use a bench spot on Gomes so that he could start at DH against lefties. I considered dropping Huff from the roster, going with Dukes and Gomes at DH and adding Diaz, but there still wouldn’t anyone for Diaz to platoon with.
The depth elsewhere isn’t nearly as impressive. Brignac hasn’t developed as hoped and probably isn’t ready to be a regular shortstop. The lone legitimate utilityman is Gonzalez, and he’s a weak defender at the middle-infield spots. Neither catcher ranks among the game’s top 60 backstops. Still, Riggans isn’t a bad defender. The offense figures to be very good even with a couple of easy outs at the bottom of the lineup.
Summary
All things considered, the Rays don’t rank as highly as they should. Between 1999 and 2008, they drafted first four times and in the top eight every year, yet only five of those players crack the top 25. Still, it is an improved group over what the Rays would have boasted a couple of years ago. The team is doing a better job of developing pitching now, and the offensive core remains quite young. As is obvious to everyone, the organization is headed in the right direction.

Gerrit Cole set to begin throwing program

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 24:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout in the second inning during the game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on August 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.

The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.

The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.