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.

Magic Johnson says the Dodgers will win the World Series

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Baseball, as we so often note around here, is unpredictable. Especially when it comes to the playoffs. You can be the best team in the land for six months but a few bad days can end your season once October hits.

In 2001 the Seattle Mariners won 116 games in the regular season but lost the ALCS to the Yankees, four games to one. In 1906 the Cubs won 116 games in a 152-game season and lost the World Series. In 1954 the Indians won 111 games in a 154-game season and lost the World Series. In 1931 the Philadelphia A’s won 107 games and lost the World Series.

More recently, with the advent of expanded playoffs, the chances for the team with the best record to win the World Series have been pretty dang terrible. Since the beginning of the wild card era, only five times has the team with the game’s best record gone on to win the World Series: The 1998 and 2009 Yankees, the 2007 and 2013 Red Sox and the 2016 Cubs. That’s it.

At the moment, the Los Angeles Dodgers have baseball’s best record. They’re 71-31 and sit 12 games up in their division. Their playoff chances are almost 100%. The above examples notwithstanding, if you had to make a prediction as to who might win the World Series, it would not be unreasonable to pick the Dodgers. Sure, you’d want to make sure they got Clayton Kershaw back by early September or thereabouts to make it a safer prediction, but it’d be a totally defensible pick. Maybe even the one most people make.

But it’d be the utmost in magical thinking to presume that one could make such a prediction with any degree of certainty, right? The Los Angeles Times, however, passes along some Magical thinking:

Magic Johnson called his shot Thursday night, and he wasn’t shy about it. The Dodgers’ co-owner did not hesitate when he predicted how the team would finish this year.

“The Dodgers are going to win the World Series this year,” Johnson said. “This is our year.”

The headline calls it a “guarantee.” I don’t know if I’d call it that — I think it’s more of a confident prediction — but it is a bold statement whatever you call it.

If I had to pick one team at the moment — and we could assume a healthy Clayton Kershaw — I suppose I would make them my World Series favorites too. And, yes, if I had an ownership interest in the Dodgers, I’d probably say what Johnson said.

But given the example of history, I think “field” would be a much safer bet.

Mariners trade Steve Cishek to the Rays for swingman Erasmo Ramirez.

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The Tampa Bay Rays have acquired reliever Steve Cishek from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for reliever Erasmo Ramirez.

Cishek had appeared in 23 games this season for Seattle after recovering from major offseason hip surgery. He’s 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA, with a 15/7 K/BB ratio in 20 innings. He’s a setup man right now, but he has experience as a closer, saving 25 games for Seattle last year and as many as 39 back when he pitched for the Marlins in 2014.

Ramirez has appeared in 26 games for the Rays and has started eight games. He’s 4-3 with a 4.80 ERA and a 55/16 K/BB ratio in 69.1 innings. This will be his second stint with the Mariners, having played for them from 2012-14.

Sort of a surprising deal given that both Tampa Bay and Seattle are competing for a wild card spot, but needs are needs.