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.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.