2015 Tampa Bay Rays Predictions and Odds to Win the World Series
by Alan Matthews - 2/24/2015
Since 2008, Joe Maddon's second season as manager, the Tampa Bay Rays were the little engine that could in baseball and became envied by just about every other team. The Rays started winning despite a meager payroll and terrible fan support in the majors' worst ballpark because they were smarter than everyone else.
The front office, led by GM Andrew Friedman, drafted well and loaded up on prospects in trades. Maddon was one of the first major users of the defensive shift and a terrific in-game manager. It was a feel-good story against the behemoths of the AL East, with the Rays reaching the playoffs four times from 2008-13, including losing the '08 Fall Classic.
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To quote "GoodFellas": "And now it's all over."
Following a 77-85 season in 2014, Friedman left for the many millions the Dodgers could pay him and that Friedman could spend on players. Because of that move, a unique clause in Maddon's contract was activated. He ended up leaving for a five-year, $25 million job with the Cubs. Former team president Matt Silverman replaces Friedman, while Kevin Cash takes over for Maddon. Cash, a Tampa native, has no managerial experience. The former big-league catcher spent the past two seasons as the Indians' bullpen coach.
The Rays' farm system, one of the best, had dried up in recent years due to questionable drafting (Friedman wasn't perfect). So the team largely concentrated on refurbishing that this offseason instead of improving the big-league club. I'm willing to bet anything the Rays are last in attendance in 2015. Maybe in the AL East standings as well.
Rays 2015 Projected Lineup
Four regulars from last season were traded: infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist (to Oakland), shortstop Yunel Escobar (also to A's but then shipped to Nationals), outfielder and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers (to San Diego) and outfielder Matt Joyce (Angels).
The expected leadoff hitter is a returnee, and that's left fielder David DeJesus, and that's not too exciting. He hit .248 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 83 games last year and could be dealt himself. He'll be followed by possibly by second baseman Nick Franklin, who came over from Seattle in that three-way David Price trade last summer. Franklin has yet to prove he can hit in the majors, and he'll have to beat out Logan Forsythe -- or they could platoon. Hitting third is the star, third baseman Evan Longoria. He stayed healthy for a second straight year, playing all 162 games, but was somewhat disappointing with a .253 average, 22 dingers and 91 RBIs. He has to have a monster season for the Rays to contend. First baseman James Loney (.290, nine HRs, 69 RBIs) hits cleanup. He's OK but you need more power from a corner infielder.
John Jaso came over from Oakland in the Zobrist/Escobar deal along with prospects, and Jaso (.264, nine HRs, 40 RBIs) will be a designated hitter most days but also the backup catcher and first baseman. Center fielder Desmond Jennings (.244, 10 HRs, 36 RBIs, 15 steals) hits sixth. He hasn't lived up to his potential, and at age 28 he is what he is at this point.
Free-agent Asdrubal Cabrera (.241, 14 HRs, 61 RBIs) will play shortstop to replace Escobar and hit seventh. Catcher Rene Rivera (.252, 11 HRS, 44 RBIs), acquired in the Myers deal with prospects, will hit eighth. Either Kevin Kiermaier or Steven Souza likely hits ninth from right field, but if Souza wins the job he'll hit higher. He was arguably the biggest piece Tampa got in the Myers deal, with Souza coming from Washington in the three-team trade. The slugger was Washington's Minor League Player of the Year in 2014. He hit .130 in 23 big-league at-bats with two homers. The Rays are hoping he wins that job.
This lineup will scare no one, and only Longoria seems a lock to hit 20 homers. It's easily the worst group in the division.
Rays 2015 Projected Rotation & Closer
Of course, the Rays traded Price, the best pitcher in franchise history, to Detroit last July. The Rays also lost lefty Matt Moore, their second-best
pitcher, early last season to
Tommy John surgery. He should be back around midseason. Tampa traded 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson to Arizona this winter for prospects. Hellickson had been regressing, so not a huge loss.
Despite all that, this still could be the best rotation in the AL East once Moore is healthy. Alex Cobb (10-9, 2.87), Chris Archer (10-9, 3.33) and Drew Smyly (9-10, 3.24) are three young guys any team would love to have. Smyly was a key piece in the Price trade from Detroit and pitched better than Price did after the deal. In seven starts with the Rays, the lefty had a 1.70 ERA with 44 strikeouts, 11 walks and just 25 hits allowed in 47 2/3 innings. The rotation should be rounded out by Jake Odorizzi (11-13, 4.13) and TBA for No. 5 before Moore returns, probably Alex Colome (2-0, 2.66).
Jake McGee should be the closer, but he's out until likely late April following arthroscopic elbow surgery. Grant Balfour (12 saves, 4.91 ERA) will hold it down until McGee returns or perhaps keep it if doing well.
Rays Futures Odds & 2014 Trends
At Bovada , Tampa Bay is +6600 to win the World Series, +3300 to take the pennant, +700 long shot for the division title and with an "over/under" wins total of 78.5 (over -125 favorite). At Sportsbook.ag, Longoria is +7500 to lead the majors in home runs. The Rays were 68-94 against the spread last season and 74-79-9 O/U. On the moneyline, they were -2654 units on the year.
Rays 2015 Predictions
FanGraphs is fairly optimistic, projecting Tampa Bay to finish 83-79 and tied for third in the East with the Yankees. A lot of "experts" say don't sleep on the Rays, and I do like the pitching staff. But we will find out how important Maddon was -- some say a good manager can be worth maybe five wins. Plus, that offense is going to be a problem. I'm going slightly under the wins total.
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