The Tampa Bay Rays are not going to be very good this year.
We already knew that.
They have gutted a team that won 80 games last season. Among those sent packing: Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Jake Odorizzi and team MVP Steven Souza Jr.
Yeah, this thing could get ugly. Like triple-digit losses ugly.
But here’s the deal. Did anyone think this team was going to be all that good before the changes?
Did I miss something? Did this team actually win 98 games and get to the World Series last year?
Why is everyone so upset that the Rays traded a bunch of players from a crummy team?
Think about it. Longoria is 32 and getting less productive every season. Odorizzi is, at best, a No. 3 pitcher in the rotation and won only 10 games each of the past two seasons. Dickerson was here two seasons and was invisible for all but about two months of that time. And while Souza hit 30 homers last year, we’re talking about a guy who is a lifetime .236 hitter.
We’re not breaking up the Big Red Machine here.
Yet here are fans complaining, talking about boycotting games, demanding owner Stu Sternberg sell the team. Super fan Dick Vitale is trying to break Twitter with all his criticism.
“If you don’t want to own a team and give the fans a chance, sell the team,” Dick Vitale said. “There’ll be a buyer in a heartbeat.”
Look, I get the frustration. No one wants to sit through a fifth straight losing season that could be even less competitive than the previous four. No one likes the prospect of a team getting wiped out night after night and being out of the race by Memorial Day.
Then again, where have you been, fans? Have you not been paying attention?
I keep hearing fans say, “The team needs to tell us what they’re doing.”
Well, they are. They have been. None of this should come as a shock.
We’ve been hearing all offseason how big changes were coming. No one should be surprised Longoria was traded. The Rays practically announced that Odorizzi and Dickerson were goners, too. The one that stunned everyone was Souza and that’s the one trade that absolutely made the most sense. Souza’s trade wasn’t financial. It was made for legitimate baseball reasons.
Bottom line: this all makes perfect sense.
This is no way to build community goodwill in the name of a new stadium in this community, Martin Fennelly writes, assuming Stuart Sternberg wants one.
Will it work? That remains to be seen. But is it worth trying? Absolutely.
This was a mediocre-to-bad team that has been flailing away for four years. The Rays weren’t getting any better. There were no signs to suggest they would get better. They were so-so with a future that looked just as so-so. It felt like a perpetual .500 team and that’s if everything went well.
So why not try something? Why not overhaul it?
Call it tanking, if you will. Call it a rebuild. Call it building for the future.
But also call it this: smart.
The Yankees are loaded. The Red Sox are loaded. The Rays simply didn’t have the necessary talent to keep up with those heavyweights. Why keep running out a lineup of guys like Longoria and Souza and Dickerson when it has already been proven that lineup is not good enough?
Do you honestly think that if the Rays brought everyone back from last season that they would be contenders?
Why not flip those guys for players who have a chance to be better? Ah, but here’s the rub: it will take time for those players to get better. It takes time to rebuild. That time is filled with a whole lot of losses. And no one wants to wait.
The other issue is that rebuilding takes a complete leap of faith.
We’ve seen the Cubs and Astros tank and build themselves back into World Series champions. And if the Rays can do that, no one would complain about a couple of 100-loss seasons. But Rays fans, for good reason, are skeptical that management is good enough to draft and develop the type of players you need to be really good. And they’re even more skeptical that ownership will then surround those players with a pricey free agent or two needed to put you over the top.
But, let’s be real, the other way wasn’t working.
Now, having said all that, here’s a message for Rays management: Fans are upset. They are tired of losing. And you’re asking a lot of them to charge major-league prices for team that doesn’t much resemble a competitive major-league team.
It’s too late to slash ticket prices. But you can throw the fans a bone or two if you’re not going to throw a good team on the field.
Offer free parking. Cut back on concession prices. Offer $1 hot dogs, which is what a hot dog should be worth anyway. Offer deals on shirts and hats and other team merchandise.
And pick a few games to give away tickets to families and local groups. That shouldn’t be a problem for a team that far too often draws fewer than 10,000 people.
The team needs to embrace the fans. Let them know that everyone is in this together.
These next couple of seasons could be rough on everyone. And no one has to like it.
#Rays Honeywell was 8-10 pitches into his BP session, threw a pitch, cursed loudly a couple times. Checked by trainer, the walked off mound and toward clubhouse. More when we know it. https://t.co/IWUbnKQcaw
PORT CHARLOTTE – One of the key storylines in Rays camp is seeing what kind of bounce back season they can get out of a healthy Brad Miller, coming off October core muscle repair surgery.
And while Miller isn’t feeling 100 percent – he stubbed and broke his right pinky toe the other night – he got off to a promising start in Friday’s 6-3 exhibition win over Pittsburgh with a two-RBI opposite-field double off the wall and solid work at first base.
“He looked really good,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s looked really good. And to see him driving the ball that far the other way, it’s a good sign.”
After dropping from 30 homers and a .786 OPS in 2016 to 9 and .631 last year, Miller knows there is a lot to prove. “It’s good getting back out there,” he said. “Getting your timing down as a hitter, and just kind of getting on your feet in the field. … All-in-all a good day.”
Pitching in, Chirinos style
RHP Yonny Chirinos began throwing a split-finger fastball with six weeks to go last season because he wasn’t happy with his changeups.
While still working on the grip, the new pitch looked good Friday when he threw two scoreless innings in the 6-3 split-squad win over the Orioles in Sarasota, retiring six straight after a leadoff single to ex-Ray Tim Beckham.
“It’s still a developing offering,” pitching coach Kyle Snyder said, “but he does he feel a lot more confident in that than the changeups. … It has swing and miss potential. It’s a ground ball option.”
Chirinos is among the candidates for a multi-inning relief role.
Pitching in, Castillo style
One of the relief candidates the Rays most want to see this spring is RHP Diego Castillo, the organization’s minor-league reliever of the year for his work at Double- and Triple-A.
Primarily because Castillo makes throwing hard look so easy.
He showed his stuff in a 1-2-3 eighth inning against the Pirates, with his fastball in the upper 90s.
“That’s kind of him,” Cash said. “He doesn’t look like he’s letting it go that much but it sure comes out pretty good.”
D-Rob’s glove love
INF Daniel Robertson showed off with several slick plays at second, earning raves from Cash, who said they plan to try him soon in the outfield to potentially expand his duties. Robertson also provided the next scare of the Rays’ rough spring when he left the game after being hit on the left hand with a pitch, but said he was fine, with just a little bruising.
CF Kevin Kiermaier knocked in the first two runs vs. Pittsburgh with a bloop single. … Minor-league OF Nathan Lukes made the game-ending play with a nice catch and throw to double a runner off second. … LF Micah Johnson got the Rays off to a good start in Sarasota, working a 12-pitch walk. … SS Willy Adames, who switched to No. 1 with his No. 27 soon going to OF Carlos Gomez, knocked in the first run.
* The Rays joined other MLB teams in wearing Stoneman Douglas caps in honor and tribute to the victims of last week’s school shooting, and also held a pre-game moment of silence. The caps will be auctioned to benefit the victims’ fund. “It’s something small, bringing some awareness, helping these families,” 1B Brad Miller said. “Whatever we can do.”
* The new mound visit rules were a slight issue in the opener when the umps stopped Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage from going to the mound because the catcher had already been out. They said it would then have been a second visit and he would have had to take out the pitcher. “There’s a little bit of confusion right now on how the visits go and when you get docked a visit,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It seems like there’s been some mixed messages.”
* INF Christian Arroyo, the Hernando High product acquired from the Giants, won’t play the first couple games but says he’s actually ahead of schedule in return from offseason hand issue. He is set to take first live BP on Saturday and proceed from there.
* LHP Anthony Banda, acquired Tuesday from Arizona, threw a live BP session, impressing with his arm stroke and delivery.
* RHP Daniel Hudson, acquired Thursday from Pittsburgh, is expected to join the Rays on Saturday. He passed on the opportunity to ride the Pirates team bus down from Bradenton Friday.
As someone who watches a couple of minutes of figure skating every four years, I can definitively say that Evgenia Medvedeva was robbed. Hey, I probably understand figure skating more than a few people on the MLB Network understand baseball. (You know who they are.)
In addition to all the players traded away, top Rays prospect (and one of the top prospects in all of baseball) Brett Honeywell has been diagnosed with a right forearm strain. Sometimes that turns out to be nothing. Sometimes it turns out to be something major.
Craig Calcaterra responded to this piece by saying that while the Rays moves may be defensible in a vacuum, the Rays didn’t need to make any of them and that they owe it to their fans to put an entertaining product on the field.
Speaking of that, Sam Miller writes that Jerry Seinfeld was right: We root for laundry. But rather than mock that, Miller writes rooting for a uniform is the only way baseball fandom works properly. I’d argue that we root for the community that forms around a team and the laundry is just a symbol of that community, but I definitely agree with Miller’s overall point.
New Phillies manager Gabe Kapler just learned the first lesson of managing in Spring Training the hard way: don’t park close to the field. Infielder Nick Williams taught him and his rented Ford Explorer that lesson.
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay Rays prospect Brent Honeywell left the mound during a live batting practice session with what the team diagnosed as a right forearm strain.
The 22-year-old right-hander got hurt Thursday while facing major league batters for the first time this spring.
Manager Kevin Cash would not speculate on the severity of the injury, adding Honeywell would undergo further evaluation. Cash says ”It’s frustrating whether he’s going to miss a week or a month or whatever it is.”
Honeywell is regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He was MVP of last year’s All-Star Futures Game and went 12-8 with a 3.64 ERA in 24 starts for Triple-A Durham last season.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball