The offseason may only just be getting underway, but we are already looking ahead to take a stab at some 2021 Rays predictions. The reigning winners of the AL Pennant continue their unorthodox approach to roster construction and have already been a part of one of the few big moves of the offseason, though perhaps not what one would expect for a team that came just two games away from winning the World Series.
2021 Rays Predictions: Cutting their Losses
After falling just short of the ultimate prize in 2020, the Rays’ offseason approach was to… trade away their young ace, 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell, in a deal with San Diego for two prospects and two other players with minimal major league experience: Luis Patino (17.1 IP in MLB) and Francisco Mejia (362 total PA). Where most teams would shift into a “win now” mode, the Rays continue to stick with their small-payroll approach with an eye to the future. Of all 2021 Rays predictions, expecting more cost-cutting seems an awfully safe bet.
They chose not to re-sign right-hander Charlie Morton, who instead signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Atlanta Braves. While Morton struggled in 2020 to the tune of a 4.74 ERA, he was nonetheless a crucial piece of their starting rotation and was just one year removed from back-to-back All-Star seasons including a 2019 campaign with the Rays where he finished third in Cy Young voting.
Tampa Bay also sent corner infielder Nate Lowe to Texas as part of a multi-player trade that netted a handful of prospects. Instead of bolstering their roster, the Rays are extracting as much value out of their players while they can and continuing to build with an eye to the future.
Rebuilding the Rotation
A year ago, even cynics likely wouldn’t have made any 2021 Rays predictions that weren’t focused around their rotation core of Snell and Tyler Glasnow. While Snell is now a Padre, Glasnow looks to be the ace ready to take the reins. Glasnow wasn’t perfect in 2020, but was lights-out in 2019, pitching 60.2 innings with a sterling 1.78 ERA and 76 strikeouts before being shut down with injuries.
The rest of the rotation, however, is not so clear-cut. The Rays’ only big offseason addition so far, signing RHP Michael Wacha on a one-year, three-million-dollar deal, only patches part of the hole. Wacha struggled in 2020, giving up a bloated 6.62 ERA through 34.0 innings, but is only 29 and hasn’t pitched a full season since 2017. There’s a lot to like about Wacha’s potential and in classic Rays’ fashion, they could get big value out of a cheap signing. He’s shown flashes of brilliance before.
Southpaw Ryan Yarbrough looks to follow up a solid 2020 campaign (3.56 ERA through 55.2 IP) where he cemented his spot in the rotation, but the last few spots are unclear. While additional offseason moves are still possible, it’s unlikely the Rays will pay up to score a high-profile free agent. Both Yonny Chirinos and Jalen Beeks underwent Tommy John surgery and are expected to miss most or all of 2021. Brendan McKay‘s timeline is unclear after shoulder surgery but he’s expected to miss at least a big chunk of 2021 and is yet to prove himself in the big leagues.
Trevor Richards is likely the most experienced option, as he’s started 52 games in his young career, but he’s only cobbled together a 4.41 ERA over those three years. 21-year-old Luis Patino, one of the primary pieces of the Snell trade, was inconsistent in his first taste of MLB play last year with a 5.19 ERA in just 17.1 innings. He’s been a heralded prospect, however, and could factor in as one of the main pieces of the 2021 Rays rotation.
Still, if any team can find a way to get by with these holes in the rotation, it’s the Rays. One of the most creative teams when it comes to pitching, we could see more frequent uses of an opener or full bullpen games, or a rotating fifth starter depending on who seems to be playing best at the time. One of my most confident 2021 Rays predictions is that they’ll find a way to make it work.
2021 Rays Predictions: Looking to the Farm
While the team continues to dismantle its pennant-winning roster, the most exciting of 2021 Rays predictions involve their farm system, one of the best in MLB. The biggest question surrounds 19-year-old Wander Franco, universally regarded as the number one prospect in baseball. Franco missed out on a year of development with the cancellation of MiLB in 2019, but he has demolished every level of play he’s seen and could be a late-season call-up if things continue to proceed in kind.
2020 postseason hero Randy Arozarena will be rookie-eligible in 2021 (and surely one of the favorites for AL Rookie of the Year) and will look to build on his first bout of success. Luis Patino (17.1 IP) and Shane McClanahan (4.1 postseason innings) have also gotten a taste of the big leagues but will look to establish their role. We could also get a glimpse of 2B Vidal Brujan or OF Josh Lowe, both potential 2021 call-ups.
The Rays will struggle to replicate their 2020 success but have committed to sticking with their small-payroll approach. Even if they don’t return to the World Series, they’ll remain an exciting team to watch with a farm system stocked for years to come.
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