Rays look for 2008 magic
They finished last in the American League East in 2016.
They finished last in attendance in the majors last year, averaging only 15,878 fans per home game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. By comparison the Los Angeles Dodgers led the majors with an average of 45,719 fans per game.
The Rays also were last in payroll in 2016, at $71 million. The Dodgers led the major leagues in that category also, at $279 million. The No. 2 and No. 3 teams on the 2016 payroll list were American League East rivals of the Rays.
The New York Yankees were second at $227 million and the Boston Red Sox were third at $215 million.
So, what about the 2017 Rays? Can they compete against the boys with the big wallets? Can they attract more fans to their ballpark on the western edge of downtown St. Pete?
Tampa Bay is coming off three consecutive losing seasons. Their 2016 record of 68-94 was their worst since 2007, when they were 66-96.
But they followed up the 2007 season with the greatest in franchise history. Tampa Bay won the American League pennant in 2008 and lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Will it be more of the past three years in 2017 or will they compete again?
The experts say no. A recent Fox Sports power ranking had Tampa Bay listed No. 23. An ESPN ranking had the Rays at No. 24.
The hope for a franchise revival likely begins with pitcher Chris Archer. The 2016 season was a disaster for Mr. Archer, who was 9-19 with a 4.02 ERA. His 19 losses led the league. In his previous three seasons his combined record for those years was 31-29 and he was astoundingly consistent, posting earned run averages of 3.22, 3.32 and 3.23.
Tampa Bay likely needs a return to form from Mr. Archer to climb in the standings.
Overall, Tampa Bay’s pitching in 2016 was fair, ranking 16th in the majors in ERA, 4.20.
The starting rotation is promising. Jake Odorizzi was 10-6 with a 3.69 ERA. Rookie Blake Snell had a losing record (6-8) but a good ERA, 3.54. Alex Cobb missed most of the 2016 season because of elbow surgery but if he is what he was before the surgery it will be a great boost to the team.
In 2013 Mr. Cobb was 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA and the next year he was 10-9 with a 2.87 ERA. Matt Andriese and Jose De Leon will likely round out the rotation. Mr. De Leon was acquired from the Dodgers in a trade for second baseman Logan Forsythe.
Closer Alex Colome certainly did his job in 2016, converting 37 of 40 opportunities and posting a 1.91 ERA. He also struck out 71 in 56 2/3 innings.
He and the rest of the staff will throw to a new catcher this year at some point. The Rays signed Wilson Ramos but he probably won’t be ready to play until June as he recovers from October knee surgery.
Until then Luke Maile and Curt Casali will likely split catching duties.
The offense needs to pick up the pace. Its .243 batting average ranked 28th in the majors and the Rays were 24th in runs scored, 24.
That low production was no fault of veteran third baseman Evan Longoria, who hit .273 with 36 homers and 98 RBI. The reliable Mr. Longoria has played 160 or more games every year since 2013.
To bolster the offense the Rays recently acquired free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus. The veteran has had four seasons of more than 20 homers.
He could fit into an outfield that includes Gold Glove centerfielder
Kevin Kiermaier, who missed a large chunk of the 2015 season. Steven Souza, Jr., who had 17 homers in 120 games, should return to play right.
Joining Mr. Longoria in the infield will be shortstop Matt Duffy, second baseman Nick Franklin and first baseman Brad Miller, who was previously the shortstop. Mr. Miller hit .243 with 30 homers and 81 RBI last year.
DH Corey Dickerson, who hit 24 homers last year, has reportedly lost 25 pounds through an offseason workout regimen.
That’s what the Rays have lost.
What will they gain this year?
Will they gain in the standings?
The winter power rankings are fun, of course, but don’t really matter. All that matters is how well they play. ¦