Tampa Bay Rays
2020 Record: 40-20
First place, AL East
Team ERA: 3.56 (3rd in MLB)
Team OPS: .753 (13th in MLB)
What Went Right
The Rays had the best record the American League, securing first place in the AL East for the first time since 2010. They ultimately reached the World Series for the first time since 2008 before losing to the Dodgers in six games. Randy Arozarena was a huge part of the team’s postseason success, hitting a playoff record 10 homers after having a minimal role in the truncated campaign. Brandon Lowe was the offensive standout during the regular season, popping a team-leading 14 homers. Utilizing a more pull-heavy approach, Willy Adames boosted his OPS from .735 to .813 as he continues to add more power to his game. Lesser-heralded names like Joey Wendle and Mike Brosseau were valuable contributors while Kevin Kiermaier led the way with one of the best defenses in the sport. Yandy Diaz was an OBP machine, though his power disappeared. As evidenced above, pitching was a big part of the team’s success. Blake Snell missed some time in spring training with soreness in his surgically-repaired left elbow, but he went on to post a 3.24 ERA over 11 starts. Tyler Glasnow was inconsistent with a 4.08 ERA over 11 starts, but he struck out an amazing 91 batters in 57 1/3 innings. Ryan Yarbrough proved to be a steady hand with a 3.56 ERA over nine starts and two relief appearances. While Nick Anderson faded during the team’s World Series run, the 30-year-old posted a 0.55 ERA with six saves over 19 appearances during the regular season. Maneuvering through a wave of injuries, the Rays actually had 12 different pitchers notch saves in the 60-game season.
What Went Wrong
It’s unfair to nitpick any season which results in a trip to the World Series, but it’s not like everything was coming up Rays this year. They faced some challenges. Coming off a breakout year, Austin Meadows battled an oblique injury while slashing just .205/.296/.371 over 36 games. Charlie Morton missed nearly a month with a shoulder issue while posting a disappointing 4.74 ERA over nine starts. The pitching staff dealt with a ton of injuries, including Tommy John surgeries for Yonny Chirinos, Colin Poche, and Jalen Beeks. The club will be without all of them next year. The Rays gave a two-year, $12 million deal to Japanese slugger Yoshimoto Tsutsugo, but he batted just .197/.314/.395 over 51 games. Hunter Renfroe struggled after coming over from the Padres in a deal that sent Tommy Pham and NL Rookie of the Year Award finalist Jake Cronenworth to San Diego. Prospect Xavier Edwards could still tip the deal back in the Rays’ favor. Again, it’s unfair to nitpick any team who advances to the World Series, but Kevin Cash probably wishes he had another shot at his Game 6 decision regarding Blake Snell.
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**The Rays gave up one of their top pitching prospects (Matthew Liberatore) to land Randy Arozarena last offseason, and as of now, it looks like a major win. Arozarena dealt with a case of COVID-19 during summer camp and only ended up appearing in 23 regular season games (seven homers, 1.022 OPS) before setting new playoff records for home runs and hits during the team’s World Series run. The sample was small, but Arozarena hit straight-up rockets while primarily attacking fastballs. And it didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, either. The 25-year-old has always flashed intriguing tools and he slashed .344/.431/.571 with 15 homers and 17 steals over 92 games between Double- and Triple-A in 2019. Now, there is some swing-and-miss to his game, but the tools are tantalizing. He might be the single-most interesting player to track in fantasy drafts next spring. Coming off a historic postseason, odds are you are going to have to be very aggressive.
**Blake Snell posted a disappointing 4.29 ERA over 23 starts last season before requiring surgery in July to remove a loose body in his left elbow, but he returned to fantasy ace status this season. While there was some minor concern over elbow soreness in March, he was ready to go after the COVID-19 shutdown and ended up posting a 3.24 ERA and 63/18 K/BB ratio in 50 innings over 11 starts. He followed this up with a 3.03 ERA over six postseason starts, including a Game 6 start in the World Series in which he was pulled despite dominating. Snell was more homer-prone this year than in the past. This happened despite a healthy uptick in his ground ball rate. His HR/FB rate was the highest among all pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, so it’s fair to expect things to even out over the course of a full season. Snell was still among the league-leaders in swinging strike percentage and strikeout percentage, so he should be considered a top-10 starter in mixed leagues going into 2021.
**Austin Meadows was a breakout fantasy performer in 2019, but his season never really got off the ground this year. After missing the start of the season with a COVID-19 diagnosis, the 25-year-old scuffled to the tune to a .205/.296/.371 batting line with four homers over 36 games before going with an oblique injury in mid-September. He wasn’t any better after returning for the team’s World Series run. Meadows struck out in 32.9 percent of his regular season plate appearances, up from 22.2 percent in 2019. He truly earned his poor numbers this year, so the hope is that an offseason of rest will get him back on track. Meadows will undoubtedly fall in drafts next year, but the across-the-board appeal remains.
**Brandon Lowe was the Rays’ top hitter this year, leading the team in home runs (14), RBI (37), OPS (.916) and runs scored (36) over 56 games played. While he went into a tailspin during the postseason (.459 OPS), he finished the year as the No. 2 ranked second base-eligible player in Yahoo leagues. Lowe made some healthy strides with his plate discipline this year and ranked in the 98th percentile in terms of barrel percentage (per Baseball Savant). Maybe there will be some recency bias which will work against him in drafts next year, but be ready to take advantage of that.
**Tyler Glasnow has all the makings of a fantasy ace, but he just hasn’t fully realized it yet. Could 2021 be the year? It’s tricky. After a forearm injury interrupted a breakout 2019, Glasnow dealt with inconsistency this year while posting a 4.08 ERA over 11 regular season starts. He walked 22 batters and threw seven wild pitches while allowing 11 homers in just 57 1/3 innings, but he also struck out 91 batters. His strikeout percentage was third-highest among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, trailing only Shane Bieber and Jacob deGrom. Glasnow is basically a two-pitch pitcher, but his stuff is so nasty that he’s managed to find success. Even with the control issues and possible workload questions, he’s a top-20 fantasy starter right now with the potential for much more.
**Charlie Morton finished third in the AL Cy Young Award balloting in 2019, but he wasn’t nearly as effective during his second year with the Rays. Missing time with shoulder inflammation, the 37-year-old posted a 4.74 ERA over nine starts. His average fastball velocity was down compared to last year and he also gave up a lot more in the way of hard contact while failing to complete six innings in any of his starts. He pitched well in the postseason until giving up five runs in his World Series start against the Dodgers. The Rays opted against picking up Morton’s $15 million club option for 2021, but he’s already garnered quite a bit of interest in free agency, likely ruling out the possibility of retirement. There’s some speculation that he’d prefer to sign with a team on the East Coast. The peripherals were good with Morton this year (42 strikeouts and 10 walks in 38 innings) even with the elevated ERA, so odds are he’ll continue to be a useful mixed league starter next year. But 2019 could be his peak.
**Nick Anderson was every bit as dominant as expected during the regular season (0.55 ERA, six saves, 26/3 K/BB ratio in 16 1/3 innings), but he struggled to the tune of a 5.52 ERA with three homers and four walks allowed over 14 2/3 innings during the postseason. The 30-year-old admitted after the World Series that fatigue was a factor in his performance suffering. With the unique nature of this season — and his amazing regular season numbers over the past two seasons — he deserves the benefit of the doubt. The Rays can be a bit creative (err, frustrating) about their closer situation, but Anderson should still be a part of that elite tier in drafts next spring.
Key Free Agents: Charlie Morton, Mike Zunino, Aaron Loup, Chaz Roe, Oliver Drake, Andrew Kittredge
Team Needs: After declining the $15 million club option on Charlie Morton, the Rays could stand to add another experienced starting pitcher. Morton is still a possibility to return. The club also needs to figure out their catching situation with Zunino in free agency and Michael Perez gone on waivers.