In a sport with no salary cap where the big-market clubs have a huge advantage when it comes to signing and paying the best players, the Tampa Bay Rays are the exception to the rule. Year in and year out, Tampa Bay has one of the lowest payrolls in baseball yet they find a way to stay competitive against all odds. This is a testament to their top notch front office who drafts well, identifies talent, swings trades and finds castoffs and diamonds in the rough that become key contributors.
Last season was no exception. The Rays finished 2019 with the 7th-best record in baseball at 96-66, their second consecutive 90-win season. Tampa won a Wild Card spot and defeated Oakland in the one-game playoff. The Rays nearly knocked off the Astros in the ALDS, roaring back from a 2-0 series deficit to tie it up before losing in the decisive Game 5.
It has been a typical offseason for Tampa: Lots of wheeling and dealing to get younger and cheaper. The biggest move came when the Rays sent outfielder Tommy Pham (.273, 21 homers, 68 RBIs in 2019) to the Padres in exchange for outfielder Hunter Renfroe (.216, 33 homers, 64 RBIs). Tampa also acquired first baseman Jose Martinez (.269, 10 homers, 42 RBIs) from the Cardinals for a pair of prospects. The Rays' lone free agency signing was Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo for 2-years, $12 million. In terms of subtractions, Tampa lost outfielder Avisail Garcia and catcher Travis d'Arnaud in free agency and also traded away former closer Emilio Pagan to San Diego in exchange for outfielder Manuel Margot.
Here is the projected Rays starting lineup in 2020. Manager Kevin Cash is the king of shuffling his lineup based on the matchup. You could easily see Martinez, Margot or Joey Wendle in any of these spots.
1. Brandon Lowe 2B
2. Austin Meadows OF
3. Yandy Diaz 3B
4. Ji-Man Choi 1B
5. Hunter Renfroe OF
6. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo DH
7. Willy Adames SS
8. Kevin Kiermaier OF
9. Mike Zunino C
The Rays' success has been and continues to be built around starting pitching. Tampa will once again count on the three-headed monster of Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA), Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78 ERA) and Blake Snell (6-8, 4.29 ERA). The Rays are also one of the top MLB teams in terms of using "openers."
Here is their projected starting rotation:
1. Charlie Morton
2. Tyler Glasnow
3. Blake Snell
4. Yonny Chirinos
5. Ryan Yarbrough
After trading away Pagan, Tampa's bullpen is in need of a new closer. It appears the Rays will employ a closer by committee, led by Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado.
So what do the oddsmakers expect from the Rays in 2020?
At BetMGM, Tampa's win total is 33.5. This translates to 90.45 wins based on a 162-game schedule. What's interesting about the Rays' win total is the juice. The over is -125 with the under + 105. This heavy over juice signals a combination of smart money and house liability on the Rays winning 34 or more games in 2020.
FanGraphs, one of the most trusted sites for advanced baseball stats and analytics, is projecting Tampa to go 33-27, which puts them right at their win total.
The Rays are slight -115 favorites to make the postseason (-105 to miss the postseason).
Tampa has the 2nd-best odds to win the AL East at + 330. The Yankees are the favorite at -323. The Red Sox are + 1000, followed by the Blue Jays + 3500 and Orioles + 8000.
The Rays have the 4th-best odds to win the American League at + 1000, trailing only the Yankees + 170, Astros + 380 and Twins + 800.
Tampa has never won a World Series since their inaugural season in 1998. The Rays have the 6th-best odds to win it all this year at + 2000, trailing only the Dodgers (+ 350), Yankees (+ 400), Astros (+ 800), Braves (+ 1400) and Twins (+ 1600).
In terms of player props and futures, Morton and Snell are both + 1100 to win the AL Cy Young and Glasnow is + 1200. Only Gerrit Cole (+ 265), Justin Verlander (+ 600) and Mike Clevinger (+ 1000) are higher. Morton is + 1400 to lead the AL in strikeouts. Morton and Glasnow are both + 2500.
Wander Franco, the Rays' top prospect, is + 2500 to win AL Rookie of the Year.