The Rays were having a rough year already. Considered a lock to make the postseason and a serious contender to win the AL East, even over the reigning World Champion Red Sox (who also flopped, as you know), at the beginning of the season, the Rays had a trying year, finishing in fourth place in the AL East with a 77-85 record. In addition to the disappointing regular season, general manager Andrew Friedman– widely regarded as one of the best GMs in baseball due to his success on a limited budget– left for the sunnier skies of Los Angeles and, as of yesterday, quirky but effective manager Joe Maddon has opted out of his contract. With two key management figures gone, a relatively mediocre roster, and a barren farm system, has the Rays’ era of success effectively ended?
There are reasons to think that the Rays can continue to have some success even without Friedman and Maddon. What their roster lacks in star power– the trade of David Price to the Detroit Tigers leaves Evan Longoria (who posted a career-low .724 OPS in 2014) as the face of the franchise– they partially make up for in young talent. Aside from 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers (who also scuffled this season, slashing a meager .222/.294/.320), there are no real impact youngsters in their organization though.
The Rays do still have a solid pitching staff, headlined by budding ace Alex Cobb (10-9, 2.87 ERA) and young fireballer Chris Archer (10-9, 3.33 ERA), but in this age of baseball, that no longer counts for quite as much. Plus, that decent pitching staff is overshadowed by the trash heap that is the Rays’ offense.
The Rays scored the fewest runs in the American League in 2014, picking up an anemic 3.78 runs per game, and things aren’t looking much brighter going forward. Myers and Longoria should rebound next season but there is a stark lack of firepower in the Tampa Bay offense and that generally doesn’t translate to much success in the high-octane AL East, particularly without elite pitching.
Plus, worst of all for the Rays is that there’s no help on the way. Once the Rays started succeeding in the AL East in the late 2000’s, they were forced to utilize later draft picks and have had troubled identifying elite talent at the end of the first round. As a result, the Rays have very few impact prospects in their system, particular impact hitters. First baseman Casey Gillaspie (drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft) and Willy Adames (acquired in the Price trade) are intriguing names but they are hardly future franchise cornerstones unless scouts have drastically undervalued their future potential.
Without their franchise leaders in Friedman and Maddon, it appears that the Rays could be headed back to the AL East cellar after a six-year glory period from 2008-2013. Who knows, maybe the Tampa Bay magic will return next year and spark a winning title out of nothing. However, that already seemed like an unlikely possibility and, with Friedman and Maddon gone, it seems even less likely now.