Rival Preview: The Rays will look different in 2024, but the House of Horrors is always the same

Photo credit:Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
2 months ago
Our journey through the American League team previews now hits Tampa, Florida, home of Toronto’s well-known, much-maligned House of Horrors.

2023 Season Review

A 99-63 record sounds impressive, and within that record is the 13-game winning streak Tampa Bay had to start the season. Granted, nine of those thirteen wins came against the Tigers, Nationals, and Athletics, but they took care of business nonetheless. The Rays had only one month in which they possessed a losing record, and they held first place in the AL East for 114 calendar days before the Orioles took charge.
Their season came to an abrupt end when they were swept by the Texas Rangers in the AL Wild Card round. They were outscored in those two games 11-1, and it happened in front of a two-game average of 19,951 fans at Tropicana Field.
Offence: This was the year of 1B Yandy Diaz, who made his three-year $24 million contract that he signed last offseason look hilariously small. Diaz posted career highs in almost all categories, batting .330/.410/.522 with a .932 OPS, 22 home runs, 78 RBIs, and 35 doubles. He was the perfect guy for Tampa Bay to have as their leadoff batter, and he also performed well in crunch time with a 1.205 OPS in high-leverage at-bats.
Diaz’ batting average was best in the American League, he finished sixth in MVP voting, he won a Silver Slugger award, and was named the starting first baseman in the All-Star game.
Behind Diaz, the Rays got their primary source of power from 3B Isaac Paredes, who hit 31 home runs, 98 RBIs, and 123 hits last season – all career-bests. CF Jose Siri also took a jump in the power department, crushing his previous career high of 7 homers with 25 this season.
The more you look at Tampa Bay’s individual stats, the more you realize they did what they do every year: operate by committee. Including Diaz, Paredes, and Siri, the Rays had six hitters with at least 20 home runs, and six hitters with an .800 OPS or higher. OF Randy Arozarena cooled off in the second half after an All-Star worthy first half, and OF Josh Lowe and DH Harold Ramirez posted career-highs in several categories.
The Rays made their way into the news off the field last season as social media posts emerged of SS Wander Franco being involved in a relationship with a minor. Franco was ultimately involved in two investigations; one in the Dominican Republic and one with the MLB. He was placed on administrative leave, and the Rays would take down any posters, etc. that left any sign that Franco ever played for Tampa Bay. The details of Franco’s situation are aplenty and would take a separate article to break down, but it’s almost certain that Franco will not play in the MLB again.
Pitching: If you thought the Yankees were riddled with pitching injuries, wait until you heard about the 2023 Rays. For context, the Rays entered last season with one of the most, if not the most, underrated pitching rotations in the league. Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs, Tyler Glasnow, and Zach Eflin were the five tentative starters, with the first three names coming off of 2022 seasons with 25+ starts and sub-3.00 ERAs.
Unfortunately, the rotation was depleted rather abruptly. Springs started only three games and posted a 0.56 ERA, but underwent Tommy John surgery on April 24th.  Rasmussen started eight games with a 2.62 ERA, but he underwent a hybrid internal brace procedure in mid-July after suffering a right flexor strain. McClanahan held a 3.29 ERA through 21 starts, but he underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career last August. On top of all of these, they had already lost Shane Baz for the season, as he too was recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Glasnow missed the first two months of the season with an oblique injury, but he recovered enough to pitch 21 starts and pitch to a 3.21 ERA. And before I ran out of breath, Eflin had a 15-day IL stint in April for lower back tightness, but that turned out to be minor relative to his counterparts.
Eflin, who was in the first year of his 3-year, $40 million deal, was the only Ray to make over 30 starts last season. He posted a 3.50 ERA, 16 wins, a 9.4 K/9, and a 1.2 BB/9, with all but the K/9 being career-best.
So, where did Tampa go from there? Rookie Taj Bradley made 21 starts out of 23 outings total this season, owning a 5.59 ERA and a 1.385 WHIP. While his fastball and cutter got hit pretty well (.559 and .581 opponent SLG%, respectively), the fastball averaged 96.1 mph, and he showcased a changeup that turned into a weapon with a 41% whiff percentage.
The Rays claimed Zack Littell off of waivers in May, and Littell found great success as a starter. In his 14 starts, he held a 3.41 ERA, a 1.05 WHIP, and an 11.2 K-to-BB ratio. They also acquired Aaron Civale from the Guardians at the trade deadline for some rotation aid, however he struggled in his 10 starts as a Ray.
The Rays boasted a two-headed beast in the backend of their bullpen in Pete Fairbanks and Jason Adam, with the two combining for 37 saves. Fairbanks posted a career-high in appearances and had a 2.58 ERA and a 13.5 K/9, while Adam had a 2.98 ERA through 56 outings.

Sep 22, 2023; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow (20) reacts after walking in a run in the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Offseason Moves

The Rays have followed their typical offseason routine (so far) and didn’t dabble too much in the free-agent market. They did bring back relievers Chris Devenski and Erasmo Ramirez, with the latter being on a minor-league deal. The Rays signed Devenski in August of last season after being released by the Angels, and he was very effective (2.08 ERA, 9 K’s) albeit in only nine games with Tampa Bay. Ramirez is a 12-year vet who was also signed by the Rays during the 2023 season. Ramirez posted a 6.48 ERA across outings with the Rays, pitching in a multitude of bullpen roles.
They also recently signed RP Nick Maton to a one-year deal with a club option for 2025. Maton is coming off a season with the Astros in which he held a 3.00 ERA and a 10.1 K/9 in 68 appearances.
What the Rays did do, however, is attack the trade market. They bolstered their farm depth by acquiring a pair of minor league prospects and a PTBNL from the Miami Marlins in exchange for INF Vidal Brujan and RP Calvin Faucher. Brujan was once a Top-5 prospect with the Rays, but the results never came to fruition over the three seasons he played in Tampa Bay (.157/.241/.197 slash line in 99 total games), and he bounced back and forth between the majors and AAA several times.*
One of the bigger trades of the offseason was Tampa sending SP Tyler Glasnow, CF Manuel Margot, and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for SP Ryan Pepiot and OF Jonny DeLuca. Glasnow was a staple in Tampa Bay’s rotation for close to six years, pitching to a 3.20 ERA across 71 total starts with them, however he will be a free agent in 2025, giving the Rays a reason to search for a return for him.
Pepiot comes with several years of team control (will hit free agency in 2029), and he’s already posted a couple of nice small sample sizes of production at the MLB level. Pepiot has made 17 appearances (10 starts) between ’22 and ’23, and he’s pitched to a 5-1 record, 2.76 ERA, and a 38-to-5 K-to-BB ratio. It’s a small sample size, but with experience in the Dodgers and Rays organizations, there’s going to be a good pitcher produced at some point.
DeLuca played in 24 games last season for the Dodgers and posted a .262/.311/.429 slash line with two homers and six RBIs. He played multiple outfield positions, so the Rays are already watering at the mouth at the idea of rostering another utility player.
The Rays also traded 1B/OF Luke Raley to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for SS Jose Caballero. Caballero was a rookie last season, spending the majority of his time between shortstop and second base. In 104 games in Seattle, Caballero hit .221/.343/.320 with a .663 OPS, 4 homers, 26 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases (second on the team). Raley put together a solid season last year, so I was a little confused to see the Rays move off of him. However, Caballero gives the Rays more position-player depth, and it may come in handy now that Franco is out of the picture.
In other news, the Rays traded RP Andrew Kittredge to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for OF Richie Palacios. They also made moves via the waiver wire; they lost C Christian Bethancourt to the Guardians and RP Jalen Beeks to the Rockies, but they also claimed SP Tyler Alexander from the Tigers, which I think could end up being an underrated move.
Finally, for those interested in the movement of former Blue Jays, Tampa Bay signed 2019 ace Jacob Waguespack and catcher Rob Brantly to minor-league deals.

My take on Tampa Bay’s 2024 outlook

This will be an interesting year for the Rays. In fact, with all of the pitching injuries that they have and now that Glasnow has been traded, they may be flying under the AL East radar. But the real question is: would the Rays want it any other way?
I’m really high on Josh Lowe and believe he could be an All-Star calibre player this season. Top infield prospects Junior Caminero and Curtis Mead made their debuts at the end of last season, and while there is still some speculation on whether they will start the season on the MLB roster, they could very easily find themselves back in the majors shortly into the season.
Baz, Springs, and Rasmussen could all be back at some point within 2024 and will be some much-needed relief to the rotation. Unfortunately, McClanahan will likely miss the entire season, although there is some hope he could return at the end of the year and potentially the postseason if the Rays get that far.
Long story short, don’t count the Rays out. Especially if they can stay healthy, they’ll compete for an AL East crown, even if they’re not the most attractive pick.


Check out these posts...