(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth of 30 major league baseball previews leading up to the opening game on Sunday, April 3. On deck: Atlanta Braves).
Mention the Tampa Bay Rays and I think Longoria. If Eva has a better year than Evan, that’s not good.
Evan is the face of the franchise, but Eva is the face . . . we better stick to baseball. Longoria is in the middle of a 10-year, $100 million contract that expires in 2022. A past Rookie of the Year, 3-time All Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner, the Rays third baseman is solid, but lately not spectacular.
He did play 160 games last year, which was great, but his 21 homers, 73 RBI and 163 hits for a team he needs to lead is not nearly good enough. Perhaps that’s part of why Tampa Bay won just 80 games a year ago and is projected to win exactly that this year.
The other impact player on the roster is ace pitcher Chris Archer, whose diminutive size defies his overpowering stuff. Archer won 12 games and fanned 252 batters. Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi are interesting pieces that need to step up in the rotation.
The Rays lack a bigtime home run hitter in a horrible ballpark. James Loney was dealt years ago by the Dodgers because he couldn’t produce power numbers at first base. That hasn’t changed in his years at Tampa Bay.
Management dealt B.J. Upton a few seasons back in the hope Desmond Jennings would be the next best thing in the outfield. That hasn’t happened. Ben Zobrist and David Price are long gone. And Kevin Cash isn’t the personality Maddon brought as manager of the Rays. But few are.
Where it goes right: That the Rays find some power sources and Longoria puts together All Star numbers.
Where it goes wrong: That Brad Boxberger doesn’t match his 41 saves from a year ago and nobody steps up to support Archer.
Projection: The Rays are simply in a very tough division and to us more of a candidate to finish last than first. If you don’t add anything to the roster, you likely don’t improve.