MLB

Tampa Bay Rays 2017 preview

This is the latest of our 2017 team previews. Each week during spring training, we'll preview a division with a team each day (Monday-Friday). This week: The AL East: Boston Red Sox | Toronto Blue Jays | Baltimore Orioles | New York Yankees. Up next: The NL East and the Washington Nationals

LAST SEASON

68-94, fifth in AL East

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WHAT'S NEW

Key additions: C Wilson Ramos (free agent from Nationals), OF Colby Rasmus (free agent from Astros), SP Jose De Leon (trade from Dodgers), OF Mallex Smith (trade from Mariners), RP Shawn Tolleson (free agent from Rangers)

Key subtractions: 2B Logan Forsythe (trade to Dodgers), SP Drew Smyly (trade to Mariners), SS Alexei Ramirez (free agent)

3 STRIKES

1. The rotation remains a strength … for now. The Rays entered the offseason amid rumors that they'd deal a starter. And they did, only it was Drew Smyly instead of Chris Archer and/or Jake Odorizzi. Archer and Odorizzi will be joined by highly-touted prospect Blake Snell (a lefty), Alex Cobb (fully recovered from Tommy John surgery) and Matt Andriese, with Jose De Leon waiting in the wings. Archer's 19 losses led the majors last season, though his 3.81 FIP was more indicative of how he pitched, and both Odorizzi (3.69) and Snell (3.54) posted impressive ERAs. The question is how this long unit will remain intact with a couple of its leaders in high demand.

2. The infield features square pegs in round holes. Evan Longoria, who surprisingly has played in at least 160 games each of the past four seasons, is firmly entrenched at the hot corner -- at least until he becomes the next veteran star dealt. And Logan Morrison is the best option at first, following his recent decision to re-sign. However, Matt Duffy, who has primarily been a third baseman in his major-league career will begin the season at shortstop, and Brad Miller, who began last season at short but finished at first, now will man second. Got all that?

3. Tampa can't live and die with the long ball. The Rays finished sixth in the majors with 216 home runs last season but were just 24th in runs per game (4.15) and 27th in on-base percentage (.307), and struck out more often (1,482 K's) than all but two teams. Case in point: DH Corey Dickerson (24 homers, .293 OBP, 134 K's). Thus, newcomer Colby Rasmus (15 homers, .286 OBP, 121 K's last season) will fit right in, though Wilson Ramos (22 homers, .354 OBP in 2016) should provide a much-needed boost once he has recovered from his latest knee surgery. Bottom line: Tampa Bay hitters must be more disciplined.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

Third baseman Evan Longoria and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier continue to play solid defense and provide clubhouse leadership after the trade of second baseman Logan Forsythe, and the front office resists the urge to deal another valuable veteran.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

The bullpen, which was borderline disastrous last season outside of closer Alex Colome, again gives away games the rotation fights hard to keep the Rays in.

SURPRISING STAT

Rays starters allowed the eighth-most homers (137) in the majors last season, with Chris Archer (30) and Jake Odorizzi (29) the biggest offenders among the returnees. Neither ever had allowed more than 20 in a season before 2016.

BEST BETS

Projected win total (via Atlantis Casino Resort): 75.5
World Series odds (via VegasInsider.com): 100/1

TOP 5 FANTASY PLAYERS

1. Chris Archer, SP: Look for Archer to rebound after allowing an uncharacteristically high 30 homers in 2016. He's a fantasy SP2.
2. Evan Longoria, 3B: Longoria is being drafted after Alex Bregman and Jose Ramirez despite hitting 36 homers last season. That's silly.
3. Alex Colome, RP: Colome saved 37 games after getting the Rays' closer job late last spring.
4. Jake Odorizzi, SP: Odorizzi is a steady starter with a 3.53 ERA over the past two seasons.
5. Kevin Kiermaier, OF: Kiermaier's batting average is just OK, but he'll hit 10 homers and steal 20 bases to make himself fantasy-worthy.

(Courtesy of FOX Sports Fantasy Baseball)

PREDICTION

Another last-place finish and a fourth consecutive season with no postseason berth