The tale of the tape for the Tampa Rays this season is injuries and turnover. The Rays will likely start with Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Alex Colome, Matt Moore, Jake McGee, and Nick Franklin on the disabled list. And without Ben Zobrist’s bat in the lineup, the Rays need veteran third baseman Evan Longoria to dig deep into the well of offensive production for a lineup that will likely feature outfielder Steve Souza Jr. and first baseman James Loney in the meat of the order, who batted .130 and .290 last year, respectively. But on top of injuries and offensive woes, with the loss of Joe Maddon, the Rays lack the same leadership that brought them to the playoffs in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013. And new Rays manager and former player Kevin Cash is no Joe Maddon.
So, essentially, the Rays are starting over, as new general manager Matt Silverman restocked the farm system when he unloaded Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers and Matt Joyce.
The miracle Rays are no more. The only player left from those playoff years is Evan Longoria, who had a less than stellar year in 2014, and looks to hopefully lead and carry a young team that includes newcomers Asdrubal Cabrera and Jon Jaso.
The only chance the Rays have is a rotation that will likely include Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Alex Colome. Matt Moore, who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, will make a return sometimes this summer, hopefully easing the pain of the makeshift rotation.
So with only a week until opening day, the Rays are far from a complete team.
Three of these projected starters (Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Alex Colome) will start the season on the DL. Perhaps both internal and external options will be necessary to join Chris Archer, Nathan Karns and Jake Odorizzi. Luckily, though, the Rays may not need a fifth starter until mid-April.
The low-budget team that's consistently played beyond its payroll for years (they finally dropped down to 77 wins last year after four straight seasons with 90 or more wins) could be in for a long season.
Cash expects some of his young players to step up in the absence of veteran talent, naming Desmond Jennings as a player who could improve his offensive production. Expect Cash to drop him from the top of the order to fifth or sixth in hopes it will help him loosen up.
The faces of the overachieving franchise are mostly gone, beyond Longoria and the best of the young arms, including ace Chris Archer, plus Cobb and Moore.
The Rays front office have already shown great faith, in the rebuilding process, however, giving Cash an unprecedented five-year deal despite being a new manager. And he is going to be challenged early in his career with this untested roster.
Right-hander Matt Andriese, who pitched decently at Triple-A Durham last year appears to have a leg up for the fourth spot, but he lacks big league experience. Two more young pitchers, lefty Mike Montgomery and righty Burch Smith, are vying for the final rotation spot. So at least to start, the final three spots will be populated by pitchers with a total of one or two lifetime victories, depending on who wins the final spot.
And Cobb was slowed by his own forearm strain but he has indicated that it was determined to be nothing serious after medical tests. Smyly's shoulder issue, too, is not thought to be serious. And Colome isn't expected to be out for long after showing up to camp late and with pneumonia. So there is hope once their injured and ailing players return to working order, but, as we know, anything can happen with injuries during the season.
Finally, the Rays are hitting about .225 in spring training, which could mean nothing (it is spring training after all), but the season looks bleak. Although the rays have surprised in the past, there are just too many questions marks in the rotation and their offensive production looks to be pretty poor. All in all, the season looks to be a rebuilding one in Tampa, and we could see the Devil Rays rear their ugly head again.