We now bid adieu to the Rays, who were eliminated in game 160 this year after sneaking into the playoffs on game 162 last season. It was a typical Rays season, in that they contended all year without spending a lot of money while relying on cost-controlled players.
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
What Went Right: Out of everything in this Rays season, you could argue that the biggest thing that went right was the starting rotation. The team used just eight starters all season, with four starters making 30 starts. David Price has the best season of his career and is a Cy Young candidate, while James Shields did what James Shields does. Rookie Matt Moore and young Alex Cobb also showed heaps of promise in the rotation. Tampa Bay's scrap heap bullpen was awesome yet again, led by former overpaid Angels and Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney, who posted the lowest ERA in baseball history this year. Tack stellar performances from Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, and Wade Davis onto Rodney's season, and you've got a dominant bullpen. Offensively, the Rays struggled most of the year, but Ben Zobrist put together another excellent, defensively-minded season, Desmond Jennings had a solid first full season in preparation for an impending move to center field for 2013, and Jeff Keppinger was an excellent low cost utility option.
What Went Wrong: Evan Longoria missed half the season. For a guy who many considered a preseason MVP candidate, this was a huge blow for the Rays, and perhaps the biggest reason they fell short of the playoffs. But honestly, if you want to point the finger at one player….Carlos Pena, all eyes are on you. Pena was awful in 2010 for the Rays, signed with the Cubs for 2011 and rebounded a big there, and came back to Tampa for 2012…and was an absolute disaster. Just one win out of first base with a sub-.200 batting average and 19 homers? That's not going to cut it. Veteran Luke Scott, signed to help out at the DH spot, was also terrible with a sub-.300 OBP and less than half a win of value in just 95 games. Hideki Matsui was also terrible in 34 games with the Rays before being put out of his misery.
Most Surprising Player: Fernando Rodney. Oh my god, Fernando Rodney. After five straight years with an ERA over 4.00, Rodney's ERA this season was just 0.61. His walk rate was also under 2.00 this year after sitting at above 4.00 for each of the last four seasons. Rodney's 2012 was just a perfect storm for everything the Rays stand for when it comes to signing free agents, a stark contrast from the seasons of Pena, Scott, and Matsui. And of course, in typical Rays fashion, they hold a club option for $2.5 million on Rodney for 2013. Hm, I wonder if a large market club would be willing to part with a decent-looking package for him…or hell, the Rays can hang on to him and hope he has half the season he did this year, because he'd still be worth it at that salary.
Most Disappointing Player: It's gotta be Carlos Pena, right? I'm sure the Rays didn't expect anywhere near this performance when they gave him a one year, $7.25 million contract last winter, but anything could have been better than his .199/.332/.357 year with 19 homers. At 34, a season like this one is going to absolutely gash into a possible Pena contract for 2013.
Prospects Up: While Matt Moore didn't exactly dominate the American League this season, a 2.3 fWAR season and an ERA under 4.00 from a guy who didn't turn 23 until mid-June is definitely acceptable. Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee spent the season in AA as a 21-year old, and was largely fine…a near 10% walk rate, 37 steals at a better than 80% clip…that's fine. Taylor Guerrieri was a monster in his pro debut in low-A: 45 strikeouts and five walks in 52 innings. Chris Archer dominated AAA in 25 starts, and looked nasty in 29 1/3 major league innings…he's going to be in Tampa Bay to stay for 2013. 2012 first round pick Richie Shaffer had a great, well-rounded debut in low-A.
Prospects Down: 21-year old Enny Romero struggled with his control a little in high-A, with his walk rate remaining high and his strikeout rate taking a nosedive. Alex Colome blew away batters but also had some control problems in AA and AAA, and could end up in the bullpen at the end of the day. Alex Torres had an erratic year in AAA with plenty of control problems, but still showed flashes of brilliance while both starting and relieving. Mikie Mahtook was solid, albeit unspectacular. Tim Beckham was suspended 50 games for testing positive for marijuana, and had a middling season in AAA…though he is only 22. Josh Sale and Ryan Brett both earned suspensions for methamphetamine use.
The Future: You know what you're getting out of the Rays: low cost young talent in contention every year. Pena will be gone next year, and I'd assume Scott's option will be declined. BJ Upton is a free agent and is likely to sign elsewhere. Three bullpen arms are also free agents, but only Peralta will likely be retained. The Rays are actually going to have a little bit of money to play with, and there aren't many holes to fill…DH, first base, and a corner outfield spot, along with a couple spots in the bullpen and on the bench. With Tampa Bay's wealth of pitching, they could deal someone (veteran James Shields is the most likely option) in an attempt to fill those holes, but no matter what happens, the Rays are going to be contending in the AL East yet again.