Rebuilding season or not, falling short of the playoffs and finishing with a losing record probably means that more things went wrong than went right for a team. This series, however, will focus on those silver linings that each team can take away from an otherwise disappointing season.
[Related: “Top Bright Spots” archive]
Here are the biggest bright spots for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Note: Evan Longoria’s terrific season does qualify as a bright spot, but not a major one in regards to what was expected and how it affects the team moving forward. His trade value has risen, but it was already high and it’s likely the team holds on to their star third baseman with an eye on contending in 2017.
1. Brad Miller, 1B
When the Rays traded for Miller in the offseason, the hope was that he could give them at least adequate defense at shortstop to go along with 15-20 home runs. As the Mariners had already concluded, the 26-year-old was not very good at shortstop. But, as the Rays discovered, Miller proved that he was capable of much more at the plate, allowing them to hold off on a fallback plan to use him as a super-utility man who could start a handful of games per week.
With 20 homers and an .809 OPS, Miller made his debut as the Rays’ starting first baseman on August 8th. He would go on to hit 10 more homers and finish the season with a total of 30. It was the first time since 2009 (Carlos Peña, 39 HR) that a Rays’ hitter other than Evan Longoria finished the season with at least 30 homers. Versatility is still a key component of Miller’s value, but his breakout season at the plate has him locked in as the team’s first baseman for the foreseeable future.
2. Alex Colome, RP
After being moved out of the rotation in mid-2015, Colome proved that he could handle a late-inning relief role and possibly fill the closer’s role sometime in the future. When Brad Boxberger landed on the disabled list to start the 2016 season, “sometime in the future” came much sooner than expected.
By the time Boxberger, who saved 41 games for the Rays in 2015, would return from the disabled list in late May (he would return to the disabled list after just one appearance), it was already apparent that he had been Wally Pipp’d. The 27-year-old Colome earned an All-Star bid on his way to a brilliant 37-save season with a 1.91 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 11.3 K/9. Finding a closer is not on the team’s agenda for the upcoming offseason.
3. Jake Odorizzi, SP
While his overall stats don’t reflect Odorizzi taking a step forward in 2016, thanks to a rough 1st half (4.47 ERA, allowed at least 4 ER in 7 of 19 starts), he sure did look like the ace of the Rays’ staff down the stretch.
In his 14 2nd half starts, all but one coming against a playoff contender, the 26-year-old right-hander posted a 2.71 ERA with 11 quality starts and seven wins in eight decisions. With Chris Archer and Drew Smyly coming off of disappointing seasons and Matt Moore traded to the Giants, the Rays are hoping Odorizzi’s late-season success will carry over in 2017. Even if the team struggles again, a strong performance by Odorizzi could have his value skyrocketing by the trade deadline.
4. Matt Moore, SP (traded)
Once it was clear that the Rays would become sellers in 2016, several playoff contenders would become focused on the team’s talented starting rotation, an area of strength that the Rays would presumably be willing to trade from. However, it didn’t help that each of the team’s coveted starters—Moore, Odorizzi, Chris Archer and Drew Smyly—had struggled early in the season, which likely deflated the quality of the trade offers. But Moore turned things around at just the right time.
After allowing five earned runs on June 24th to push his ERA over 5.00, the left-hander ran off six consecutive terrific starts (1.99 ERA, 40.2 IP, 29 H, 14 BB, 25 ). He was traded four days later to the Giants, who gave up a package of players that included Matt Duffy, a breakout performer in 2015 and the Rays’ starting shortstop in 2017.
5. Nick Franklin, IF/OF
All but forgotten as one of the key pieces acquired in the David Price trade of July 2014, Franklin began the season in Triple-A, his fifth year at the level (2012-16), and wasn’t doing enough to think he’d work his way into Rays’ immediate or future plans. But with several key position players on the disabled list, the 25-year-old switch-hitter was forced into action in late June.
Despite battling a few injuries of his own (concussion, hamstring strain), Franklin ended up starting 44 games at six different positions (1B, 2B, SS, LF, RF, DH) from June 27th through the end of the season while posting a .785 OPS with six homers and 10 doubles in 184 plate appearances. With Miller seemingly entrenched at first base, Franklin could, at the very least, continue to fill a valuable super-utility role in 2017 with at least three starts per week.