The Rays are one of the more fascinating teams to project almost every year. Next season should be no exception. Tampa Bay went 40-20 in last year’s shortened season, entering the postseason as the American League’s top seed. The Rays made good on that status, knocking off the Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros in successive series to claim their first pennant in twelve years. A six-game defeat at the hands of the Dodgers in the Fall Classic kept the franchise from their first World Series title, but there’s no doubt the 2020 season was a success.
Whether they followed that up with a quality offseason is debatable. Tampa Bay declined a club option on Charlie Morton and traded away Blake Snell, subtracting two of their top three pitchers. Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough are back, likely aided by offseason additions Chris Archer, Rich Hill, Michael Wacha, Collin McHugh and Luis Patiño. The bullpen was an area of strength for the Rays in 2020. That figures to again be the case, with Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo leading a talented group that throws wildly varying profiles and arm angles at opposing lineups.
There’s a lot more continuity on the position player side. The Rays bring back nine of the ten players who took at least 100 plate appearances last year (Hunter Renfroe being the player who departed). Yet while the offense was very good during the regular season in 2020, the bats largely went cold in the playoffs (with postseason star Randy Arozarena an obvious exception). Should we expect a return to form from those regulars who propped up a lineup that was the league’s eighth-best (by wRC+) in the regular season? There’s also the potential for baseball’s top prospect, Wander Franco, to make an impact this year, although that unsurprisingly won’t be at the start of the season.
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system forecasts a season in the 87-win range; their median outcome has Tampa Bay finishing second in the AL East (behind the Yankees) but securing a Wild Card spot. FanGraphs’ Depth Charts aren’t as optimistic, pegging the Rays at 84 wins and behind the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox in the division. Splitting the difference, we’ll set the over/under at 85.5 wins. Should we expect another postseason run for the Rays in 2021?