With the Rays 15-inning marathon loss yesterday, their 2022 season has officially ended. Heavily impacted by the injury bug, including Wander Franco, Tyler Glasnow, Shane Baz, and Mike Zunino, the Rays managed to piece together their fifth consecutive winning season, leading to their fourth-straight playoff appearance. Beginning with a strong April and May going 38-21 (.571 win percentage), by the end of the season the Rays were fighting to hold onto a Wild Card berth, going 14-19 in September and October regular season games, finishing their last eight regular season games 1-7 before being swept by the Guardians in the Wild Card series.
Reliever Pete Fairbanks’s departure from yesterday’s game was likely due to a circulation issue, or possibly Raynaud’s syndrome, in his fingers per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. It’s the latest injury for Fairbanks, who has dealt with a right rotator cuff issue, right shoulder inflammation, and a right lat strain since the 2021 season. Making his 2022 debut in mid-July, the righty pitched a 1.13 ERA in a limited 24 innings. On the heels of this strong regular season performance, he was selected to Rays postseason roster, but could not record an out due to the finger injury.
Transitioning to the 2023 season, the Rays have a few notable free agents including starter Corey Kluber, outfielder David Peralta, and catcher Mike Zunino. Kluber joined the Rays on a 1-year, $8MM contract and pitched to a respectable 4.34 ERA in 164 innings (31 starts). The 36-year-old pitched his first full season since 2018 with a below-average 20.2% strikeout rate, but an excellent 3.1% walk rate. Peralta began the season with the Diamondbacks, slashing .248/.316/.460 before being traded to the Rays where his numbers dropped to .255/.317/.335. The Rays picked up Zunino’s $7MM club option for the 2022 season after his strong 2021 season, but the catcher underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in July, ending his 2022 season early. The power-hitting catcher was having a cold start to his season, posting a meager .148/.195/.304 line in 115 at-bats.
Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is also likely to become a free agent, with the Rays holding a $13MM club option for his 2023 season that they will most likely decline. Kiermaier’s 2022 season ended in early July with a hip injury, with the righty posting a substandard .228/.281/.369 slash line in 206 at-bats.
In addition to these free agents, the Rays currently have 19 players who are arbitration-eligible entering the 2023 season, including bullpen forces Jason Adam, Nick Anderson, and Colin Poche. It is very likely that the team won’t retain all 19 players but will instead opt for non-tendering some of them.
As a whole, the 2022 Rays were marked by a surprisingly weak offense. Likely affected by injuries to key bats, Tampa slumped to a collective .239/.309/.377 batting line in 2022, a far cry from the .250/.327/.424 slash line the team put up during the 2018-2021 seasons. Interestingly, the Rays’ catching fell flat after a strong 2021, likely due to the absence of All-Star Zunino.
Tampa’s 2022 catching core, primarily composed of Francisco Mejia, Rene Pinto, and deadline addition Christian Bethancourt, posted a combined measly .224/.248/.373 line. Comparatively, Rays’ catchers slashed .234/.309/.494 in 2021. This team primarily relied on Zunino who broke out and batted a strong .216/.301/.559 in 2021. With Zunino becoming a free agent following the conclusion of the 2022 season, the Rays may opt to bring the veteran back or search for a new slugging backstop for the 2023 season.
Moving sixty feet, six inches from the Rays’ backstop to the mound, once again injuries severely impacted Tampa Bay’s performance. Starters Glasnow and Baz both dealt with elbow injuries that resulted in Tommy John surgery. At an individual level, only one pitcher made over 30 starts, Kluber, and only four pitchers made over 10 starts. Additionally, similar to Zunino, Kluber is a free agent at the conclusion of the season.
These injuries forced Tampa to continue to rely on their bullpen, with starters pitching the fewest innings in the league (753) to the third-lowest ERA (3.45) and the bullpen pitching the most innings in the league (682 2/3) with a low 3.36 ERA, stranding a hefty 74.3% of base runners. While this strategy worked for the majority of the season, by the end of the season Tampa’s bullpen was beginning to crack. Over their last 51 1/3 innings, the Rays’ bullpen ERA increased to 4.38 ERA, and they only stranded 67.6% of base runners.
Nevertheless, the Rays will look to retool this winter and update their roster in hopes of reaching the playoffs for the fifth-straight season.