Tampa Bay Rays, Sneaky World Series Contenders?

With Spring Training officially underway, or at least with pitchers and catchers reporting, the 2016 baseball season is finally beginning (sort of). While there are a few storylines to watch for, with several key free agents still available, for the most part, almost every team is pretty much all set up for the 2016 season roster-wise. Now that the offseason is nearly complete, several 2016 standing projections have been released over the last week or so. For the purposes of this specific discussion, the focus will be on the PECOTA projections that were officially released early this week.

While PECOTA projections often miss the mark, they are still interesting to think about and speculate on. Every year, there are a select few teams that PECOTA loves or hates. Earlier this week I wrote a piece highlighting some of those teams. There’s always going to be teams that under- or over-perform these projections, but this year there are quite a few interesting teams to analyze further. While some of these teams were discussed in brief in that other article, there was one team in particular that really caught my eye: the Tampa Bay Rays.

According to those projections, the Tampa Bay Rays profile as a 91-win team in 2016. Now, obviously there is a small chance that the team actually reaches that total, but it is still an interesting possibility to consider. Could the Rays really be one of the best five teams in baseball, at least on paper? While that may be a relatively loaded question this early in the season, it’s not too much of a stretch.

The Rays may not be one of the top five teams in the league, and may not win 91 games, but the Rays could be a sneaky World Series contender nevertheless.

Now some may think I may be crazy for saying that, but in a wide open American League East, and really a wide open American League in general, anything can happen. The Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees are all good teams, and are once again getting all the attention, but the Rays could find a way to be even better in 2016. At this point, the Rays have the best rotation in the entire American League, in terms of strength at the top and their depth. While the offense has struggled in recent years, several important offseason moves should pay dividends and help the Rays be even better than last year.

Even with several key injuries to the pitching staff, including the losses of Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly for a majority of the season, and an anemic offense on top of that, the Rays still managed to win a solid 80 games. With most of their pitching staff healthy, including Drew Smyly to go along with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Matt Moore, not to mention Erasmo Ramirez serving as depth, and Blake Snell nearly ready in the minors, the Rays should be a force in an American League with never before seen parity. Alex Cobb may still be recovering from Tommy John surgery, but if he can come back strong in July, he gives the Rays an added boost that is equivalent to a trade-deadline acquisition.

With mere weeks before Opening Day, the Rays truly have as good a chance as any other American League team at making it to the World Series. Arguably they have an even better chance based on their pitching staff alone.

With the additions of Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, Steve Pearce, and others, the Rays offense should take a step forward as well. This Rays team may not win be a 91 win team, but they may get close.

Teams like the Rays always find a way to exceed expectations. It seems like almost every season the team is better than what was anticipated on paper. However, this year may be different given their lofty projections. Even so, the Rays may very well exceed expectations once again as they always do. With a quietly strong offseason, the Rays have set themselves up to compete in 2016. At the end of the day, the 2016 Rays should be good, and may be good enough to take the entire American League crown and perhaps even the World Series.

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