One of the most challenging parts about Erik Neander’s job compared to many other baseball GMs is that he has to keep a consistently good team year in, and year out while constantly cycling out aging veterans who take up payroll space with MLB-ready farm players. This style of building a roster this way definitely has its perks and downsides. On the positive side, it ensures the team’s payroll will always be manageable and risk-averse due to no older players being under contract for years to come. This gives teams lots of flexibility at vital points in the year like the trade deadline because they can add without worrying about other contracts on top of new ones. This is always more of a small market team issue though, as you don’t see teams like the Dodgers exactly worrying about adding vast amounts of talent each year, despite the dollar figure they’re earning. The difficult part about this delicate balance Neander has to work with, is that it’s hard to find consistency year to year, due to starters changing so often.
This offseason, the Rays continued that recycling process that ownership is known for by giving up on the productive bats of Joey Wendle and Austin Meadows to cycle in cheaper, younger guys in Isaac Paredes and Josh Lowe. There is a glaring problem with counting on this plan to work every time, which is the fact that younger players need time to adjust. Most fans only hear about the young, super prospects and their talent is at a level where the transition from AAA to MLB is seamless. But for the rest, it’s usually the hardest change in the level of competition to adjust to. Counting on instant success from multiple rookies and new players on one-year deals is not always reasonable and it’s what’s been biting the Rays as they continue to have a slow season after a 100-win campaign last season.
One of the most obvious reasons for this sudden slow down in offense is the Rays’ injuries. The Rays have been brutalized by the injury bug all year long and it is no secret. Despite the massive boost that Brandon Lowe brings, Tampa Bay has gone most of the year without the face of the franchise shortstop Wander Franco, All-Star catcher Mike Zunino, defensive wizard Kevin Kiermaier, All-Star reliever Andrew Kittredge, Manny Margot, and not to mention Tyler Glasnow who is yet to return. Add all this on top of how disappointing top 100 prospect Josh Lowe has been along with substitutes like Walls, Bethancourt, and Raley batting under .200, and frankly, you’d be surprised to see they’re still over .500. Yet, if there was one team who would be able to navigate this mishigas of injuries, it’d be Tampa Bay. Walls, despite his poor performance at the plate, has been an elite defender in the infield posting a 1.4 WAR with his .173 BA. Isaac Paredes, the return for Austin Meadows, has been solid all year long at hitting for extra bases and leads the team in homers. And you can’t talk about the Rays recently without mentioning Yandy Diaz who has been the main reason for keeping this team afloat lately with his elite on-base skills. Though these players have really received no recognition for all they’ve done this season, they’ve been a vital part in keeping this Rays team in postseason contention.
The new guys brought in from the trade deadline will also play a huge role in the team’s postseason hopes. I find José Siri fascinating because of the untapped talent that lies within his player profile. It’s always easy to look at Baseball Savant, see a bunch of bright red circles, and jump to the conclusion that a player is slept on. Stat and advanced metrics scouting isn’t always the best way to judge a player, but with Siri, his metrics make him a prime candidate for a future breakout hopeful. His top percentile sprint speed translates directly to his centerfield defense placing him in the 98th percentile for outs above average. My assumption is that Siri will surely make the decision for the front office much easier in regards to franchise cornerstone, Kiermaier, and moving on from him with those defensive numbers. And something that Siri has that KK does not is real and tremendous power. Siri owns a max EV (exit velocity) of 111 over his whole career, a number that comes shoulder to shoulder with many of the game’s top power hitters. Now obviously he has the issue of consistent contact and trying to not chase after so many off-speed pitches but with enough tweaking and development from Tampa Bay’s development program, his hitting tool might be the next to unlock.
The other name is David Peralta, who already seems like an instant sparkplug for the struggling contenders. What I love about Peralta are the intangibles he brings to this pretty young squad. He has a fantastic underdog story of going from working at Mcdonald’s to fighting all the way back to the Major League level with Arizona and earning a 22 million dollar contract. Peralta is a story of resilience through a tough time, and that is exactly the type of motivation he brings to Tampa. He’s a player who’s been on a non-competitive Diamondbacks team for much of his career, in his age 35 season, and is surely chomping at the bit for some postseason action before he hangs it up. If there’s anyone who wants it badly, it’s gonna be Peralta and I love that fire he will bring to the Rays. His lefty bat will also surely be more serviceable than Raley or Quinn, so the offensive boost is also quite helpful.
And finally, I can’t talk about this offense without looking ahead to the future. More times than not, GMs will be very hesitant to make big additions at the deadline because they like to count on players returning from injury. The Rays ownership talked about not paying steep prices for players like Juan Soto and Willson Contreras this past deadline because the price for them was not worth it when looking ahead to guys like Wander, Margot, Glasnow, and even Harold Ramirez who are expected back in time for the postseason push stretch of the Rays’ schedule. It’s no secret that Neander must be counting on Wander’s return to have the most impact though. It’s apparent how necessary getting B-Lowe and his pop back was for them with the team starting to get back on track after a rocky post all-star break cold stretch, and the young phenom shortstop will provide that next gear to kick into. So, while a major theme around this team has been how unlucky they’ve been with circumstances out of their control, it’s also time to leave behind this tired, “feel bad for us” narrative Tampa Bay media has been putting out and instead focus on all the promise these bats now have in store for them.