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Tampa Bay Rays 2024 outlook: Playoffs are nice, but can they seriously compete for World Series title?

Tampa Bay Rays
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like no matter what moves the Tampa Bay Rays make, they always end up putting a good team on the field. Since 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays have missed the postseason just once and have put up win totals of 90, 96, 100, 86, and 99. They also went 40-20 in 2020, good for a .667 winning percentage, and would have had to play .588 ball to win 100 games that season. Even if they’d have gone a little under .500 the rest of the way (.490 to be exact), they would have won 90 games.

The Rays are a wrecking ball … in the regular season. They made it to the World Series in 2020, but if there are some that are discounting the Los Angeles Dodgers World Series win because of the shortened season, then the Rays loss is also facing scrutiny. Outside of that year, Tampa Bay hasn’t made it past the AL Division Series in this stretch, and the past two years they have been swept out of the Wild Card round by the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Guardians.

Still, it’s hard to bet against this team because they have ranked in the top-6 in ERA in each of the last six seasons, generally finishing somewhere in the 3.40 to 3.90 range. That’s outstanding consistency, and they do it with a slew of under-the-radar arms each and every year. One example from this offseason is the addition of reliever Garrett Acton on a minor league deal.

The former Oakland A’s right-hander will be recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2024, but in a brief stint in Oakland last season he put up a 129 Stuff+ according to FanGraphs, which means his pitches are nasty. His location was a tick below average at 99 (100 is league average), but that Stuff+ rating would have ranked him third in the Rays abundance of arms. With some improved location, he could be one of the team’s better pitchers.

Acton won’t have an impact on the club in 2024, so let’s take a look at some of the additions and subtractions that the club has made, the club’s outlook for this season, and give you one player to keep an eye on.

Tampa Bay Rays additions and subtractions

Tampa Bay Rays
Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

One loss that was not planned for will be Wander Franco, who has been placed on administrative leave following allegations of the shortstop’s relationship with underage girls.

To find a solution at shortstop, the Tampa Bay Rays have brought in José Caballero in a trade with the Seattle Mariners for Luke Raley. The 27-year-old Caballero made his big-league debut last season and hit .221 with a .343 OBP and a 96 wRC+ (100 is league average) in 280 plate appearances. Defensively, he put up +2 Outs Above Average per Statcast, but over the course of a full season he could be a top-10 defender at the position. They also brought in veteran Amed Rosario as a utility option that will likely see time against left-handers, given his 112 wRC+ against them last season He was one of the worst defenders in baseball last year, too. Between the two, the Rays have a projected three win player at shortstop.

Raley, 29, had a solid season in 2023 with the Rays, putting up a 130 wRC+ with 19 homers, 14 stolen bases, and 2.6 WAR. He has also had some trouble with strikeouts, which included a 31.5% k-rate last season.

In addition to Raley, the Rays will also be without Tyler Glasnow and Manuel Margot, both of whom were traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers the week that the baseball world deemed them the villains for 2024. Those three players combined for 6.2 WAR last season. One exercise that we’ve been doing for these team previews is to check the WAR that a team is losing from last season and comparing that total to the WAR that is being brought in. Tampa has lost 7.3 WAR, with those Glasnow, Margot, and Raley being the big three contributors to their total, while the team has brought in eight wins. When you look at the difference, that’s a total of just 0.7 WAR between 2023 and 2024. That said, the Rays did win 99 games last season and had a Pythagorean record of 100-62.

Part of the reason Rays fans can be optimistic is the additions of starter Ryan Pepiot and outfielder Jonny Deluca from the Glasnow trade. Pepiot has pitched extremely well in short stints in the Majors, posting ERAs of 3.47 and 2.14, but the trick with him, as it was with Glasnow, will be getting enough innings. Pepiot is also set to make the league minimum. Deluca on the other hand will likely serve as a fourth outfielder and may potentially be a platoon bat to face lefties. If he doesn’t hit the ground running, then newcomer Richie Palacios could get a crack.

Tampa Bay Rays outlook for 2024

Tampa Bay Rays
Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Here is where things get interesting. The Rays project to be firmly in the wild card hunt in 2024, but Baseball Prospectus has them finishing with 86.8 wins, which is the sixth-highest total in the American League. That would have them just sneaking into the postseason. While the seeding isn’t exactly the best, they’d still be in contention, which is a plus.

You may be wondering why we included the decimal in the projected win total, but there’s a good reason for that. According to BP, the Texas Rangers are projected for 86 wins, and the Baltimore Orioles, set to finish third in the AL East, are projected at 87.1 wins. That’s three teams separated by just over one game. Two of them would make the playoffs, but one would be left on the outside looking in.

That would mean that how well the new additions perform this season could very well determine the fate of the Rays when October rolls around. You can make the argument that they’ll need innings from Pepiot, but Tampa Bay is a pitching factory. The real determining factor will be how well the offense performs. Isaac Paredes broke out last season and smashed 31 dingers. Can he follow that up with a comparable season? Jose Siri went from seven home runs in 2022 in 104 games to 25 homers in 101 last year. Can he repeat the feat?

If these guys fall off too much from their 2023 production, then the Rays may not quite have enough firepower to overcome two similarly matched club. The Orioles won the division last season, and the Rangers won the World Series. Competition in the AL is tough, and the Rays will need to be at the top of their game all season in order to make it back to October baseball.

Tampa Bay Rays player to watch in 2024

Tampa Bay Rays
Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

While Siri and Paredes broke out in 2023, one guy that could have a huge impact on the Tampa Bay Rays’ offense this coming season is Jonathan Aranda. The 25-year-old swings it from the left side and has racked up 190 plate appearances with Tampa Bay over the past two seasons. Last year he hit .230 with a .340 OBP and a pair of home runs while striking out at a 30.1% clip. He put up a slightly-better-than-league-average 102 wRC+, though he also had a high BABIP of .327 while the league average was .297, suggesting that he may have gotten a bit lucky with his results, further supported by his .192 expected batting average.

The numbers haven’t quite been there for Aranda just yet, but his track record in the minors has been pretty impressive. In 95 Triple-A games last season he hit .339 with a .449 OBP and 25 home runs, good for a 165 wRC+. That line has been fairly typical from the 1B/DH the past few seasons on the farm.

If Aranda can find his stroke in the big leagues in 2024, then his bat would be a huge addition to a lineup that ranked second in baseball in wRC+ behind only the Atlanta Braves, who put up a historic offensive season. The Rays have the means to be a great team again this season, but they’re entering with a few more question marks as well.

Jason Burke covers MLB for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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