The Rays had 13 players hit more than six homers last year. Of those, only Kevin Kiermaier (15) remains. Their three pitchers who made their most starts (Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi) are gone. Their three starter prospects most equipped to help this year — Anthony Banda, Jose DeLeon and Brett Honeywell — combined for one major league start and each has needed Tommy John surgery.
Their top four relievers in appearances from last year, including closer Alex Colome, are gone. From this season, their primary catcher (Wilson Ramos), shortstop (Adeiny Hechavarria), left fielder (Denard Span), regenerated starter (Nathan Eovaldi) and valuable swingman (Matt Andriese) gone.
Yet, despite playing in the same division as the teams that pretty much have had the majors’ best records all season (Red Sox and Yankees), the Rays began the weekend at 56-53, the same record as the Pirates team they traded Archer to and the Cardinals club from which they obtained Tommy Pham, and better than — among others — the Nationals and Giants.
The Rays were among four teams the Players Association filed a grievance against before the season for not spending their revenue sharing money as prescribed in the collective bargaining agreement. That grievance has not aged well since it speaks to competitiveness and two of the other clubs are the contending A’s and Pirates.
But Tampa Bay has been the most fascinating because seemingly with every subtraction the Rays counterintuitively play better. Despite injury, trades and a tiny payroll made even smaller by all the deals, the Rays have been more than competitive this year and might be on the brink of a window of contending. Besides not whining about injuries and dollars here’s what the Rays can teach the Mets:
1. Build your farm system. Tampa Bay did a poor job in drafting for years, worse than the Mets. But the Rays improved in that area recently and kept adding depth in trades and now have one of the best systems in the game.
2. Emphasize defense. Earlier this season Mickey Callaway told me that the Mets missed Todd Frazier because he was their best defender. That froze me for a moment. Frazier is fine on defense, but if he is your best defender, you have huge defensive problems.
The Mets are 24th in turning balls in play into outs. The Rays are sixth. Think about how great Jacob deGrom has been to have his ERA despite a defense that does not catch the ball well behind him. The Rays have made their crazy-quilt of opening many games with relievers work, in part, because they catch the ball. The Mets have minimized good starting pitching — made it throw extra pitches which gets to their weak pen earlier among, other things — by not fielding well.
3. About that crazy-quilt strategy — that would be an example of creativity. Not the Mets saying they will be creative and then offering little of it.
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