2015 Tampa Bay Rays: Can they Cash in?

On deck: Daniel Robertson wore number 80 when he played against Boston in Tuesday’s spring training game. The Rays might want to find something a little lower, more befitting a major leaguer. Robertson was one of the early cuts in camp, but only because he hadn’t played above Class A when he was acquired by the Rays in the Ben Zobrist trade. Robertson, a shortstop, hit .310 with 15 homers, 37 doubles and 72 walks last year; against the Red Sox Tuesday he homered twice. It’s a little late in camp, and early in Robertson’s career, for him to be reassigned back to the Rays, but if he keeps hitting like that he won’t be in the minors for long — not with Logan Forsythe at second base.

Trivia: The 2008 Rays were the franchise’s only pennant winner. It had five starting pitchers with at least 11 wins and no more than 14. Name them. Answer below.

What he said: Rays manager Kevin Cash on his declining to name a closer while Jake McGee recuperates: “But it just doesn’t make sense to come out and name a closer when the game could be on the line in the seventh or eighth inning.” What he meant: “We have nobody else who’s good enough.”

Outlook: How much of the Rays’ success was Joe Maddon, and how much of Maddon’s success was the Rays? We’re about to find out.

The Rays won 90 games or more in four straight seasons and five in six under Maddon, but they also lost 101 and 96 in his first two seasons. Maddon became better as the players did.

New manager Kevin Cash won’t start that poorly, but he might need some empathy in his first season. The Rays have stayed competitive by identifying young talent, grooming it, proving it and then moving it for younger talent. Cash takes over at the back end of that cycle.

Cash comes in as Ben Zobrist, a key to the way the Rays won because of his versatility, goes out. And as Wil Myers, who had yet to get there, left as well.

The Myers trade was the more curious. Zobrist is signed through this season, and the last year of a contract is to the Rays like the snooze button on your alarm — at some point, there’s no more time to reset it. In return for Zobrist the Rays got Robertson, a former No. 1 pick who will play in their middle infield, and Boog Powell, a speedy young outfielder who is nothing like the Orioles slugger of the same name from 40-some years ago. And, the Rays hope, more what they hoped Desmond Jennings would be like but isn’t. It’s easy to see Robertson and Powell as components of a 90-win Rays team.

The Myers trade brought in a late-bloomer at catcher, a couple of middle-level prospects, a pitcher with a history of arm troubles, and outfielder Steven Souza. Two years ago he went, with Jake Odirizzi, for James Shields and Wade Davis. That’s a drop in value folks in Greece would understand.

Myers hit only 19 homers in his first two seasons with the Rays, and was more of a disappointment than the venue they play in. But Myers is two years younger than Souza, who’s supposed to be the prospect. Whatever Myers’ failings, he’s two years further into his career than Souza, and there’s a reason for that: he’s better.

It hasn’t helped that Souza struggled mightily this spring, hitting just .133 and striking out 15 times in 45 at-bats through Wednesday.

The Rays need Souza, or someone, to hit home runs, because they hit just 117 of them last year, ranking 26th in MLB. Only Evan Longoria, with 22, hit more than 12 (that by Sean Rodriguez, now a Pirate), and no amount of platooning or versatility is going to make up for that lacking. The Rays were 27th in runs scored, and last in the American League. Even with the DH, they only outscored the Padres, Braves and Reds, in part because the DH was so often David DeJesus (.248/.344/.408).

The Rays might have the best pitching in the AL East — which could be enough to win it, if most of it wasn’t hurt. Their best starter, Matt Moore, is out for two months and their best reliever, Jake McGee, is out a couple of weeks. Alex Cobb has tendinitis, Drew Smyly has a bad shoulder and Alex Colome had pneumonia. Almost by default, Chris Archer is the opening-day starter.

They’ll probably heal, but the offense they return to probably won’t.

Trivia answer: The five Rays starting pitchers with at least 11 wins and no more than 14 were James Shields and Edwin Jackson (14), Andy Sonnanstine (13), Scott Kazmir (12) and Matt Garza (11).

Team song: Frankel: Anonymity Is The New Fame

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