The Twins are headed to the warm, snow-free confines of Tropicana Field this weekend to take on the Tampa Bay Rays. To prepare for the series I sat down with Daniel Russell, the managing editor of SB Nation’s Rays site, DRaysBay. I also answered some questions Daniel had for me about the Twins, which you can read here.
Here’s what Mr. Russell had to say.
Q: I hear the injury bug has hit the Rays hard this year. How has the team and fans been dealing with the losses?
A: Well, the Rays lost their No. 3 starter from a 4-man rotation to an elbow clean-up procedure (Nate Eovaldi, out six weeks), and that was after losing their top two pitching prospects to Tommy John (Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon), so the rotation has been a mess from day one. There’s no clear answer, so it’s been a litany of “bullpen days” that have drawn serious media ire, but has otherwise proven to be more effective than even Chris Archer [Editor’s Note: Yikes]. It was a smart idea that was ridiculed much more than it should have been.
On the hitting side, the three best players on the Rays (or what was left of the Rays after the off-season tear down) are all on the DL — Kevin Kiermaier could be gone until the All-Star break due to a ligament tear in his thumb (the Trout injury), and the starting third baseman Matt Duffy just booked a short trip to the DL with a leg injury as well. Brad Miller, the best hitter on the team (LOL), will probably return to first base as early as Friday. Hopefully that helps.
Q: Is there a longer-term plan for the season in terms of the Rays rotation?
A: Nate Eovaldi should return next month, and in the mean time a prospect named Yonny Chirinos (who will likely pitch most of the game on Sunday against Jake Odorizzi) has proven to be a competent starter thanks to a split-change he added at the end of last season. The Rays also traded for starting prospect Anthony Banda who’s added a slider to up his game as well, so the Rays should be able to get by this season with something that looks like a normal rotation.
Q: Which hitters or position players have been performing best for the Rays so far this season?
A: It’s been the bench players. Daniel Robertson, a utility guy on the short side of a 2B platoon, and Mallex Smith, a true 4th OF, have both been hitting out of their minds. I have no idea how long they’ll keep it up, though.
Q: The Rays traded away a lot of their players over the offseason, including long-time Ray Evan Longoria and Jake Odorizzi, now with the Twins. How did you feel about these trades? How did Rays fans generally feel?
A: :thumbs-down emoji:
I’ve written before that if the off-season was merely selling high on Steven Souza and moving Odorizzi’s near $7 million contract off the books, it would have been a typical and acceptable off-season for the Rays. Instead the team also DFA’d their All-Star Corey Dickerson, and traded the face of the franchise (Longoria) who was on his second (!) team friendly deal. It was enough to make you want to quit being a Rays fan, and I lost some writers because of it.
Q: How is the Rays farm system looking? What are some of the big names? Is there excitement for the future?
A: Oh good, something happy to discuss! The farm system is promising (thank the baseball gods) with a top short stop prospect on his way (Willy Adames), and two corner infielders who could have some serious upside (Christian Arroyo and Jake Bauers). There’s even three triple-digit relievers coming, including a kid named Diego Castillo who should be picked up in every keeper league. If the three pitching starters mentioned above become something special, the Rays rebuild could be as sweet as the rebuild has been bitter.
Q: Where are things currently at with the Rays getting a new stadium?
A: Boy, I wish there was a short answer here. The Rays have been locked into an “iron clad” lease that prevented the team from even considering leaving Tropicana Field until after the 2027 season. When land was available in a favorable location on the north side of downtown Tampa, the Rays lobbied to be allowed to conduct a search, but were denied in January 2014. They tried again, and a couple years later a stadium search clause was added, but only in the two counties that comprise Tampa Bay. Since then, the Rays have declared a new location in downtown Tampa (the historic district of Ybor City) as their preferred destination. Now the Rays are relying on a non-profit to purchase and coordinate land development (again, lease problems), while lobbying political forces to help them go 50/50 on the new ballpark. That last bit is a mess, due to Tampa having very little public money available at the moment (the Rays play in St. Petersburg, which is ~45 min away from the center of Tampa Bay). The Twin Cities Tampa Bay is not.
Q: Is there a question I should have asked, but didn’t? What would that be, and would would your answer be?
A: You should know Rays Manager Kevin Cash’s job is secure. The Reds might have felt the need to move on from their manager, but the Rays know they’ve built a bad team, and have no incentive to further damage a team that’s rebuilding. To say the front office, in all their statistics and shifting and roster construction experimentation, has had “synergy” with Kevin Cash would be an understatement. If anything, the Rays feel they have built one of the best coaching staffs in the majors. It might be the best part of the 2018 Rays.
Thanks again to Daniel Russell for graciously answering my questions! You can read more of Daniel’s work at DRayBays.com, and follow him on Twitter at @d_russ.
How many games against the Rays do you think the Twins will win this weekend?
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