ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays aren’t standing pat.
Coming off a 96-win season and their first playoff appearance in six years, the team with a knack for making the most of limited financial resources have quietly positioned themselves to remain competitive with other contenders that have far more to spend assembling rosters.
General manager Erik Neander went about improving the Rays this winter without generating a lot of splashy headlines, signing Japanese slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo and addressing the need for right-handed hitting with a pair of trades that added Hunter Renfroe, Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena.
The team has improved steadily over the past four years, going from winning 68 games in 2016 to 80, 90 and 96 over the next three seasons.
Neander and manager Kevin Cash are confident they’re heading to spring training with a team capable of continuing that trend.
Cash used 152 lineups in 162 games last season, and that pattern isn’t expected to change. The manager will try to figure out where all the new pieces fit during spring training, including where to play Tsutsugo when he’s not filling the designated hitter’s role.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Arozarena, obtained from St. Louis in the deal that also brought Martinez to the Rays, made his major league debut with the Cardinals last season. A couple of other young prospects who made their debuts last year — two-way player Brendan McKay and 1B Nate Lowe — could make an impact, too.
The starting pitching rotation has a chance to be among the best the AL — if not all of baseball — with Charlie Morton, 2018 CY Young winner Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow leading the way. Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos are among the candidates for spots, too, unless Cash opts to make extensive use of openers for a third straight year.
Cash also has to determine the makeup of the bullpen, including whether to begin the season with a primary closer or fill the role by committee. Emilio Pagan, Jose Alvarado, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo are possibilities. A year ago, 11 different pitchers earned saves.
Expectations are high after finishing second in the AL East, eliminating Oakland in the AL wild-card game and extending Houston to five games in the divisional round of last year's playoffs. Despite being set in a number of areas, it figures to be an interesting spring with Cash facing some potentially tough roster decisions. “There’s a lot to be learned,” the manager said. The Rays open the regular season at home, March 26, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.