Injury Bug Short Circuits Rays In 2015
The Rays arrived in Port Charlotte in mid-February 2015 looking to put their first losing season since 2007 in the rear view mirror.
Following a disappointing 77-85 mark in 2014, Andrew Friedman left the organization to take over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Shortly after, Joe Maddon exercised an opt out in his contract and departed and eventually took over the Chicago Cubs.
Matt Silverman took over baseball operations and elevated Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander to more prominent roles in the baseball operations staff. The moves trickled down from there.
Kevin Cash was hired to replace Joe Maddon. George Hendrick was moved to an advisory role, Dave Martinez departed to join Joe Maddon‘s staff. Rocco Baldelli and Charlie Montoyo both joined the coaching staff.
In total, ten players who saw significant action with the Rays in 2014 were either released or traded: Cesar Ramos, Joel Peralta, Jeremy Hellickson, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, Jose Molina, Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Ben Zobrist,and Yunel Escobar.
The roster had a new look to it as well. David Price had been dealt at the 2014 trade deadline. The 2014-2015 off-season saw more familiar faces traded or released: Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Jose Molina, Wil Myers, Cesar Ramos, and Yunel Escobar.
The aforementioned trades were completed to improve a sagging farm system as well as to improve the roster that finished the 2014 season. This is how the Rays stacked up prior to spring training:
This roster would be beset by injuries in spring training and throughout the 2015 season as the Rays finished with their second consecutive sub-.500 season at 80-82.
2015 Season: Injuries Impact In Spring
As if Kevin Cash didn’t have enough on his plate replacing long-time fan favorite and highly successful Manager Joe Maddon. He had to assimilate himself with his coaching staff, none of whom he brought with him, and had to learn a roster full of players. A smooth transition would best be accomplished through good health during camp. This would allow Cash to determine the best roles and utilization of his final 25-man roster.
The bullpen was already a work in progress thanks to off-season elbow surgery to 2014 closer Jake McGee. The rotation was eagerly awaiting a return from health from lefty Matt Moore who had missed all of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Alex Colome was late to camp due to a Visa issue and when he finally arrived he was shelved with pneumonia. Drew Smyly had to halt his throwing due to a shoulder injury. Alex Cobb departed a start in mid-March which required Tommy John surgery ending his 2015 season.
Rays Acquire Ramirez:
After the series of injuries to their starting staff, the rotation consisted of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Nate Karns, and Matt Andriese. The Rays filled the fifth spot on March 31st acquiring Erasmo Ramirez from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for lefty Mike Montgomery.
Montgomery, had been converted to a reliever during the spring, had spent the 2014 season with Triple-A Durham, where he went 10-5 with a 4.29 ERA (126-IP, 60-ER).
Ramirez, had seven stints with the Mariners in 2014 going 1-6 with a 5.26 ERA (44-ER/75.1-IP) in 17 games (14 starts).
Opening Day And Injury Theme Continues:
Other than Nick Franklin, who strained his oblique near the end of camp, the position players were relatively unaffected by the injury bug. That was until the opening of the 2015 season.
John Jaso walked to lead of the season but was thrown out trying to steal second. On the play he injured his wrist and wouldn’t return to the lineup until right before the All-Star break. The same night, James Loney strained his oblique forcing him to miss the next three weeks.
Despite Injuries, April A Success:
By the end of April the Rays had placed a Major League leading 13 different players on their disabled list. In the 20-years prior, only one team (Texas with 13 in 2014) had put that many players on the disabled list in April. Despite the injuries, the Rays finished April with a 12-10 mark.
To cover for the injuries the Rays were utilizing a lot of rookies. They had already used a major league leading 10 rookies in April and had six on their roster. Alex Colome was coming off the disabled list and would be the 11th rookie to play for them in 2015.
The ‘pen had been hit especially hard by injuries. They were already thin from the left side with the injury to Jake McGee and the subsequent trade of Mike Montgomery to the Mariners. Jeff Beliveau, coming off a strong 2014 performance, was shelved for the year after shoulder surgery. C.J. Riefenhauser was placed on the DL with a left-shoulder injury.
Balfour Designated For Assignment:
Balfour, appeared in just six games working 4.1-innings allowing 3-earned runs. . “I felt my stuff is still there. I don’t have the same fastball I had a couple of years ago.” Balfour said. “I’ll just have to figure that out. Maybe I need the rest. Maybe it will do me the world of good because I don’t hurt. The arm felt really good.”
Cedeno had appeared in five games with the Washington Nationals posting no record and an ERA of 6.00 (2ER/3IP). After being designated for assignment by the Nationals he was claimed by the Los Angeles Dodgers but never appeared in a game.
Still Competitive In May:
The Rays (26-25) had a losing month in May (14-15) but ended the month in a first place tie with the New York Yankees. They added infielder Tim Beckham and outfielder Desmond Jennings onto their disabled list but got several players back.
The Rays had overcome a lot to remain competitive through the seasons first two months. They sent 15 players to the DL (17 stints), the most in the majors. The club entered June with a total of 10-players on the DL. Four rookie pitchers accounted for a major league leading 20 starts. No other team in MLB had used four rookie pitchers.
It had been a revolving clubhouse door as the Rays used 42 players in the first two months and 15 rookies. Five players had made their major league debuts in the seasons first two months. In 2014, they used 42 players (13 rookies) all season.
One rookie that was leaving an impression on the Rays was Joey Bulter (more on Butler’s journey to Rays here). He had hit his first big league homer off Clay Buchholz in his second start with the Rays and continued to hit through the month of May.
His .342 average (25-for-73) in May was tops among MLB for rookies and a Rays rookie record for May. He also led all AL rookies for the month with a .548 slugging percentage and a .925 OPS. He tied the franchise rookie record with 4-hits against the Baltimore Orioles on May 31st.
High Point In June:
After winning four in a row and nine games out of 10, the Rays finished action on June 20th with a record of 40-30. It was their first time they were 10 games over .500 for the since finishing the 2013 season at 92-71.
They were in first place in the AL East and had gotten there thanks to their pitching staff. The staff had allowed 244 runs, the fewest after 70-games in franchise history. They had allowed 2-runs or few 35 times in the first 70 games, most by an AL team in the DH era (1973).
Unfortunately, the offense was still an issue, scoring just 264 runs. The second fewest after 70-games in franchise history (2014, 255).
Without an offense, the Rays were relying far too much on their pitching staff. Their bullpen had to record a save in all but eight of their 40 wins. They were on pace for 74 saves which would break the 1990 White Sox’s ML record of 68. The ‘pen led the majors with 238.2-IP. Their 227 relief appearance trailed only Joe Maddon‘s Cubs (230) in the majors. By the end of June, the Rays had used 26 pitchers, breaking the club record of 25 (2006). The 21 relievers used were just two shy of the club record (2004).
Injuries still were an issue in June. Jake Odorizzi went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained oblique. Tim Beckham was out with a strained hamstring. Andrew Bellatti was lost to a shoulder injury. Ernesto Frieri was released on June 2nd and Bobby Wilson was designated for assignment on June 12. The Rays also traded minor league prospect Kyle Winkler to the Los Angeles Angels for first baseman Marc Krauss.
June Draft Adds Whitley:
The Rays held the 13th pick in the June draft and selected outfielder Garrett Whitley out of Niskayuna (N.Y.) High School. Whitley, currently is ranked as the Rays’ 10th best prospect by MLB.com.
Other notable names selected in 2015 include Chris Betts, Brandon Lowe, Brandon Koch, Joe McCarthy Benton Moss, Jake Cronenworth, Ian Gibaut, Nicholas Padilla, Ethan Clark, Brett Sullivan, Justin Marsden, and Devin Davis.
Rays Falter In July, Trading Continues:
The Rays, who were 40-30 on June 20th, slipped badly in July going 9-16 and ended the month with a record of 51-53. By the end of the month, the team had made 102 roster moves since Opening Day. Injuries continued to plague them as Asdrubal Cabrera went on the disabled list with a hamstring injury on July 12.
The Rays had scored 372 runs, their fewest ever after 104 games. Despite losing 10 pitchers to the disabled list, their 387 runs allowed were the fewest ever at this mark.
Rays Trade DeJesus To Angels:
On July 28th, the Rays sent David DeJesus to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for minor leaguer Eduar Lopez. The Angels agreed to pay the remainder of DeJesus’s 2015 salary (~2MM) plus assume the $1MM buyout on the 2016 deal.
DeJesus was often a topic of trade discussion during the 2014-2015 off-season and the rumors of a pending DeJesus trade persisted through Spring Training. He was buried on the Rays bench as the season opened but immediately found himself playing a prominent role after Opening Day injuries to John Jaso and James Loney.
Through the end of May he was the Rays most productive hitter batting .333/.383/.504 with five homers. From June 1st through July 27th he was a totally different hitter batting .174/.258/.229 with no homers.
Lopez, 20, was 2-2 with a 4.32 ERA (16-ER/33.1-IP) in eight starts for Rookie-level Orem. Last season with the Rays High-A affiliate Stone Crabs, he appeared in 27 games (21 starts) and went 9-9 with a 3.63 ERA.
Rays Trade Jepsen To Twins:
Jepsen was a key contributor in the Rays ‘pen going 2-5 with a 2.81 ERA (13-ER/41.2-IP, 13-ER) in 46 games. At the time of the trade, among American League relievers, he ranked third with 22 holds and was tied for fifth in appearances.
Hu, was named a Florida State League All-Star, going 5-3 with a 2.44 ERA (23-ER/84.2-IP). He ranked third in the FSL in ERA and fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (7.8). He made his debut with the Rays in 2017 and is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organizations 22nd ranked prospect. With the Durham Bulls in 2017 he appeared in 31 games (4 starts) going 4-1 with a 3.06 ERA (21-ER/61.2-IP).
Tapia, 19, was 8-5 with a 2.94 ERA (40-ER/122.1-IP, 40-ER) over parts of three minor league seasons. Due to injuries, Tapia has logged just 40-innings since joining the Rays organization. He only appeared in two games with the Stone Crabs in 2017.
Wild Card Still In Sight Through August:
The Rays finished August 14-13 and were within 3.5-games of a wild card spot when the month ended.
On August 5th the Rays claimed Daniel Nava off waivers from the Boston Red Sox. He only appeared in 31 games for the Rays batting .233/.364/.301.
Asdrubal Cabrera was scorching hot in August batting .356/.400/.564 with four homers, seven doubles, and a triple.
As August closed, the Rays remained one of only four AL teams that haven’t been four games under .500 this season, along with the Yankees, Royals and Astros.
On a negative note, Matt Moore started the first game of the month. It was his sixth start since returning from Tommy John surgery in July. He was knocked out after giving up six earned runs in three innings. In his six games he went 1-3 with an 8.62 ERA allowing 26 earned runs in just 26.2-innings. He had only struck out 17, walked 13, and hit three batters. After the game, he was sent to Durham to work on his mechanics.
September/October And Season’s End:
After a winning month in August to crawl within 3.5-games of a wild card spot, the month of September was not as kind. The Rays finished the month with a losing mark of 12-15 to end the year at 80-82 and were 42-42 at home.
The Rays and Orioles had to move their May series to Tropicana Field because of civil unrest in Baltimore. Only seven other teams in the past century have played as many as 84 home games (Seattle, 2011).
It was the seventh time in eight years of the Rays era that they were .500 or better at home (36-45 in 2014). The Rays finished with a losing record for only the second time
since becoming the Rays in 2008.
The Downside and Sub-Par Performances:
- John Jaso appeared in just 70 games. In those 70-games he did what the Rays had hoped he would do for a full season batting .286/.380/.459.
- James Loney appeared in 104 games and hit .280/.322/.357. His decrease in power was matched by his lack of defensive prowess seen just one year prior.
- Desmond Jennings appeared in just 28 games batting .268/.328/.340.
- Much like Jose Molina, Rene Rivera was a solid defensive catcher for the Rays. Unfortunately, he hit just .178/.213/.275.
- Matt Moore only made 12 starts and finished the year 3-4 with a 5.43 ERA.
- Drew Smyly only made 12 starts and finished the year 5-2 with a 3.11 ERA.
- Jake McGee appeared in just 39 games logging 37.1-innings while pitching to a 2.41 ERA.
- Ernesto Frieri appeared in just 22 games before being designated for assignment.
- Grant Balfour appeared in just 6 games before being designated for assignment.
- Jeff Beliveau made just five appearances (2.2-IP) before undergoing season ending shoulder surgery.
- The Rays used a club-record 18 rookies and 51 players (one shy of club record in 2000).
- They made 145 roster moves and put 21 players on the DL for a total of 26 stints.
The Upside Performers:
- Logan Forsythe, given a chance to play everyday responded, batting .281/.359/.444 with 17 homers.
- Brandon Guyer hit .265/.359/.413 and set a club record getting hit by 24 pitches. He becomes the first Ray to lead the American League in that category.
- In limited action, former first round pick Mikie Mahtook hit .295/.351/.619 with 9 homers in 115 plate appearances.
- Rays catchers hit 20 homers tying the club record set in 1999. Curt Casali led the way with 10 (.237/.299/.608), J.P Arencibia (.310/.315/.606) added six, and Rene Rivera hit five.
- Chris Archer struck out 252 batters, made 34 starts, and finished the season 12-13 with a 3.23 ERA (76-ER/212-IP).
- Erasmo Ramirez appeared in 34 games (27 starts) and finished the year 11-6 with a 3.75 ERA.
- Nate Karns appeared in 27 games (26 starts) and went 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA.
- Brad Boxberger led the American League in saves with 41.
- Xavier Cedeno, a May addition, appeared in 61-games, finishing the year 4-1 with a 2.09 ERA.
Additions To The Farm:
Based on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Rays Prospects:
- Jesus Sanchez (International Signing) – Signed to a reported $500,000 bonus on May 5, 2015. Named Rays Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .305/.348/.478 with 15 homers for the Class A Bowling Green Hot Rods.
- Garrett Whitley (1st Round) – Currently ranked as the organizations 10th ranked prospect by MLB.com. Hit .249/.362/.430 with the Hot Rods.
- Brandon Lowe (3rd Round) – Currently ranked as the organizations 14th best prospect. Hit .298/.375/.493 overall between the Class A Stone Crabs (90 games) and the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits (24 games).
- Joe McCarthy (5th Round) – Currently ranked as the Rays 20th best prospect by MLB.com. Hit .284/.409/.434 in 127 games with the Montgomery Biscuits.
- Chih-Wei Hu – Currently ranked as the Rays 22nd best prospect by MLB.com. Acquired at the 2015 trade deadline for Kevin Jepsen he made his MLB debut in 2017.
The Rays will continue to transform their farm system in the 2015-2016 off-season. Unbelievably, the 2016 season will once again be tainted by injuries in what can only be described as a nightmarish season.