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Rebuilding the Tampa Bay Rays as GM Dylan Thunder

With no baseball, it was time to fill the void with MLB The Show.

As you all know, we have been without regular season baseball for 86 days now and it has felt very empty and weird without my favorite sport. So I took it upon myself to not only fill that void that baseball has left, but to also create some content for our fans here at Fake Teams. So I decided it was time to break out the PlayStation 4 again and see if I can craft a competitive team without playing any of the actual games. This was tough for me because I love being in control of some of my favorite players and maxing out their careers. So late last week, I took on the task of controlling the Tampa Bay Rays and seeing if I can get the most out of them. So let’s get into the 2020 season!

The Tampa Bay Rays hired a new GM in Dylan Thunder to try and bring their team to the promised land after not making the World Series since 2008. Even though Dylan had always dreamed of working for a bigger team with a larger budget, he was going to do the best he could in his new position even if it was in the vaunted AL East. I, as Dylan Thunder, knew that the Rays had a loaded farm system and that for the team to be successful, our staff would have to be focused on the draft and development of the talent that we selected off of free agency and through the draft. Vigilance was the key for running a successful franchise like this one.

Before allowing the team to take the field for Spring Training, I knew I had to surround the players with successful coaches that could bring out the full potential of our young men in our system. Unfortunately, this meant it was necessary to replace everyone but manager Kevin Cash since he has been so successful coaching his young players over the last few years. As the staff got set into the place around Kevin Cash, the Rays players prepped for the marathon of a season through Spring Training. Tampa finished around the .500 mark during Spring Training, but I wasn’t too worried because we all know MLB teams don’t take wins and losses in Spring Training seriously since it is a tune up for the regular season.

This was a successful time for the front office as I figured out it was time to give 1B Nate Lowe his first true opportunity with our team and for his first full MLB season. This meant that Ji-Man Choi was on the outs with the Rays even if he had been a good contributor to the team over the past year. So after shopping him around the league, we came to an agreement with the Atlanta Braves to ship 1B Ji-Man Choi, SP Chad Reagan, and SP Aaron Slegers for SP Ian Anderson and C William Contreras. Contreras was the headliner of the deal due to only being 21 years old and with the ability for some pop and decent defense plus a B potential, I was more than ready to take the plunge on the two names the Braves were offering. We didn’t have a catching prospect at this point and Contreras was more than worth taking the chance on.

Before beginning the regular season, I could not overlook the pool of free agents that sat in front of me on Opening Day. The farm was fairly deep already, but there was no way I was going to pass up on finding some hidden gems. I mean, it is the Rays specialty isn’t it? So as I dug into the waiver wire, I found two very special players in 18-year-old pitcher Billy Ford (B potential and 75 overall) and 22-year-old second baseman Terrell Bichette (B potential and 74 overall).

Those were two of my favorite signings. I continued to scour free agency and found the following players as well:

  • 18-year-old catcher Zane Carrillo (B potential and 65 overall, good all-around bat and defense)
  • 21-year-old first baseman Deandre Wood (B potential and 63 overall; power bat being his specialty; 66 vs RHP and 69 vs LHP already)
  • 21-year-old shortstop Clarence Bowman (A potential and 57 overall, an athletic SS that can field with some speed, but needs work at the dish)
  • 22-year-old right fielder Pete Stanton (B potential and 70 overall, platoon bat at the moment with good contact and power against lefties.)
  • 18-year-old starting pitcher Joaquin Ramirez (B potential and 74 overall; a pitcher with an SP2 type ceiling)

With the organization finally filled and ready for the season, I set off on our inaugural season as the Rays new general manager. The team got off to a pretty good start, but suffered a small injury to Blake Snell who would miss two weeks with a shoulder strain. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in love with our options of Trevor Richards or Ryan Yarbrough in the rotation, so we called up our recent signing of Billy Ford on April 30th at the age of 18. I wanted to see what he had since he already had a high overall and in his first 27 innings at Triple-A Durham posted a 1.32 ERA and 25:7 K:BB ratio in 27 innings. He would make his debut on May 5th with four strikeouts in seven innings, but would be demoted once Snell was healthy. My Rays ended April with a 19-14 record and only trailed the Red Sox by two games for the division lead.

May is when the real changes started coming to the Rays major league team. Yandy Diaz struggled to produce at the plate for the first 33 games with a slash line of .232/.318/.411 with three home runs and eight doubles. The lineup was lacking a contact hitter, but we found some hidden value on the trade block in David Bote of the Chicago Cubs. Bote would fit our franchise perfectly since he is on a $15 million dollar deal spread out over five years and was like Ben Zobrist of old. It took some discussion, but in the end I was able to flip Yandy Diaz and prospect right fielder Brad Dube for David Bote. Dube was never going to see time on our major league squad as he was already 26, but was clearly behind Pete Stanton in terms of development. Only a day later, the Nationals came to me offering outfielder Adam Eaton for the second time in two weeks and this time it was for pitcher Jalen Beeks. The first offer that came from them was Adam Eaton for pitcher Shane McClanahan, which I declined. I accepted the deal since Hunter Renfroe was struggling to keep his OPS above .750 whereas Eaton currently held a .943 OPS. Even though it was a rental, it was a great value for the franchise. So here is what our everyday lineup looked like after the two trades:

Throughout the month of May, the team was very streaky in the worst way as the team ended the month at 33-27 and still two games behind Boston in the standings, but also half a game behind the Yankees. May brought positive vibes for the farm system as Wander Franco busted out of his rough start to the year and drove in 21 runs while posting a .375 average in the month of May. Franco, as my top prospect, was finding his groove and moving closer to the major leagues. While it was tempting to call him up after seeing his slash line of .301/.429/.478 in 136 at-bats, I knew there were things he could still improve on. But a second half call-up was not out of the question at this point.

June was an exciting time as it brought my first ever draft class for the Rays and we had scouted a lot of good players for the future. My biggest decision came in the first round between two of my favorite prospects of this draft class. The first was the 21-year-old switch hitting first baseman Jason Davidson (he ended up on the Braves) who had a very promising bat and a high ceiling, but clearly was not a Gold Glove type defender now or ever likely in the future. The second, and eventual first rounder, was the 20-year-old right handed shortstop Antwan Reagan. He had a slightly lower ceiling, but was better all around at the plate and had a glove that was already major league ready. Reagan could end up at second base or in the outfield in the future with the athleticism he possessed. In the first round of compensation picks, I drafted Hugh Roedecker. Roedecker is a second baseman with power and speed, but a hit tool that was currently lacking and could eventually become league average. With his decent glove already, our farm system can focus on him improving his contact in the minors. We closed out the rest of the draft with starting pitcher Johnnie Ramos, closer Vernon Benitez, reliever Eddy Rosas, and starting pitcher Garret Reilly. I didn’t have much of a scouting report on Rosas and Reilly since the highest grade prospects we had were already taken. Here is part of the draft class:

As the month of June progressed, it became obvious our bullpen was the biggest issue for the team as many of the losses in the month were one-run games. In the best interest of shoring up the bullpen, we hit up the trade market and ended up flipping reliever Oliver Drake, starter Brent Honeywell, and catching prospect Mac James for reliever and possibly closer of the future Emmanuel Clase. His heater can hit triple digits and his cutter sits at 97 MPH with a lot of movement making it nearly untouchable. This one move clearly wasn’t going to fix everything, but with the way the season was going I was ready to start preparing for the 2021 season.

The All-Star Break came and went and while the 2020 Rays only sent two representatives to Los Angeles (closer Nick Anderson and outfielder Adam Eaton) it wasn’t devoid of news for Tampa Bay. As the All-Star Break came to an end, the Rays and Athletics came to a blockbuster trade agreement with pitcher Jesus Luzardo moving to Tampa Bay and the Athletics receiving second baseman Joey Wendle, pitcher Trevor Richards, and left field prospect Brian O’Grady. It greatly improved the ceiling of our rotation for this year and beyond. Once Wendle was off the roster, Wander Franco finally got the call to the big leagues and he took over the shortstop position. That forced Willy Adames over to the hot corner with his excellent fielding ability. To round out our infield, I turned to the Brewers to see if they wanted to move young second baseman Keston Hiura. I was able to flip second baseman Brandon Lowe and pitcher Anthony Banda for the 23-year-old Hiura. On July 31st, the Dodgers offered reliever Pedro Baez (who had a 1.20 ERA) for struggling reliever Chaz Roe and struggling center fielder Josh Lowe. I took the deal in hopes to shore up the back end of the bullpen for the rest of the year. These were the final big moves for the team until the off-season since there were no other trade targets that suited our team for the second half.

During the second half, the team was mediocre as they went 11-11 in July, 13-13 in August, and 13-14 in September for a final record of 84-78 on the season with no playoff berth. Injuries played a large role in the team struggling down the stretch as Mike Zunino missed all of September, Meadows missed three weeks, and Charlie Morton missed two weeks. The decision to sell off and get younger was probably best considering how the team fell apart at the end.

Kevin Kiermaier was able to nab the fourth Gold Glove of his career before the playoffs started. The playoffs began with the Athletics toppling the Red Sox in the American League Wild Card game while the Reds trounced the Padres in the National League. On the American League side, the Yankees bounced the Twins once again from the playoffs in five games as the Astros put an end to their AL West rival Athletics in four. The National League was filled with surprises as the Reds beat the Dodgers three games to one and the Phillies swept the Cubs in three. Cincinnati went on to win it all against the Yankees and it took all seven games to do so thanks to Joey Votto and his World Series MVP.

Even though we didn’t make the playoffs, we did have some very positive performances throughout the seasons. Here are some of the standouts in 2020:

Willy Adames: .280/.338/.513 with 30 doubles, 33 homers, and 94 RBI
Charlie Morton: 2.57 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 227 Ks in 213.1 innings pitched
Yonny Chirinos: 2.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 140 Ks in 196.2 innings pitched

There is work and improvements to be made, as Jesus Luzardo ended the season with a 5.81 ERA and Wander Franco only provided a .548 OPS for the team. But I fully expect the 2021 season to be much more promising with the young talent now possessing some MLB experience. I guess we will have to wait and see!

This is only the beginning of a very fun series to see whether or not I can put together a successful team with a very low budget in the Tampa Bay Rays. We obviously will not have the ability to spend as much as other teams, but a successful farm system is the good base for a team. I can always supplement some of the holes through trades or free agency, but hopefully we can try and keep that to a minimum. I’d love to see your thoughts on how this first season went along with grades on the trades that I made or other things you would like to see. You can find me on Twitter as @DadSox for fantasy baseball content as well (if we get a season this year).