Coming into the season, many people wrote the Tampa Bay Rays off as a bottom dweller. Who can blame them? They had just traded away their franchise player in Evan Longoria, and practically gave away pitcher Jake Odorizzi and outfielder Corey Dickerson in the offseason. Right now, their $73 million payroll is the second-lowest in baseball and they have traded away many key pieces during the season. The result? A 78-64 record. Now, due to an extremely competitive American League, Tampa Bay is 19 games out of the division and 8 games out of the AL Wildcard. However, what the Rays have done this season is tremendous and needs to be recognized. Let’s take a look at all the different “cast-offs” they’ve used to compete this season.
Reliever Sergio Romo
After nine successful seasons for the Giants, Sergio Romo was cut loose by the club, as they made no attempt to sign him back in free agency. Romo signed with his hometown Dodgers in free agency but was traded the Rays for nothing after he had a 6.12 ERA in 30 appearances. It looked like his career was pretty much over, but then Romo finished strong by posting a 1.47 ERA as a Ray in 25 appearances. He has shown that last season wasn’t a fluke with a 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a 3.29 FIP. He even has been utilized as a closer, as he has 19 saves this season as well. He was written off by the team he spent his entire career with and was written off by the team he grew up rooting for. But the Rays gave him a chance and he’s returned the favor by being an extremely reliable reliever.
Second Baseman Joey Wendle
Drafted in the 6th round by the Indians in the 6th round of the 2012 draft, Joey Wendle never actually played for Cleveland as he was traded to the A’s for Brandon Moss. After putting up mediocre numbers in limited MLB action, Oakland pretty much sold him away for the Rays. With a chance to play every day, Wendle has rewarded the Rays with a .294/.341/.422 slash line and a 3.4 WAR. In fact, that 3.4 WAR leads all American League position player rookies. He’s limited as a player, as he doesn’t have a very on-base percentage nor does he hit for power. However, he’s a great hitter, a good fielder, and most importantly is under team control for five more years and $545K this season. He’s been a tremendous story and should be a key piece of the Rays now for years to come.
Left Handed Pitcher Vidal Nuno
When the Rays signed Vidal Nuno to a minor league contract, no one seemed to notice. For good reason, as the Rays were already his fifth team in his six-year career and he had a 10.43 ERA in limited action last season for the Orioles. However, he’s turned to be a useful asset with a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings in 11 appearances. Now, his FIP is 4.26, which means regression may soon come. But he’s only making $545K and has helped the Rays be able to use the “opener” and strictly use their bullpen for games through his ability to pitch multiple innings effectively. He also has two years of arbitration left to go and should continue to come at a cheap cost for the Rays, who found yet another possible gem.
First Baseman/Designated Hitter CJ Cron
During the offseason, the Rays made an important trade to get some more power by acquiring CJ Cron from the Angels. What did they give up to get him? You guessed it, a player to be named later. He pretty much was written off by the Angels and has now proved to be a valuable asset when used correctly. Cron has his limitations, he has a low on-base percentage (.321) and is an average defender at best. However, he has plenty of pop (.487 SLG 26 HR) and is in the midst of a breakout season, as his 26 homers are already ten more than he has ever had in a season, while his .808 OPS is a career-high as well. He is making $2.3 million in his first-year arbitration and probably will get a little pricer. However, due to the next player on this list, the Rays will have the option to trade Cron for a couple mid-tier prospects if they want to and ended up getting amazing value for simply a player to be named later.
Designated Hitter/First Baseman Ji-Man Choi
When the Rays designated infielder Brad Miller for assignment this season, it looked like they would get nothing for him. It seemed that way to some when they traded Miller to the Brewers in exchange for Ji-Man Choi. Instead, the Rays were simply able to add another piece to this super team of “cast-offs”. Choi, 27, has hit .286/.379/.521, has an incredible K-BB rate of 30-18 and has 5 home runs in 119 at-bats. He checks the box as the perfect designated hitter and should step right into hitting in the middle of the order assuming Tampa Bay trades Cron. Making just $850K and with another five years of control, Choi should continue to mash for the Rays for years to come. All they had to do was give him a chance and the Rays have found yet another diamond in the rough.
Outfielder Tommy Pham
This one is controversial since Pham had established himself as a solid player before coming to the Rays. However, besides still being in the mix, the Cardinals decided to trade Pham for three low-end prospects in a move that seemed to be made to strictly get rid of him. He was having a down year, yes, but this was a man who finished 11th in NL MVP voting last season despite playing in just 98 games. Ever since being traded to Tampa, Pham has re-established himself as a high-end player with a .312/.404/.558 slash line. Despite playing in 78 fewer games as a Ray than a Cardinal, Pham’s WAR with the two teams is also already the same. All the 30-year-old Pham needed to succeed was a team to appreciate him and believe in him and now the Rays are being awarded for doing so with an All-Star caliber player who is under team control for another three years after this. He may end up being the face of their next contending team possibly and all it cost were three prospects who weren’t rated highly at all.
It’s unclear how the Rays are so good at finding these diamond in the roughs. Maybe it’s manager Kevin Cash or maybe the front office is just that good at identifying talent. Nonetheless, the Rays are building a special team. This team is the super team of cast-offs, players written off by other teams that are going to make those teams pay for not believing in them.