Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays at least until they finally cross back northward over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and up to Tampa proper in their new stadium, has a funny slant to it. I mean, literally, the roof has a slant, like the hat on a cartoon cowboy, or drunken gangster. (Fun fact, an original plan for the park had the roof as a sort of canvas sail.)
Anyway, several years ago, I was reading a game recap or a tweet, or watching a video, something Sox-related when the White Sox were visiting Tropicana Field. The writer wasn’t calling the park Tropicana Field; he was calling it the Hovering Sombrero.
Now, Tropicana Field might not look exactly like a hovering sombrero. It’s hard to really know what a hovering sombrero actually looks like, right? It could be something a cartoon cowboy or drunken gangster wears, right? But, point is, a guy who routinely applied such absurdity to the ballpark our White Sox almost moved to, continuously using that term rather than the proper name, somehow sneaking it into copy and tweets over and over again, well, he was my guy.
And then, just like that, he disappeared.
Now I’m working for him.
The Tampa Bay Rays won their home opener over the Boston Red Sox down at the Hovering Sombrero, 6-4, on March 29.
The Rays have played eight games since. They haven’t won any of them.
Even for a team who telegraphed to their fans We Will Not Win in 2018 when it traded franchise heartthrob Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants last December 20, that record underperforms expectations.
Longoria, swapped for a package headlined by blue-chip infielder Christian Arroyo, signaled an all-out sell-off. Jake Odorizzi, Stephen Souza and Corey Dickerson were swapped off for what seemed to be pennies on the dollar. Lucas Duda, last seen on Opening Day clocking a three-run homer off of James Shields, was not re-signed.
In spring training, Nate Eovaldi, counted on as the No. 4 or 5 starter on the club (more on that in a moment), had surgery for elbow fragments, and is out until the All-Star break. Blue-chip pitching prospects Jose DeLeon and Brent Honeywell both went down with UCL tears in the space of a horrifying Grapefruit League week.
Did I mention things have been pretty grim in St. Pete?
So, Tampa is running out a supposed four-man rotation, which with Eovaldi’s injury has become a three-man rotation. Crazy and throwbacky, right? Not really.
I mean, yeah, right now on Baseball-Reference the Rays have three starters (Chris Archer, Blake Snell and Jake Faria) listed. But they are all still pitching on five days’ rest; it’s just that Tampa, in some sort of challenge match test where pitchers get flipped before hitters have a third or even second look at them, is running bullpen days in the No. 4 and No. 5 starter slots.
Is it working? Well, Tampa is 1-8. And Snell, with a 5.00 ERA, has been the best of the bunch.
Archer is Tampa’s Chris Sale. As perhaps the deepest system in the majors continues to bubble and brew in anticipation of playoff contention alongside Chicago’s window, GM Erik Neander will field calls on Archer in hopes of hitting a jackpot like Rick Hahn did. It might be a tough sell, especially if Archer’s ERA fails to fall from the current 6.55.
Kevin Kiermaier is the other prize in Tampa’s Cracker Jack box. A defensive whiz nonpareil, he caused the biggest stir of the Rays’s young season by declaring he’d slather himself in Vaseline for the Yankee Stadium opener last week. (He didn’t even end up doing it. Dude! Meanwhile, Yolmer.) But also, fun fact: In baseball outfielding history, only two players with at least 10.0 career offensive and defensive WAR have more defensive WAR than offensive, Jimmy Piersall and Kiermaier.
What else does Tampa have? A manager, Kevin Cash, under fire. A closer, Alex Colome, with few save opportunities, fueling speculation he will also be dealt at the trade deadline (this year’s David Robertson!).
Denard Span is Tampa’s left fielder. Carlos Gomez is in right. And those are the guys you can identify. Wilson Ramos catches, last year at age 29 he had a 0.1 WAR. Brad Miller at first, 0.6 WAR in 2017. Joey Wendle, 0.1. Adeiny Hechavarria, 1.5. Matt Duffy at third didn’t even play.
I could write about these guys some more, but I’m getting Rays fatigue.
Oh, all right. Actually, the trio of Archer, Snell and Faria should make for a very strong “rotation.” If Archer actually stuck around to play out his contract, in the next couple of seasons these guys would be a pitching core you’d hope to lay down and avoid.
Kiermaier is delightful, both from a player standpoint and an oddball one. (Adam Eaton of the AL?) Duffy might well match Longoria’s production — without his pricetag.
The farm is to die for. Depending on whether you’re a “superstar farm” (think White Sox, top-heavy with deliciousness) or a “fat farm” (i.e. a greater number of promising, but not can’t-miss, prospects than will fit on a bus to Wilkes-Barre) person, the Rays might well boast the best system in baseball.
Future years will be more promising. This one is not.
Immovable object vs. irresistible force, live and under the sun, April 9-11 at Sox Park. Be there!
Probable starters (seriously, I don’t care if it’s 18° for every game, look at these ERAs and tell me there won’t be some offense!)
Monday, April 9: Chris Archer (0-0, 6.55 ERA) vs. Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 9.00 ERA) (Year of the Hamster recap)
Tuesday, April 10: Blake Snell (0-1, 5.00 ERA)) vs. Carson Fulmer (0-0, 5.40 ERA) (e-gus recap)
Wednesday, April 11: TBD vs. James Shields (1-0, 5.73 ERA) (Homesickalien recap)