After a tumultuous 2019 season, the Tampa Bay Rays have validation for all of their hard work. They were recently named Baseball America’s Organization of the Year.
Despite selling off many key players over the past couple of years, most notably third baseman Evan Longoria and starting pitcher Chris Archer, the Rays youth infusion provided energy and passion to a team that had grown accustomed to losing. They hadn’t sniffed the postseason since 2013 and struggled to remain competitive throughout much of that time.
The 2019 season was different. It started with the acquisition of veteran pitcher Charlie Morton from the Houston Astros to take a little pressure off of 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, one of two pieces they received in dealing Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the 2018 Trade Deadline. That move proved to be key later in the season, as Glasnow and Snell battled injuries and inconsistency.
Making things more difficult, Tampa Bay’s front office dealt three important pieces of their bullpen in Ryne Stanek, Adam Kolarek and Jacob Faria to acquire slugger Jesus Aguilar, set up man Nick Anderson and starter Trevor Richards at the 2019 deadline.
While Aguilar was mediocre in 37 games with the Rays, his 24 hits and 13 runs were big considering he often came off the bench as a pinch hitter late in games.
Anderson, meanwhile, was a great addition to a bullpen that had been struggling to stay afloat as the season wore on. In 23 games, he struck out 41 batters in 21.1 innings pitched, limiting opponents to a .160 average while sporting a respectable 2.11 earned run average (ERA).
Having just been let go by the New York Mets and then Los Angeles Dodgers in a short span of time, D’Arnaud was looking to prove that he belonged in the major leagues. He did exactly that with the Rays, sporting a .263 batting average in 92 games, while belting 16 homers and driving in 67 runs. Perhaps more impressively, he only struck out 80 times in 327 at bats.
Couple these in-season acquisitions with the emergence of Willy Adames, Ji-Man Choi, Brandon Lowe, Yandy Diaz and Austin Meadows, plus the in-season addition of Nate Lowe from the Triple-A Durham Bulls, and the Rays were energized for the first time in awhile.
Under the guidance of Kevin Cash, the Rays overcame adversity multiple times to win 96 games and qualify for their first playoff berth in six years. Once in the postseason, they defeated the Oakland Athletics in the wild card play-in game to earn the right to face off against the Astros in the American League Division Series (ALDS). After getting down 0-2 in that series, Tampa Bay battled back to force a decisive Game 5 before falling short.
While it took time, the decisions made by Rays brass over the past few years are beginning to pay dividends. It helped guide them back to the playoffs and made them relevant again. Now, they have the honor of being named Organization of the Year. That’s well-deserved, high praise for an organization that not that long ago was being mocked by many.
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