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MLB: Are the Tampa Bay Rays World Series contenders?

Having tied Yandy Diaz, Jeffrey Springs and Pete Fairbanks to new deals, are the Tampa Bay Rays to be considered as serious World Series contenders?

They often punch above their weight and consistently trouble the big-hitters in the American League, which they are +1100 to win in 2023.

They reached the Fall Classic in 2020 and have made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, so can they do it again?

WhatMLB 2023 Season
WhereVarious venues across the USA
WhenMarch 30th - October 1st
How to watchVarious

Above and beyond

The Rays have always gone above and beyond in recent seasons, this has been largely due to the management of Kevin Cash and his analytics department.

For a franchise with one of the lowest payrolls, Spotrac has the Rays 2023 payroll at $58million, that is 27th on the list, with Oakland Athletics bottom with a 2023 $40m wage budget.

Considering that the New York Mets have a payroll in 2023 of $336.1m and they have achieved as many World Series appearances as the Rays have in the last 10 seasons, then Tampa Bay are a shining light.

The Rays are hopeful of reaching the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Last year they fell short against a youthful Cleveland Guardians side who won the American League Wild Card series 2-0.

But before that Cash had won back-to-back AL Manager of the Year awards as the Rays continued to punch above their weight in a tough division.

Considering the Rays have to deal with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, all of whom are legitimate playoff contenders, the Rays have been hugely successful in recent years.

In 2023, they are +380 to win the American League East Division.

Roster looks much stronger

The Rays have added Zach Eflin to their starting rotation, however, he is one of only two new faces that Tampa Bay have added to their roster, with reliever Kevin Kelly also a new signing, a right-handed pitcher acquired through the Rule 5 Draft.

Eflin is a big franchise signing, $40m over three years constitutes a major outlay for Rays front office. The 28-year-old will add to an impressive rotation of Shane McClanahan - +1100 to win the AL Cy Young Award - Tyler Glasnow, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen.

The Rays continued their run on multi-year contracts extensions by adding Yandy Diaz to a three-year $24m deal with a $12m club option for the 2026 season.

They added starter Springs to a four-year $31m contract at the end of January and recently also tied Pete Fairbanks to a three-year $12m deal.

Diaz came off his best season to date, the infielder hit .296 with nine home runs, 33 doubles, 57 RBI’s, more walks than strikeouts also.

Since the start of the 2020 season, only Aaron Judge and Mike Trout in the American League have an on-base percentage higher than Diaz’s .383 mark.

The Rays need some of their players to improve on last season, that’s obvious, but as per usual they aren’t far away from anyone's thoughts about reaching the playoffs.

Speaking recently to MLB.com, president of baseball operations, Erik Neander said: "I think it’s fair to believe or to suggest, we have both rebound candidates and breakthrough candidates, from someone like Brandon Lowe to Josh Lowe and some of our players that got valuable experience."

A little bit of fan frustration

The Rays are frustrated with the number of fans they get through the doors at Tropicana Field, one of the reasons is its location. First of all it’s in St. Petersburg and not Tampa Bay, about 22 miles away from downtown Tampa.

The traffic to get there is unbearable at times and can take more than an hour and half from the centre of Tampa.

The Rays' ownership are fully active with a move closer to the centre, however, they haven’t ruled out a re-vamped Tropicana Field option being the priority.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is more favourable of a move closer to Tampa, however, as with the Rays it will come down to what they can afford and the logistics of the situation.

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