Why The Heartbreaking Loss Of Blake Snell Might Be A Good Choice For The Rays

March 30, 2021

On December 28, Rays fan woke up to the notification that pitching star Blake Snell would no longer be part of the Rays’ pitching rotation. The southpaw, who had been with the Rays since his major league debut in 2016, was traded to the San Diego Padres for two right handed pitchers, Luis Patino and Cole Wilcox, and two catchers, Francisco Mejia and Blake Hunt.

While the trade of their ace felt like betrayal to Tampa Bay fans, the loss of a fan favorite is not a new situation, as the Rays are notorious for their heartbreaking trades (remember when they traded Chris Archer to the Pirates in 2018?) While fans in Tampa Bay may feel blindsided by the trade (which is exacerbated by the loss of Charlie Morton) there may be a glimmer of hope when looking at the players obtained in the trade.

It’s no secret that the Rays are desperate for a catcher. They lost Michael Perez at the end of the season, forcing them to sign Mike Zunino, whose 2020 season batting average was a disappointing .147 (for those discounting the abbreviated 60 game season, his 2018 and 2019 batting averages were .201 and .165 respectively). The trade with the Padres gives the Rays two catchers, one prospect and one big-leaguer.

The Rays acquired 22 year old prospect Blake Hunt in the trade, who may provide the Rays versatility on the field with minor league experience behind the plate and as a first baseman. Since Hunt has only played in single A, he may serve his 2021 season in the minors, but gives the Rays the option of another catcher if Zunino faces injuries or slumps during the season.

Francisco Mejia, a top prospect in 2018, had an impressive rookie season the following year, boasting a .265 batting average over his 79 games, but his 2020 campaign was cut short by a hand contusion and slump, allowing him only 17 games to post a .322 OPS. Despite his slow start in the majors, Mejia is predicted to bat .236 in Tampa Bay during the 2021 season (Baseball Reference’s projections for Mike Zunino have him falling short of the Mendoza line once again, with a projected .194 average).

Without Charlie Morton and Blake Snell on the mound, the Rays hand the ball to Tyler Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos, who spent his 2020 season on the injured list. With only two starters filling the spots on the rotation, the Rays will turn to their unconventional bullpen and opener days if they fail to find consistent hurlers to take the mound.

With this trade, the Rays may look to employ Luis Patino to fill middle innings. Patino tossed a 5.19 ERA throughout his limited pitching time during his 2020 rookie season, but gave up only three homeruns over 17.1 innings.

The fourth player acquired in the Snell trade is right hander Cole Wilcox, who played for the NCAA Georgia Bulldogs. Wilcox was signed as San Diego’s third round draft pick this year and, according to evaluators, has a promising slider that may earn him a spot in the Major League’s bullpen. However, Rays fans may have to wait for Wilcox’s debut until the 21 year old works his way up the minor leagues.

Although the San Diego Padres have added an experienced pitcher to their ranks, the addition of Snell comes at a cost. Snell is set to earn $10.5 million in the 2021 season despite his rapid slump since 2018 (In 2018, he had 21 wins and an ERA below 2.00, but struggled to find half the number of wins in the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined and doubled his ERA), which increases to $13 million and $16 million for his final two years before free agency. And the Rays are known for holding one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

“[The trade of Snell] takes a meaningful piece away from our 21 club, but the return itself, the proximity of two of the four players in this deal, gives us a lot of confidence along with the talent we have in house and the amount of time we have this winter that we’re going to be really good this year,” assured Erik Neander.

Boyhood Dreams, A Never-Ending Passion For The Game

In 2017, four years removed from their last playoff appearance, Rays’ manager Kevin Cash selected an ebullient former outfielder to fill the void left by the loss of first base coach Rocco Baldelli. Osborne “Ozzie” Timmons was called up from his coaching position with the Durham Bulls to serve, not only as a spirited coach, but as a friend and role model to the young team Cash had assembled.    

“I’m a coach-player,” said Timmons in an interview before his debut as a Major League coach. “I feel like I’m still one of the guys, but I know when to separate it. I can go play cards with you, but I can yell at you three hours from now when you do something stupid in the game. I can separate the two.”   

Before rejoining his former team as a coach, the 6’2 right fielder played five years in the Majors, from 1995-2000, but, like many big leaguers, his days in baseball began in the little leagues, where he played with Durant High School’s principal, Gary Graham.    

“[Playing with Timmons] was two things. Number one, it was a lot of fun because he was always a fun person to be around, both on the field and especially off the field. He is the same as he is now even when he was a teenager and even younger. People gravitated towards him. But, the second thing that was the reason he was fun to play with on the field, was that we won a lot, whether it was little league, high school, or college.”   

Both Graham and Timmons went to Brandon High School and the University of Tampa, playing on their schools’ respective baseball teams until their graduation from the University of Tampa in 1991. While Graham pursued a career in education, Timmons signed his first baseball contract after being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 1991 draft.   

The personable coach served four years in the Minors, refining his hitting and defense in right field until his Major League debut in April of 1995, when he was walked by Cincinnati Reds pitcher Chuck McElroy with the bases loaded, earning him his first RBI as a major league batter.    

Timmons would play four seasons in the Majors before finding his way back to his hometown in 2000 when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. Timmons played in the outfield and pinch hit until his last game on October 1, 2000 with his final at bat coming in the tenth inning, resulting in a single that led to the Rays’ 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox.   

After a few years in the winter leagues, Timmons began his coaching career in Durham  before finally getting the call from Tropicana Field.   

“I’m excited for Ozzie to join our staff. He has a track record of connecting with hitters and providing high-quality coaching throughout his career.” ”

— Kevin Cash

Graham recalled Timmons’ optimism as early as little league, which has translated to his Major League coaching. Timmons says he keeps the Rays’ players positive throughout the game by “pump[ing] them up to keep them going” with his push up routine for example.   

It started on May 28, 2018, when the Rays were playing the Oakland Athletics and couldn’t knock in a run. Timmons jokingly said he would do pushups for each run the Rays scored. It wasn’t until the 13th inning of that game though that the Rays would score the first and only run of the game and Timmons would do his first set of ten pushups.    

Timmons said his greatest accomplishment as a coach has been watching the players he coached in the Rays’ farm system, such as Blake Snell and Kevin Kiermaier, move up the ranks from the Minors to the big leagues.   

“As a coach, [my goal is] just keeping the guys prepared. You try to learn all the new stuff that’s coming out, so you are always trying to study the other teams so that’s the main thing… My main goal [is] to, every year, get more knowledge, so I can have the guys prepared for when they step on the field.”   

During the offseason, he devotes his time to studying game strategies in order to relay the information to his players, but also uses the offseason to do yard work and ride his bike.  

Timmons is known to spend time in Tampa Bay schools, acting as a coach and mentor. Durant was fortunate enough to be part of his offseason stops last year. Durant students had the opportunity to meet Timmons, who offered advice for students, athletes, and major league hopefuls.  

The 50 year old amiable coach emphasizes the importance of staying healthy and in shape during the off season, something he reminds his players and young athletes of, saying, “Take care of your body, and your body will take care of you.”   

His genuine and lighthearted personality isn’t just reserved for the players on the field. Before games, he walks down the line of fans signing autographs and occasionally playing catch with young fans, proving his approachable and good nature. 

Timmons’ career as a ballplayer and coach is what brought him to his position with the Rays today, but his personality and dedication to the fans is what makes him one of the best and most memorable coaches the Rays have.    

Timmons will return to the diamond on February 27 as first base coach and assistant hitting coach when the Rays begin their Spring Training at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte to defend their American League Champion title.   

Tampa Bay Rays Begin Spring Training After Making Big Changes To Their Pitching Staff

With the end of the Super Bowl and the coming of spring, baseball fans nationwide are busting out their jerseys and ball caps awaiting the first pitch of the season, which is less than two months away.  The Major League Baseball Players Association rejected the MLB’s proposal to delay the season, seemingly securing an on-time first pitch on April 1 (knock on wood).

For those who managed to keep up with the Rays off season dealings, it would seem that there were more rumors than action. Headlines claimed the Rays were in the running for top free agent Trevor Bauer or might possibly trade fan favorite Kevin Kiermaier. Bauer ultimately signed with the World Series champions and the Rays’ center fielder and his $11.5 million contract remain a stable part of the Rays’ lineup.

The greatest hits came to Tampa Bay’s pitching staff, with free agent Charlie Morton signing with the Braves and Blake Snell being dealt to the Padres. By trading their two most expensive pitchers (set to make $8.7 million combined in 2021), the Rays have reallotted the money to former Ray Chris Archer (1 year, $6.5 million) and Mets’ veteran Michael Wacha (1 year, $3 million).

Archer, who was traded to the Pirates by the Rays in 2018 for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz, is a familiar face in Tampa. Archer made his debut in 2012 and tossed a 4.46 ERA in his career with the Rays. After his second year with the Pirates, the right-hander had surgery to treat neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome on his right arm. The diagnosis sidelined him for the 2020 season, but, according to the Pirates’ initial report, he was projected to resume pitching in 2021.

While the Rays may have gambled with Archer’s injuries, if Archer does take the mound in 2021, he could earn a spot in the rotation or act as a bulk inning reliever. Archer’s return to Tampa Bay also boosts their fan base, which had grown doubtful of the Rays’ approach to pitching after their off-season trades.

“You guys see the smile on my face is as genuine and pure and sincere as it possibly can be,” Archer said in a video interview.

In December, the Rays also signed Mets right-hander Michael Wacha, who has a career ERA of 4.01 over his eight years in the majors. While his ERA might not be the best on the team, the Rays have gained a veteran of the game and a clubhouse leader. With stints in Saint Louis and New York, Wacha brings experience and the consequential knowledge that younger pitchers, like Josh Flemming and Shane McClanahan, may not have yet.

On Wednesday, a day before pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in Port Charlotte, the Rays acquired two pitchers from the Red Sox: Chris Mazza and Jeffery Springs. Mazza has played 18 games in the Majors since his debut in 2019, bouncing between Fenway Park and the Red Sox affiliate in Pawtucket. Springs has served a similar sentence, playing just 59 major league games in three years and spending most of his time in the farm system.

Most recently Tampa Bay signed free agent southpaw Rich Hill, who has dealt with his share of injuries and will turn 41 before Opening Day. However, like Wacha, Hill brings experience playing with winning clubhouses, according to Rays Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Erik Neander.

Pitchers and catchers reported on February 18 for their first bullpen sessions, receiving praise from Kevin Cash. They will be joined by  the rest of the team and begin their first team workouts on February 22, just 37 days before Opening Day against the Miami Marlins

Picking Up Right Where They Left Off

On April 1, the defending American League Champions stepped onto LoanDepot Field in Miami for the first victory of the 2021 season. The victory came after a quick nine innings, with the Rays beating the Marlins in a shutout and scoring one run off five hits.

Starting ace Tyler Glasnow took the mound for the Opening Day start, his first in his five years of playing in the Majors. He debuted his new pitch early in the first inning and got the first of his six strikeouts on the slider, which he used for 31% of his pitches. The 6’8 right-hander used his trademark fastball, hitting 100 mph in the third inning, for the majority of the pitches and utilized the 12-6 curveball for only nine pitches.

In the post game press conference, Rays manager Kevin Cash mentioned Glasnow had felt some back tightness before the game, but was adamant about getting to start and assured both Cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder that he was able to play. Cash assured Rays’ fans that he is not worried about the tightness and are “confident he is totally fine.”

Cash complimented Glasnow’s performance saying, “He was outstanding. Really good…It’s nice to see when it comes together…I thought Tyler did a great job staying in himself [and he] looked like an ace.”

The only part of Glasnow’s game affected was his performance at the plate. Since the Rays were playing on a national league field, Tyler Glasnow and the Rays bullpen had to bat. Glasnow spent much of Spring Training begging Cash to let him get some reps in at the plate, but stood statue during his at bats, watching ten pitches from Marlin’s starter Sandy Alcantra.

“I don’t know what was going on,” Glasnow said, obviously upset he missed the opportunity to get a hit as an American League pitcher. “I was so excited to swing.”

The rest of Tampa Bay’s offense picked up Opening Day right where they left off in October. Predictably, rookie sensation Randy Arozarena got the Rays’ first hit of the season on a single to right field. The Rays loaded the bases with two outs twice, once in the first and again in the ninth innings, but left them stranded both times. The only run of the game was scored by Austin Meadows, who hit a 419 foot shot into the stands, returning to his 2019 form.

Meadows struggled last season, after missing part of the season with Covid, and spending the rest of the season recovering. In the offseason, he lost 20 pounds by working with a trainer in order to return to his All-Star worthy performance.

Glasnow, who played with Meadows in Pittsburg before they were both traded to the Rays in 2018, mentioned that a few of the other players were guessing who would be the first to pop a homer and said fellow starter Ryan Yarborough predicted it would be Meadows.

With the shutout victory, the Rays are undefeated and tied for first place in the American League East with the Toronto Blue Jays (who beat the New York Yankees 3-2). The Rays, led by Yarborough, will face the Miami Marlins again tonight at 7:10 on Bally Sports Network.

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