The Rays are still talking, as they should, about playing for something this season. The reality is that almost every move they've made, going back to the end of last season, and in some cases further, has been about 2019 and beyond.
Clearing out veterans, filling holes with short-term replacements and, now, bringing up their elite prospects to gain valuable experience as they accelerate the transition.
"Competing sustainably in this division requires a deep and talented group of core players,'' senior VP Chaim Bloom said. "Right now we're making sure to give opportunity to many of our young prospects to be a part of that core and to join the guys we already have in place. So many of them have competed and won together on their way through the system. With the experience they all gain this year in the big leagues, they'll be that much better prepared to do the same next year from day one.''
There is a lot we don't and, for many months, won't know about how the team will look in 2019. Nor, to be honest, do the Rays, as they've got to see which kids can really play, who gets hurt, what other trades can be made.
But let's assume they go all in on the youth movement.
And, as seems likely, by year's end they trade their top remaining veterans, RHP Chris Archer and C Wilson Ramos.
And they get whatever they can for the likes of SS Adeiny Hechavarria (soon), RHPs Nathan Eovaldi and Sergio Romo, OF Carlos Gomez, etc.
And they clear out most, if not all, of the remaining arbitration eligibles such as RHPs Matt Andriese and Chaz Roe from the bullpen, and 1B/DH C.J. Cron and/or INF Matt Duffy from the lineup.
That would leave them with CF Kevin Kiermaier making $8 million and most of the rest of the guys around the minimum $555,000, for a base payroll of about $22 million. That certainly would give them room to address some of the obvious holes.
So what could that 2019 roster look like? Here's a way-too-early guess at the key pieces, players shown with '19 opening age:
LH Blake Snell, 26
RH Jake Faria, 25
LH Ryan Yarbrough, 27
RH Yonny Chirinos, 25
RH Andrew Moore, 24
RH Brent Honeywell,* 23
RH Jose De Leon,* 26
* Injured, not back till midseason
Our take: Assuming they're still using starters, the key will be having enough depth to cover early as Honeywell and De Leon return by midseason from spring 2018 Tommy John surgeries.
LH Jose Alvarado, 23
RH Diego Castillo, 25
RH Ian Gibaut, 25
LH Colin Poche, 25
LH Jaime Schultz, 27
RH Ryne Stanek, 27
Our take: There's always going to be shuffling, and they'll likely want a low-cost veteran or two and some multi-inning coverage, but the stable of power arms is impressive.
Willy Adames, 23
Christian Arroyo, 23
Jake Bauers, 23
Daniel Robertson, 25
Joey Wendle, 28
Our take: The pieces seem to be here, and they'll use the rest of this season to see who plays where with Bauers at first. Assuming Adames is consistent enough at short, does Robertson play third with Arroyo and Wendle platooning at second? Or the other way around. Keeping Duffy (for $4 million) or Cron ($5M to $6M) could add some experience and offense, though rookies Kean Wong and Andrew Velazquez can provide depth and versatility.
Johnny Field, 27
Kevin Kiermaier, 28
Mallex Smith, 25
Our take: The outfield prospects aren't as advanced as the infielders, so they might add some short-term help, but they have some potentially good ones coming, led by Joe McCarthy, then Justin Williams and Jesus Sanchez.
Our take: After the penance of a 50-game drug suspension, Nick Ciuffo has limited time to show he could be ready to move up. More likely seems a short-term veteran or, even better, getting a top young catcher in a deal for Archer or Ramos.
Adames and Bauers are the most promising of these prospects, and they are confident that based on what they've seen and know about the young talent in the organization that good times are ahead.
Adames: "It's going to be pretty fun. … We are winners. We don't like to lose. The guys that will be coming up, they are winners, too. We just have fun every time we are on the field together. … The future for the Tampa Bay area, it's going to be fun to watch. … It's going to be amazing. We're going to have a great team. … We're going to have a pretty good chance to go to the playoffs, maybe the World Series.''
Bauers: "It could be something special. … You saw it last year when we won the championship in (Triple-A) Durham. … Some kind of mix of what we have here and what we had in Durham. If you could mold those two teams together somehow, it could be something serious. … I think a lot of people should be pretty excited about it.''
• One interesting situation this week will be how the team makes room for the return of CF Kevin Kiermaier. Easiest, and short-sighted, would be to send down Johnny Field. But might it make more sense to part ways with Rob Refsnyder or even Gomez?
• Another will be the timing of Archer's return from the DL. The team needs him back from his abdominal strain in time to make a few starts in advance of the July 31 trade deadline but also needs him to pitch well when he returns. Archer seems willing to be patient, saying he wants to be sure he's fully healthy and needs time to build his arm back up.
Congrats to Rays radio man (and all-around great guy) Andy Freed, who Saturday was inducted into the Trenton (N.J.) Baseball Hall of Fame for his five seasons broadcasting there. … There is still no resolution on a new TV deal, with team officials saying a February report of an agreement was incorrect. … Another casualty of low attendance at the Trop, some of the much-touted specialty concessions, such as the Rocco Ball Deli, are closed on quiet nights. … Credit for the cool hash-tagged nickname #RakeBauers goes to RHP Jake Faria, who first tweeted it in spring 2017. … Former Ray/current Cubs manager Joe Maddon has launched sales of prints from his Putting the Art back in Thee Game series, featuring the Mona Lisa, Dali and others, with proceeds to his Respect 90 Foundation. See maddonart.com. … The Athletic's Jim Bowden says it's unlikely but the Rays would trade LHP Blake Snell "if the Braves or Yankees want to overpay with a boatload of prospects" and that the Twins are "a perfect match" for a Ramos deal. … A couple of leaguewide interesting tidbits from the owners meetings: expect to see some higher-profile two-game series played on weekends even if that means an occasional Friday off; and there continues to be at least talk — the "discussion/analysis phase,'' per commissioner Rob Manfred — of regulating defensive shifts.