Injury-riddled 2015 may lead to Rays' success

Youngsters received valuable experience filling in for missing veterans

Injury-riddled 2015 may lead to Rays' success

ST. PETERSBURG -- There's no denying that injuries derailed the Rays' 2015 season. But going forward, what happened in 2015 could have a positive impact on the '16 season.

"We feel when injuries occur, we're equipped to handle that," said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "And we had guys who came in and did [the job]. I don't know of any team that, when you lose the guys we lost with injuries, [have a lot of success]. It's tough to sustain. But, if anything, you look at it as we're going to be better for that next year -- and more prepared for that next year -- because of these opportunities that opened."

After a busy offseason prior to 2015 in which a lot of heavy lifting took place to restructure the roster, front office, and manager, Tampa Bay's 2016 offseason should be rather tame.

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Decisions will need to be made at several positions, but the Rays appear to have more depth than they have had in recent years -- primarily because of the influx of youth that found its way to the roster in 2015 and was able to gain valuable experience at the Major League level. On top of that, other players will be returning to the roster that were not available in 2015 or were available only for a limited amount of time.

No doubt the Rays will have some new additions. Like most offseasons in recent memory, they would like to make a move or two to improve the offense. Otherwise, the nucleus is solid for the Rays to get themselves back into contention in 2016.

"The overall talent level within our organization is higher than it's been in years," said Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman. "That provides for optimism and opportunity as we switch gears heading into the offseason."

Stay tuned, it could be an interesting winter.

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Jake McGee, OF Desmond Jennings, LHP Drew Smyly, RHP Erasmo Ramirez, C Rene Rivera, IF Logan Forsythe, OF Brandon Guyer, OF Daniel Nava, C J.P. Arencibia.

Free agents: DH/OF John Jaso, SS Asdrubal Cabrera; OF Grady Sizemore.

Rotation: If the Rays head into 2016 with no changes, Chris Archer will pitch at the front end of the rotation and will be followed by Jake Odorizzi, Smyly, Erasmo Ramirez, Matt Moore and Nathan Karns. Alex Cobb, who had Tommy John surgery, will likely be available in the latter stages of the season. A corps that's six deep creates the possibility the team could use one of its starters to acquire a bat. However, the organization has long held the belief it can't have enough depth with its starting pitching -- and that belief was validated in 2015, when the starting rotation was hit hard by injuries. Other starters who could come into play include top prospect Blake Snell and Matt Andriese.

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Bullpen: The Rays head into the offseason with a lot of depth in the bullpen. Brad Boxberger, McGee and Alex Colome can all handle the closing. The rest of the group will definitely include Xavier Cedeno, Brandon Gomes and Steve Geltz. Andrew Bellatti, Enny Romero, Kirby Yates and C.J. Riefenhauser could factor into the equation as well. Depending on how the starting rotation shakes out, Andriese and Karns are also possibilities.

Boxberger earns the save

Catcher: Rivera went into the 2015 season as the starting catcher, but he could not hold the job due to an anemic bat. Curt Casali stepped in and showed some power, hitting 10 home runs in 38 games, so he will get consideration to be the starter. Arencibia is another option. He displayed plenty of power, after spending most of the season at Triple-A Durham. There's always a chance they might elect to non-tender Rivera -- but experienced Major League catchers are at a premium, and his defense was solid in 2015. Luke Maile is a longshot to earn a job next season.

Casali's 10th home run

First base: James Loney has one season remaining on his contract, which will pay him $9.66 million. That number will make Loney difficult to trade if the team wants to do so. It will be interesting to watch what the Rays decide to do with Richie Shaffer. If Loney does get traded, the slugging prospect would likely be the team's first baseman. If not, Shaffer might be a part-time first baseman, designated hitter, and third baseman when Evan Longoria needs a day off.

Shaffer's solo home run

Second base: Forsythe made great strides in 2015, establishing himself as one of the better offensive players on a team that struggles offensively. So the position should be his. Tim Beckham or Nick Franklin will serve as the backups, unless another option develops.

Forsythe's three-run homer

Shortstop: Given Cabrera's offense, there's a good chance the free-agent shortstop will likely become unaffordable for the Rays. That would limit the choices to Beckham and Franklin. Beckham showed a lot of power in 2015, but was inconsistent in the field at times. Meanwhile, Franklin started the season injured before spending most of 2015 at Durham. The prospects who might get consideration include Daniel Robertson, who played at Double-A Montgomery, and Taylor Motter, a standout utility player at Durham.

Beckham's barehanded play

Third base: Longoria is the longest-tenured Rays player and remains the most consistent bat in the lineup. So unless the Rays get blown away by a trade offer that would greatly improve the organization, he will be back at the hot corner. Shaffer would be the guy to step in if Longoria were to be traded, but again, that scenario is unlikely.

Longoria's solo homer

Outfield: The Rays will enter 2016 with a deep group of outfielders, beginning with center fielder Kevin Kiermaier -- who is a game-changer in the field. Complementing Kiermaier's defensive skills is his athleticism, which has aided his pursuit to become a better offensive player. Steven Souza Jr. will be the starter in right field. He showed promise as a rookie in 2015, but spent much of the season on the disabled list. After a disastrous 2015 season, Jennings will return to play left. However, if he shows early that he is healthy, he could be traded. That would pave the way for other options to step in -- including Guyer and Mikie Mahtook. Both are athletic and emerging offensively. In addition, there's a possibility that Shaffer could be a part of the picture.

Statcast: Kiermaier's great grab

DH: Jaso would like to return to the Rays after his injury-plagued 2015 campaign. He put up decent numbers when he did play, but the Rays will need to decide if they want to ante up to bring back the free agent.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.