Leaning on starting pitching -- and having success -- is nothing new for this franchise. Rays starters have posted a 3.83 ERA since 2008, which ranks fourth-best in the Major Leagues and tops in the American League. In addition, the starters pitched to a 553-470 record during that span, sixth-best in the Majors.
Kevin Kiermaier will be back in center field, which means batted balls will have a hard time finding a place to drop. He'll be flanked by Colby Rasmus in left and Steven Souza Jr. in right. So the outfield defense should be improved in 2017.
Luke Maile and Curt Casali will begin the season behind the plate, and be joined shortly after midseason by standout Wilson Ramos to give the Rays a solid look at catcher.
Last season the Rays' offense took two steps forward, and two steps back. On the plus side, Tampa Bay hit a club-record 216 home runs. The Rays finished sixth in the Majors in home runs, but 24th in runs scored. Much of the problem stemmed from an inability to make productive outs.
According to Baseball Reference, Rays hitters recorded just 119 productive outs, second-fewest in the Majors behind Oakland. A productive out is defined as advancing any runner with none out, driving in a run with the second out of an inning, or a sacrifice bunt by a pitcher with one out.
The additions of Rasmus and Ramos should help in that department, as should the continued maturations of Kiermaier and Souza, along with a full season with Duffy, and solid contributions of Longoria and Miller.
All in all, the Rays' vision of returning to their roots looks reasonable.
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.