2023 Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview: AL East Title Contenders Once Again

The Tampa Bay Rays enter the 2023 MLB season poised to make another run at an American League East division title and deep playoff push. After winning 100+ games in 2021 and clinching a wild card spot in 2022, the Rays have established themselves as perennial contenders in baseball’s toughest division.

With a strong pitching staff led by ace Shane McClanahan, an improved lineup featuring Randy Arozarena, a top-ranked farm system, and the strategic mind of manager Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay has the talent and leadership to compete with AL East foes New York, Toronto, and Boston. This season preview examines the Rays’ chances of capturing their third division crown in four years.

Outline of 2023 Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview:

I. Intro

  • Brief recap of 2022 season
  • Goals and expectations for 2023

II. Offseason Review

  • Key trades, free agent signings, departures
  • Payroll situation and roster analysis
  • Notable position battles

III. Projected Lineup and Bench

  • Analysis of lineup order and key hitters
  • New additions and role players
  • Projected production and outlook

IV. Starting Rotation

  • Review of 1-5 starting pitchers
  • Depth analysis and injury considerations
  • Strengths, weaknesses, projections

V. Bullpen

  • Closer and setup roles
  • New additions and departures
  • Projected performance and outlook

VI. Defense and Fielding

  • Positional strengths and weaknesses
  • Key metrics and analysis

VII. Farm System and Prospects

  • Top prospects close to majors
  • Analysis of farm system strength

VIII. Coaching Staff

  • Review of manager, coaches, analytics
  • Strategic tendencies and outlook

IX. Team Analysis

  • Overall offensive, pitching, defensive projections
  • Simulated standings, polls, World Series odds
  • Paths to success and failure

X. AL East Competition

  • Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox outlooks
  • Division race analysis and projections

XI. Final Record and Playoff Prediction

  • Win total forecast
  • Postseason matchup predictions

I. Intro

The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off a 86-76 campaign in 2022, finishing third in the ultra-competitive American League East behind the Yankees and Blue Jays. Though they fell short of lofty expectations after their 100-win season in 2021, the Rays still clinched a wild card spot before falling to Cleveland in the AL Wild Card Series.

Entering 2023, expectations remain high for the Rays to reclaim division champion status. With a balanced roster, elite pitching staff, and deep farm system, Tampa Bay is well-positioned to win 90+ games and contend for their third AL East title in four seasons.

II. Offseason Review

Key Departures

The Rays lost All-Star outfielder Manuel Margot and relievers Jason Adam and Colin Poche in free agency. Margot’s stellar defense in center field is a notable loss, while Adam and Poche were key late-inning options.

Tampa Bay also traded away righty Jimmy Yacabonis in a minor deal with Seattle.

Free Agent Additions

To replace some bullpen depth, the Rays signed veteran reliever Michael Fulmer to a 1-year, $4 million deal. Fulmer brings closer experience from his days in Detroit and will provide a steady late-inning presence.

The Rays also added infielder Ji-Man Choi on a 1-year deal after declining his option last season. Choi brings a solid left-handed bat and strong glove at first base.

Payroll and Roster Outlook

The Rays opened last season with a franchise-record $83 million payroll but currently sit around $75 million for 2023. This puts them in the bottom-third of MLB in spending power. However, Tampa Bay has proven capable of maximizing value and contending with financial limitations.

The current 40-man roster remains talented, flexible, and rich in depth at nearly every position. Top prospects like SS Jonathan Aranda, RHP Taj Bradley, and OF Josh Lowe provide additional MLB-ready reinforcements. Overall, the Rays retain one of baseball’s most well-constructed rosters from top to bottom.

Notable Position Battles

Center Field – Offseason departure Manuel Margot leaves an opening in center. Randy Arozarena may shift over from left field, while Jose Siri and Josh Lowe are also CF options.

Fifth Starter – Young righties Taj Bradley and Tommy Romero will compete for the final rotation spot behind McClanahan, Kluber, Springs, and Patino. Both had succesful MLB debuts in 2022.

Bullpen – Middle relief and setup roles around Colin Poche’s departure will need to be settled. Brooks Raley, JT Chargois, and Fulmer are leading candidates.

III. Projected Lineup and Bench

Projected Batting Order:

  1. 3B Yandy Diaz
  2. RF Randy Arozarena
  3. SS Wander Franco
  4. 1B Ji-Man Choi
  5. 2B Brandon Lowe
  6. LF David Peralta
  7. DH Manuel Margot
  8. CF Jose Siri
  9. C Christian Bethancourt


The Rays possess an elite contact hitter in Yandy Diaz at the top of the order, followed by the power-speed combo of Arozarena and top prospect Wander Franco. Choi, Lowe, and Peralta form a solid middle of the order, while Margot was re-signed to DH and provide veteran presence. The bottom third features Siri’s speed and Bethancourt’s two-way versatility.

This projects as an above-average, high-contact lineup that excels wearing down opposing pitchers. The Rays hit the 6th-most singles and drew the 5th-most walks last season, partly neutralizing their lack of pure home run power.

Franco’s continued development into an MVP candidate would be huge, while Arozarena is capable of posting 30 HR-30 SB seasons in this lineup. Lowe and Choi also bring 25+ home run upside.

Key Bench Depth:

  • IF/OF Vidal Brujan
  • OF Josh Lowe
  • C Francisco Mejia
  • IF Jonathan Aranda
  • IF Isaac Paredes

Tampa Bay boasts phenomenal depth with speedster Brujan, slugging prospect Lowe, strong defensive catcher Mejia, AAA stud Aranda, and multi-positional Paredes all on the bench. This gives manager Kevin Cash endless lineup flexibility and injury insurance.

IV. Starting Rotation

Projected Rotation:

  1. LHP Shane McClanahan
  2. RHP Corey Kluber
  3. LHP Jeffrey Springs
  4. RHP Luis Patino
  5. RHP Taj Bradley


Ace Shane McClanahan broke out as a top-5 Cy Young finisher in just his second season, posting a 2.54 ERA and 194 strikeouts over 166 innings. The lefty flamethrower has cemented himself as staff leader and foundation piece.

Veteran Corey Kluber enjoyed a health resurgence with Tampa Bay in 2022, making 31 starts with a 3.91 ERA. He returns to provide stability as a No. 2 starter. Jeffrey Springs was a revelation in his first year starting, spinning 152 innings with a 2.46 ERA. The funky southpaw should slot in nicely as the No. 3 arm.

Luis Patino held down the 5th rotation spot effectively last season before shoulder issues sidelined him. When healthy, his upper-90s stuff is electric. Top prospect Taj Bradley appears primed to round out the rotation with an upper-90s fastball and excellent command. His minor league track record is pristine.

Drew Rasmussen, Ryan Yarbrough, and Tommy Romero provide starter depth from the bullpen. Top prospects Shane Baz and Kyle Manzardo would be reinforcements if injuries arise. This pitching staff is undoubtedly among the AL’s best and deepest.

Injury Considerations:

Patino’s shoulder trouble is worth monitoring, but reports this offseason have been positive. Kluber and Springs are relatively healthy after full 2022 seasons. McClanahan’s workload could lead to some rest down the stretch. But this staff has enviable durability compared to most contenders.

V. Bullpen

Projected Bullpen Roles:

Closer: LHP Brooks Raley

Set-up: RHP Pete Fairbanks, RHP JT Chargois, RHP Michael Fulmer

Middle: LHP Colin Poche, RHP Ryan Thompson, RHP Javy Guerra


After veteran Jason Adam departed in free agency, the Rays may utilize lefty Brooks Raley in the closer role given his swing-and-miss stuff. Raley has extensive late-inning experience with Houston. Other free agent addition Michael Fulmer brings closer chops as well.

Pete Fairbanks and JT Chargois figure to handle primary set-up duties around their high-90s velocity, while Ryan Thompson and Javy Guerra excel in middle relief. Young lefties Josh Fleming and Garrett Cleavinger provide further depth.

This unit should still perform at an elite level despite key losses. The Rays bullpen led MLB with a 2.80 ERA last season while allowing the league’s lowest batting average (.211) and WHIP (1.18). Fairbanks, Chargois and Thompson all posted ERAs under 3 as well. Expect more of the same in 2023.

VI. Defense and Fielding

The Rays figure to field an average to above-average defensive unit.


  • Center Field – Stellar range at a premium position regardless of Siri or Arozarena.
  • First Base – Choi is elite here with a career +23 Outs Above Average. Smooth hands and 6’1 frame.
  • Third Base – Yandy Diaz rated very well by metrics last season. Underrated rangy athlete.


  • Left Field – Peralta posted worst Outs Above Average (-7) of any MLB left fielder last year. Margot’s range will be missed here.
  • Shortstop – Franco has average range at best early in his career with below average marks last season. Arm strength only ranks as average.

Overall the defense should be adequate, with Choi, Diaz, and whoever mans center field offsetting weaknesses at shortstop and left field. The pitching staff’s ability to generate strikeouts and soft contact helps minimize defensive liabilities as well. The Rays ranked 5th in Defensive Runs Saved (+29) last season. Expect more of the same competency in 2023.

VII. Farm System and Prospects

Baseball America ranks the Rays farm system 2nd in MLB, evidence of their player development machine continually churning. Several prospects could make an impact this season.

Top Prospects Primed for 2023 Debut:

  • RHP Shane Baz (MLB’s #12 overall prospect)
  • SS Jonathan Aranda (AAA .323/.410/.495 batting line in 2022)
  • LHP Kyle Manzardo (lefty struck out 171 in 122 minor league innings last year)

Baz would be an immediate rotation upgrade if injury strikes, bringing a 70-grade fastball and plus curve. MLB-ready Aranda provides elite infield depth and contact skills. Manzardo profiles as a potential mid-rotation southpaw in the near future.

Other names like OF Josh Lowe, C Rene Pinto, RHP Taj Bradley, and RHP Tommy Romero already debuted in 2022 but could play bigger roles this season as well. The influx of young talent is immense.

VIII. Coaching Staff and Management

Manager Kevin Cash has led Tampa Bay to two AL East titles, six straight winning seasons, and a 656-536 record since taking over in 2015. His progressive pitching strategy, lineup versatility, and forward-thinking approach help maximize the roster. He remains one of the game’s top managers.

Pitching coach Kyle Snyder, hitting coach Chad Mottola, bench coach Matt Quatraro, and field coordinator Paul Hoover form an analytically-inclined and cohesive staff. They oversee player development extremely well.

Erik Neander and Peter Bendix continue leading a front office that unearths hidden gems through trades, player development, and savvy signings. The Rays way remains finding value and talent where competitors don’t look.

IX. Team Analysis

Based on the ROS Projection system at FanGraphs, the Rays profile to finish 2023 with the following statistical ranks in MLB:


  • 7th in Runs Scored (745)
  • 12th in AVG (.248)
  • 9th in OBP (.323)
  • 12th in SLG (.410)
  • 5th in BsR (Base Running Runs Above Average)

Starting Pitching

  • 3rd in ERA (3.60)
  • 3rd in FIP (3.65)
  • 5th in K/9 (9.35)
  • 7th in WAR (16.5)


  • 3rd in ERA (3.37)
  • 2nd in FIP (3.28)
  • 4th in K/9 (9.53)
  • 9th in WAR (3.9)


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  • 5th in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating)
  • 5th in DRS (Defensive Runs Saved)

This statistical profile paints the picture of an elite pitching staff, average offense, strong bullpen, and good defense. Such a makeup matches Tampa Bay’s 2022 performance and roster construction for 2023.

Overall, a composite 90-92 win projection seems reasonable. The keys will be the rotation’s health and Franco’s emergence as a superstar, both realistic outcomes given track records. The Rays should be right in the thick of the playoff race again.

Paths to Success:

  • Franco develops into 6+ WAR MVP candidate
  • McClanahan/Kluber/Springs all make 30+ starts
  • Arozarena and Lowe combine for 70+ home runs
  • Diaz, Peralta, and Choi provide continuity
  • Bullpen leads MLB in ERA again
  • 90-95 wins

Potential Failures:

  • Rotation injury issues
  • Franco still lacks power development
  • Arozarena/Lowe regress
  • Diaz, Peralta, Choi decline with age
  • Yankees/Blue Jays dominate division
  • 3rd Place, 82-84 wins

X. AL East Competition


The Yankees will be favored to reclaim the AL East behind MVP Aaron Judge and AL home run king Giancarlo Stanton slugging in the heart of the order. New York also boasts pitching studs Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes. But question marks around injuries, aging veterans, and thin rotation depth make them beatable.

Blue Jays

Toronto is loaded offensively with Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and company while possessing a deep young rotation featuring Alek Manoah. But is their suspect bullpen and defensive weaknesses enough to overcome? The Jays should push 90+ wins again but have flaws.

Red Sox

Boston bounced back with a surprising 2022 campaign but lost star Xander Bogaerts and added injury risks in Kenley Jansen and Corey Seager. The upside of Rafael Devers, Chris Sale and others keeps them dangerous but significant regression could also occur.

XI. Final Record and Playoff Prediction

The Tampa Bay Rays will finish 92-70, neck and neck with the Yankees and Blue Jays in another tight AL East race. They will qualify for the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

In the playoffs, the Rays strong pitching and scrappy lineup will allow them to upset the Blue Jays in the Wild Card round. However, their season will end in the ALDS, where the Houston Astros superior lineup will overpower Tampa Bay in five games.

Look for the Rays to bring another competitive, 90+ win season with signature pitching dominance and deliver an exciting playoff run. But the AL East gauntlet will likely leave Tampa just short of another division title.


The Tampa Bay Rays have all the ingredients – pitching, defense, athleticism, and depth – to contend for World Series titles year after year. Although an AL East crown is no guarantee given the fierce competition, this franchise has proven their system for sustaining excellence is elite.

Rays fans should expect meaningful October baseball yet again in 2023. This team remains capable of big things this season and beyond.

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