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Scouting the AL East: Tampa Bay Rays ZiPS projections

The Yankees’ biggest AL East thorn over the past decade is primed to be a tough foe again in 2024.

Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

The ZiPS Projections for all 30 MLB teams are available, and so we decided to take a look at each AL East team and see what we could learn and any interesting points that may stand out. Our Yankees rundown is here, and we’ve also touched on the Red Sox and Blue Jays; the defending AL East champion Orioles will come tomorrow.

The Tampa Bay Rays have made a living and in fact built their entire culture around recognizing value where the rest of the league is not seeing it. So they’re consistently outperforming their projections because of it, and they’ve made the playoffs five years in a row. That’s the longest active streak of anyone in the American League, aside from Houston.

Nevertheless, even the top organizations can only extract so much out of the “unknown,” and it doesn’t hurt to check out what ZiPS has to say.

Why Isaac Paredes has been a rumored trade candidate

Perhaps no team carries such an exciting group of infield (non-1B) prospects than the Tampa Bay Rays, and a few names are knocking on the door demanding opportunities.

At this point, we kind of know who Isaac Paredes is, and his skill set of pulling any fly ball he can, well, it works. However, the Rays aren’t shy about moving core pieces of their roster if they see an opportunity

Paredes is a big piece in that offense, but two names, both with promising projections, highlight why it makes sense to consider a deal for the former Tiger. Young talents Curtis Mead and Jonathan Aranda are projected for solid hitting lines if provided the opportunity in 2024. Aranda in particular is seen as a possible a 111 wRC+ bat.

The pair each had around 80 or so plate appearances in 2023, and never really got a consistent opportunity to showcase their ability. While flexible to a certain extent, neither has the chops to play defensively, and with Paredes, Brandon Lowe, and Yandy Díaz all inserted as infield starters, playing time is scarce.

Without a full-time DH, Tampa can also just keep all of these guys and try to distribute playing time to all of them. It may be a case of Aranda or Mead getting most of the work, and if that’s the case, ZiPS favors Aranda in 2024. After all, it’s not as though Paredes is getting expensive any time soon. The third baseman is controllable through the next four seasons.

The Rays’ version of Eflin is here to stay

The Tampa Bay Rays gave a pretty significant deal for their standards to Zach Eflin. The three-year, $40 million contract was actually the largest in franchise history for any free agent. The right-hander corresponded with a career year in his first season in South Florida.

Now with Glasnow off to California, Shane McClanahan out for the year, and the expected missed time from both Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen, the Rays need Eflin to be that workhorse at the top of the rotation.

ZiPS buys into the numbers he put up last season and projects a 124 ERA+. The projected WAR (3.1) is lower than the t 4.1 mark he put up in 2023, but part of it is just a length thing, with 146.2 IP as the outcome on hand in there, a mark well below the 177.2 he just had.

Even a pessimistic projection still has Eflin with an ERA below 4.00, and worth over 2.0 WAR for the year.

Uncertainty around Junior Caminero

Whether he takes off on Opening Day or struggles early on, Caminero is the most promising option for the Rays in terms of upside to be their everyday shortstop following the self-inflicted implosion of Wander Franco’s career. Taylor Walls is capable of a hot streak here and there, but he only plays due to his defense, whereas Caminero established himself as one of the best prospects in the sport in 2023.

Caminero skipped Triple-A last season and got to the majors after only 81 games in Double-A. The sample size in the majors was too small to make meaningful evaluations. Taking all of this into account, it makes sense that ZiPS would be bullish on Caminero’s ability to be a major factor in 2024.

ZiPS has the former Cleveland farmhand projected for a 98 OPS+, with his 80th-percentile outcome at a 120 OPS+. Based on the fact he already saw playing time in MLB last year, Caminero should get every opportunity to win the job in spring training.