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Know Your Enemy: Tampa Bay Rays

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The Cubs will face Joe Maddon’s old team twice this year.

Charlotte Sports Park, spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays
Getty Images

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — With the departure of both GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon from the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season, the team had to retool in both departments. They haven’t varied much from the procedure under Friedman and Maddon, though — developing young players, then trading them before they get expensive. This is likely going to continue until they can get a new ballpark, which might be... a long time coming.

The team has had three straight losing seasons (including the final one under Maddon) after making the postseason four of the previous six years, and winning the A.L. pennant once (2008).

There are still some pretty good players on this team: Evan Longoria puts up solid numbers every year, Brad Miller finally got a chance to play and hit 30 home runs in 2016 (about the quietest 30-HR season in baseball), and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is one of the best, if not the best, defensive CF in the major leagues.

Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi lead a starting staff that’s likely going to be the subject of trade rumors come the deadline, as it’ll be a tough time for the Rays to get back to contention off a 94-loss season, and in this division. They added top starter prospect Jose De Leon in trade with the Dodgers, sending Logan Forsythe west. Matt Duffy didn’t play much after he was acquired from the Giants for Matt Moore, but the team has him penciled in at shortstop and they’ll hope he returns to the form that had him second in Rookie of the Year voting to Kris Bryant in 2015.

Brad Boxberger, who had done a good job closing for the Rays in 2015, started the year injured and lost his job to Alex Colome, who was very good (37 saves, only two blown saves, 1.91 ERA, 1.024 WHIP, 71 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 56⅔ innings) in that role in 2016, so the Rays’ bullpen could be a strength if Boxberger is healthy.

And then there’s this:

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

That’s Colby Rasmus, who signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay after a down year (.206/.286/.355 in 417 PA) in Houston. That 19th Century-style beard will be seen in all of Rasmus’ headshots this year, but he doesn’t have it anymore:

Ultimately, Rasmus’ wife Megan influenced the decision to lose it because he wanted to grow his long hair back.

“My wife wanted me to do it,” the 30-year-old said. “I told her I was going to grow my hair back out so she didn’t want me to have both. She didn’t want me to look too homely, I guess.”

You can imagine the fun Joe Maddon would have had with that.

The Rays travel to Wrigley Field for a two-game set July 4 and 5, and the Cubs will be in Tampa (their first trip there since 2008) for a pair of games September 19 and 20.