The Rays, playing with a bottom-5 payroll in all of Major League Baseball, continue to defy the odds and the big budget juggernauts in the league, entering action Tuesday with an MLB-leading 43-19 record, including a 26-6 mark at home.
They've found success through a roster that features young superstar Wander Franco and consistent performers and guys other teams decided to part ways with over the years - including another former Cub, Harold Ramirez. You can pick apart how Tampa Bay built this roster and whether or not they have what it takes to win the first World Series title in franchise history, but for this article, I want to focus specifically on another former Cubs player in Jason Adam.
If you'll recall, the right-hander pitched for Chicago during the shortened 2020 season and early on in 2021 to mixed results. Adam joined the Cubs on the heels of a strong 2019 campaign with the Royals, and was largely able to replicate his success, working to a 3.29 ERA and just under 14 strikeouts per nine across 13 appearances.
Take a look at his baseball card numbers for 2021, and you might think the Cubs did the right thing cutting ties with Adam - after all, he managed an ERA north of 8.00 to start the year before getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa (and subsequently needing surgery for a left ankle injury). Following the season, the organization non-tendered him - ending his stint with Chicago.
The following March, he caught on with the Rays - and immediately became one of the best relief pitchers in the American League. Last season, he worked to a 0.758 WHIP and 2.86 FIP, off-setting a lower strikeout mark with a substantially improved walk rate. He's built on that success early on here in 2023 as the Tampa Bay closer, with a 2.84 ERA and 9 saves in 27 outings.
Chicago Cubs keep looking for bullpen answers as Jason Adam thrives with the Tampa Bay Rays
Meanwhile, the Cubs continue to grapple with bullpen issues with manager David Ross desperately searching for answers in the later innings. Chicago ranks 25th in bullpen ERA on the year and the guys the team brought in this winter haven't panned out to this point. Seeing a guy like Adam having sustained success is just salt in the wound and it makes one wonder what the Rays saw that the Cubs didn't - and what impact he might have had on the team this year.
Jed Hoyer has publicly admitted the front office's bullpen moves from this winter haven't provided the stability he'd hoped for as they have in recent years. That makes it easier to look at someone like Adam, who's pitching well somewhere else, and lay blame at the Cubs' feet. But you also have to tip your cap to the Rays, who continue to (somehow) sneak up on us all and post 90-win seasons what feels like year after year.
Hindsight is 20/20 - and when things aren't going well, strong opinions are flying left and right. Still, between Ramirez and Adam, it's tough to see two guys put up big-time numbers with the Rays while the Cubs field a roster that's certainly not bereft of holes.