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A typical Rays offseason makes them a surprise contender in AL East

A couple of trades and some under the radar signings helped bolster the Rays for 2016 and well into the future.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays have spent the last two years retooling after six incredibly successful years where they made the playoffs four times. And they've done it in the most Rays way possible, with trades and waiver claims, and low-risk free agent deals. With all this activity, there's no doubt that they're a fundamentally different team than they were two years ago, with only Evan Longoria remaining in the starting lineup, and Chris Archer and Matt Moore in the rotation from the team that won 92 games in 2013.

This offseason, they returned to that playbook yet again, dealing from their pitching depth and adding cast offs and low-risk free agents to supplement a core that's being projected to compete for a postseason berth.

The Trades

Almost immediately after the World Series, the Rays traded starter Nate Karns, reliever C.J. Riefenhauser, and not-the-real-Boog-Powell Boog Powell to the Mariners for Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Danny Farquhar. Jerry DiPoto was looking to clean house up in Seattle and get rid of as many reminders of Jack Zduriencek's failures as possible, and Karns represented a perfectly decent mid-rotation starter.

That said, Miller acquitted himself well last year as a utility man, could be a high upside shortstop for the Rays, and isn't eligible to be a free agent until 2020. Morrison will be the primary designated hitter, and Farquhar is a good bounce back candidate to be a league average reliever.

Recently, they dealt Jake McGee and a minor league pitcher for Corey Dickerson and a minor league third baseman. Again, McGee is a valuable commodity, a very good reliever when he's healthy. But the Rays had plenty of bullpen depth and were able to get a potentially good everyday corner outfielder in return for the next four years.

Finally (and I really don't know if this counts as a trade), they straight up bought Hank Conger from the Astros and made him their starting catcher. Conger came up as an offensively minded catcher with the Angels, but struggled to find playing time. He greatly improved his defense over the last few years, however, becoming an excellent pitch framer. Still, he had trouble breaking into the starting lineup at least in part because he struggles to control the run game (Conger threw out one baserunner last year, in 43 attempts). The Rays are finally going to give him a chance to start, and if the projections are accurate, he figures to be a huge asset for them at a position where the Rays have never had a player crack three WAR in their entire history. They'll have him for two years if they don't sign him to an extension.

The Free Agents

The Rays saved their shopping for well after Christmas, signing Steve Pearce and Ryan Webb to low money, one-year deals. Webb continues to be an effective reliever in spite of his low strikeout numbers, because of his excellent sinker and good control. Pearce, a journeyman who had a huge breakout in 2014 and then an awful 2015, will probably platoon with James Loney at first base.

Reasons to Worry

Injuries, mostly. Dealing from their pitching depth leaves the Rays vulnerable if Matt Moore or Drew Smyly get hurt again, and if Alex Cobb has a setback. The entire Dickerson/McGee deal will also look awfully silly if Dickerson can't stay on the field. First base is kind of a mess, between Loney and Pearce. Finally, it's still not clear if Conger can catch over a full season, and if his throwing problems were systemic or just the craziest statistical fluke ever.

Reasons for Hope

Math loves these Rays. Well, ok, some math loves these Rays. Specifically, PECOTA projects them to win 91 games and the AL East title thanks to the best defense in the majors (and it really should be pretty spectacular with Kevin Kiermaier out in center). Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi remain a very effective 1-2 punch, and Moore has a ton of upside he was just starting to unlock when he went succumbed to Tommy John surgery. The bullpen isn't flashy, but it is deep and highly competent, and the Rays have pioneered getting starters out of the game earlier to get to that pen. Also, maybe Logan Forsythe will not turn back into a pumpkin.