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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Chris Archer believes the Tampa Bay Rays are capable of having the best rotation in the major leagues.

“We have some very dynamic arms in this room,” the two-time AL All-Star said after reporting to spring training, where a bevy of young starters and prospects are competing for roles on a staff that will have a different look after losing Alex Cobb to free agency.

“I say this every year, because we always have a special organization when it comes to arms, but I’m willing to put it up against everybody in the league,” Archer added. “And in order for us to back it up, we have to produce. I think everybody in here is capable of doing that.”

Archer, 29; Jake Odorizzi, 28; Blake Snell, 25; Nathan Eovaldi, 28; Matt Andriese, 28; and Jake Faria, 24, are the leading candidates for the Rays’ five-man starting rotation entering camp.

That could change if Odorizzi, subject of trade speculation this winter, winds up being dealt to trim payroll.

Adding to the intrigue is the presence of promising prospects Brent Honeywell, Yonny Chirinos, Jose DeLeon and Ryan Yarbrough — long shots to make the Opening Day roster who nevertheless may get an opportunity to contribute this season.

Archer, 10-12 with a 4.07 ERA a year ago when he worked at least 200 innings for the third consecutive season, is excited about the possibilities.

“I know there are a lot of pitching staffs out there excited about what they have, but as far as our depth — one through seven, eight, nine, even 10 guys — we’re going to have three or four guys in Triple-A who could be starting in the big leagues somewhere for somebody,” Archer said.

“I’ll put it up against anybody’s,” the right-hander added. “And at the end of the season, we can look at the numbers and see how we all fared.”

With just five players 30 years or older — catcher Wilson Ramos, outfielder Denard Span and relievers Sergio Romo, Chaz Roe and Dan Jennings — on the 40-man roster, Tampa Bay has one of the youngest clubs in baseball.

The Rays enter 2018 with a streak of 560 consecutive games started by pitchers under 30, the longest such stretch in the majors.

Archer, an All-Star in 2015 and 2017, is eager to lead the way again.

“In order for us to be successful, we have to pitch at our top capabilities,” he reiterated.

“We don’t have to be anything more than what we are. But we have to produce, just like on the position-player side — offense, defense, everybody has to be clicking,” Archer added. “We talk about that every year, but pitching is our strong suit, and we need to take full advantage of it.”

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Predicting 40 active future Hall of Famers and their best Cooperstown comparisons

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It’s Baseball Hall of Fame election week, and with nobody likely to get voted into Cooperstown when ballots are revealed Tuesday night, it seems like a perfect time to look ahead by predicting 40 active Hall of Famers.

Why 40? After all, that feels like a lot of Hall of Famers. History suggests, however, that that is about the number of players in any given season who will eventually receive a plaque in Cooperstown. Here are the tallies for each year of a decade ending in 1 (not including 2011, since many players that year are still not eligible):

2001: 27
1991: 33
1981: 34
1971: 39
1961: 34
1951: 29
1941: 54
1931: 66
1921: 45
1911: 31
1901: 28

(Note: I included players elected for their play in the Negro Leagues, using their active years as listed on Seamheads.com. For Negro Leaguers who played in MLB, such as Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin, their MLB years are included as well.)

Yes, there are only 27 Hall of Famers from 2001, for example — so far. There are still players on the ballot who were active in 2001 who might get in (Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, etc.), players who have yet to hit the ballot (Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Carlos Beltran, etc.), plus the steroid guys who otherwise would already be in (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, etc.).

Keep in mind that there are nearly double the teams (30) than existed for the first 60 years of the 20th century (16). That makes 40 Hall of Famers a reasonable estimate. A few quick notes:

  • A player can get elected via the baseball writers (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) or a veterans committee (currently made up of 16 members including Hall of Fame players, former executives and writers). In recent years, the BBWAA has started to recognize more players who had a peak value instead of just a long career with impressive counting stats — think Larry Walker or Edgar Martinez. The veterans committee in the past few years has recognized players with longevity even if their peak value wasn’t extraordinary (Harold Baines, Lee Smith, Jack Morris).

  • I reference Baseball-Reference WAR unless noted. As a general guide, 70 WAR or higher is a strong Hall of Fame candidate, 60 WAR is borderline and 50 WAR gets you in the discussion (relievers are in their own category). WAR is by no means the end of the debate, but the BBWAA is starting to put a heavy weight on it. There are other factors, of course: Dominant seasons (a 5-WAR, or five-win season, is an All-Star-type season, while 8 WAR is an MVP-type season), postseason play and the old “feel” factor all play a role (along with PEDs and off-the-field issues).

  • I did not include Robinson Cano, who won’t play in 2021. His PED suspensions probably put him in the Manny Ramirez category anyway: He would have gone in, but now he won’t.

OK, to the list. I’ve divided it into six tiers, with the players ranked within each tier.

Jump to a tier:

The locks | The Votto group | On the right path
Sky is the limit | Work to do | Next generation

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Brad Hand, Washington Nationals agree to 1-year, $10.5M deal

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Closer Brad Hand and the Washington Nationals are in agreement on a one-year, $10.5 million contract, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Sunday.

Hand had another solid season as the closer for the Cleveland Indians, leading the major leagues with 16 saves, but he was a victim of the team’s salary purge heading into 2021. Cleveland declined his $10 million option in exchange for a $1 million buyout.

Cleveland tried to deal the 30-year-old left-hander after the season but was unable to find a trade partner.

Hand was acquired from the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2018. In two-plus seasons with Cleveland, he had 58 saves in 65 chances and a 2.78 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 107 innings over 111 games.

Hand went 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA and was 16-for-16 in save chances during the pandemic-shortened 2020 60-game season. However, his blown save against the New York Yankees led to the Indians’ elimination in the American League Wild Card Series.

The Padres claimed Hand off waivers from Miami early in the 2016 season, and he developed into a two-time All-Star. Known for his slider, he has 105 saves in 128 chances, with a 3.65 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 608⅔ innings pitched.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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In Jameson Taillon, did New York Yankees trade for latest starter who will dominate after leaving Pittsburgh Pirates?

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The year 2018 wasn’t that long ago. It really wasn’t, despite how it seems. The Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the World Series that year and while it feels like an epoch has passed since that happened, the highlight reels of that matchup are in full color, not black and white.

I fixate on 2018 because after the New York Yankees agreed to acquire right-hander Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for a middling package of four prospects on Sunday, that year has a special relevance for Bronx denizens sketching out their team’s new-look rotation.

Let’s say Luis Severino returns from his Tommy John surgery rehabilitation sometime in June, Corey Kluber‘s shoulder holds up enough that he holds down a rotation spot, Gerrit Cole keeps being Gerrit Cole, Taillon is a full go and, just for the fun of it, that New York’s low-key minor league invite, righty Jhoulys Chacin, bounces back enough to win the No. 5 slot. The quintet would probably slot like this: Cole, Taillon, Kluber, Severino and Chacin.

In 2018, those five starters combined to go 83-38 (a .686 winning percentage) over 164 starts with a 3.16 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. They put up 94 quality starts. Together, they compiled 22.3 WAR, per baseball-reference.com. The MLB-leading WAR total for any rotation in 2018 was 22.4, by the Astros, but of course that total was bolstered by the presence of Cole.

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