1. Yankees vs. Rays: 162 Games of Wander Franco, a Year Older
And speaking of beating the projection systems.
The Rays always know how to squeeze an extra four or five wins out of a stone because they are the projection systems. They personify uncovering talent, switching arms in and out of the bullpen, and simply making it work.
That’s why we were surprised last season when they paid a pretty penny to trade for one-dimensional slugger Nelson Cruz and put themselves over the top, and it didn’t exactly work. It’s why we were also shocked when they entered the ALDS with a rotation full of rookies, going from one extreme to another. That also failed.
One thing that went 100% right — so right, it convinced Tampa Bay’s front office to pony up and keep things working long-term — was the promotion of Wander Franco, who lived up to the hype, especially under the postseason lights.
In just 70 games in 2021 (as a 20-year-old), Franco posted a 129 OPS+ and 3.5 WAR, and is now under control (including a team option) through 2033, a real year that is difficult to conceptualize.
If the Rays operate like they have been, they’ll utilize one of the many escalators in his contract to ship him out of town, like they did when it came time to pay the piper on Blake Snell.
If they decide to operate in good faith, he’ll be here to dash the Yankees’ dreams for a very long time.
Regardless, 162 games of Franco vs. 70 could make all the difference in returning Tampa Bay to scary prominence, yet again, in 2022.