Offseason Outlook: Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are next in our Offseason Outlook series.  Their likely commitments for 2010:

C – Gregg Zaun – $2MM (club option, Zaun can void)
C – Shawn Riggans – $414K
1B – Carlos Pena – $10.125MM
2B – Ben Zobrist – $416K
SS – Jason Bartlett – $1.98MM+
3B – Evan Longoria – $950K
IF – Willy Aybar – $1.35MM
IF – Reid Brignac – $400K
LF – Carl Crawford – $10MM (club option)
CF – B.J. Upton – $435K+
RF – Matt Joyce – $410K
OF – Fernando Perez – $403K
DH – Pat Burrell – $9MM

SP – James Shields – $2.5MM
SP – Matt Garza – $433K+
SP – Jeff Niemann – $1MM
SP – David Price – $1MM
SP – Wade Davis – $400K

RP – J.P. Howell – $434K+
RP – Dan Wheeler – $3.5MM
RP – Grant Balfour – $1.4MM+
RP – Lance Cormier – $675K+
RP – Randy Choate – $400K+
RP – Andy Sonnanstine – $430K
RP –

Other commitments: Akinori Iwamura – $250K buyout, Brian Shouse – $200K buyout

Non-tender candidates: Dioner Navarro, Gabe Gross, Jeff Bennett

I have uncertainty with the Rays, given the options and non-tender candidates.  Zaun hopes to return in 2010, and if he does the Rays would be less inclined to tender Navarro a contract for $1.68MM+.  On the other hand, the Rays have talked about expecting Navarro to rebound, so it's difficult to guess their plan.  As for the options, Crawford is an easy decision at $10MM.  Cases could be made for retaining Iwamura and Shouse, but I have the Rays paying them $450K to leave rather than $6.25MM to stay.  Under this scenario, the Rays have about $50MM committed before arbitration raises to Bartlett, Upton, Garza, Howell, Balfour, Cormier, and Choate.  These raises should cost at least $10MM, putting the Rays in the low $60MM range for the second year in a row.

The Rays can probably expect more out of Upton, Burrell, and the catcher spot in 2009.  Trading Upton is a possibility, though his value is at a low point.  A successful first half could allow the Rays to trade Upton and promote Desmond Jennings for center field.  Offensively, the Rays also have to worry about Zobrist and Bartlett coming down somewhat from their excellent numbers. 

Right field should be a competition.  Gross may be non-tendered, with Kapler leaving as a free agent.  Zobrist, Joyce, and Perez could be in the mix, plus any possible imports.  One affordable plan could be to use Zobrist in right and Sean Rodriguez at second base.  Iwamura has value at $4.25MM, so the Rays could exercise his option and then trade him.

With Davis looking good and Jeremy Hellickson waiting in the wings, the Rays appear to have rotation depth for 2010 despite trading Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson, and Jason Hammel in recent years.

The Rays may not add a closer, but they're planning to bring in two or three late-inning arms.  Whatever payroll space they have will likely be used here.  Interesting free agents are plentiful.

Even without major moves, it's not difficult to envision improvements in the offense and starting rotation next year for the Rays.  It's an important year to pounce, with Pena and Crawford entering contract years.



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