Offseason Outlook: Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays, one of the few teams with pitching to spare, have needs at multiple positions this coming offseason.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)

Contract Options

Free Agents

At some point we’ll have to believe Andrew Friedman when he says he doesn’t intend to trade from starting pitching depth. When he said as much a year ago, the rumors continued and the Rays held on to their pitching. Could this offseason be different? James Shields and David Price are becoming more expensive, so this could finally be the year the Rays trade a prominent member of their rotation.

David Price - Rays (PW)

The Rays could address multiple needs by dealing a top-of-the-rotation starter. Their offense ranked 18th in MLB in runs scored, so there’s clearly room for improvement. Still, Friedman has maintained in the past that there’s little use in strengthening one area — such as offense — at the expense of another — in this case pitching.

The Rays were exceptionally good at preventing their opponents from scoring in 2012, allowing the fewest runs in MLB. Their team ERA of 3.19 is even more impressive considering they face designated hitters and play in a division that includes two of the top eight offenses in baseball. The rotation has enough quality arms that Shields or Price could be traded. It'd have to be for the right return though. The Rays haven't always obtained much in trades for starting pitching in the past, once sending Jason Hammel to Colorado for Aneury Rodriguez.

The players themselves are never the only consideration in pro sports, a reality fans of the Rays know better than most. Shields ($10.25MM) and Price (projected arbitration salary of $9.5MM) are making serious money now. Not only could the Rays obtain impact MLB players or prospects for their starters, they could create the payroll flexibility required to address other needs. Any serious offer for Price or Shields will include at least one controllable player with All-Star potential. It could be difficult for the Rays to pass on a trade involving someone like Wil Myers, Jurickson Profar or Mike Olt

Pinning down the Rays’ payroll won’t be easy — it never is. Their expenses have fluctuated considerably in the past five years, all the way up to $72MM and all the way down to $42MM. Assuming the Rays fall somewhere in that range again in 2013, they’ll have one of the lowest payrolls in the game.

This means yet another homegrown player will leave Tampa Bay and sign elsewhere as a free agent this coming offseason. Center fielder B.J. Upton has positioned himself for a multiyear deal worth $10MM-plus per season and priced himself out of Tampa Bay. That much is certain. It’s less clear whether the Rays will make Upton a qualifying offer and set themselves up for draft pick compensation. An offer seems probable, since the Rays could trade Upton in the unlikely event that he accepts.

The Rays didn't get much offense from first base, designated hitter or catcher this past season. Friedman could look to upgrade at any of those positions in the next few months. With Jeff Keppinger and Upton hitting free agency, there are also potential needs at second base and center field. Thanks to the defensive skills of Ben Zobrist, the Rays have exceptional flexibility. They can pursue players at every position but third base. 

Florida native Mike Napoli could be a fit if he's willing to sign a short-term deal. Napoli figures to have multiyear offers, but he might consider a competitive one-year offer to play close to home for a contender. Given the Rays' need for offense at catcher and first base it's worth a shot.

There’s no way the Rays can address each of their needs through free agency, and every other team knows it. They’ll have to consider trades — not just blockbusters but low-profile moves. Could they get an outfielder from the Athletics? An infielder from the Rockies? A catcher from the Blue Jays? A first baseman from the Nationals? The possibilities are just about endless.

The Rays have a medium-sized arbitration class that includes at least three non-tender candidates. Ben Francisco figures to lose his roster spot by the end of November and infielders Sean Rodriguez and Ryan Roberts could also be non-tendered.

Other organizations would view Price as an extension candidate at this stage in his career, but it's extremely hard to envision the Rays paying him market value; it could cost $100MM to sign the left-hander to a six-year deal. It'd be more the Rays' style to pursue extensions for pre-arbitration eligible players such as Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson. Even if it's uncommon for clients of the Boras Corporation to sign so early in their careers, there's no harm in checking in to see if a long-term deal could work for both sides.

The Tampa Bay front office faces four option decisions, one of which has already been picked up. Shields will be a bargain at $10.25MM. Rodney will be a steal at $2.5MM once the Rays exercise his option. The $1.8MM option for 37-year-old Jose Molina will also be exercisedLuke Scott could return if the Rays believe he's healthy enough to hit for power the way he did in Baltimore. Yet he's 34 years of age and spent considerable time on the disabled list last year, so he doesn't seem like the kind of player the Rays would spend significant money on.

As always, Friedman will have to find relief arms on a budget. The Rays have done impressive work supplementing their ‘pen with low-risk relievers in recent years. Rodney, a revelation in 2012, might be Tampa Bay's most impressive relief acquisition of all. He’ll return along with Jake McGee, Burke Badenhop and Wade Davis. However, Joel Peralta, J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth are hitting free agency. Let the search for affordable relievers begin yet again.

The Rays enter the offseason with more needs than most 90-win teams. Their fantastic pitching staff will require a tune-up. And their below-average offense could use upgrades at a number of positions. It could lead to a lot of turnover, not that that’s anything new for Friedman and the Rays.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

39 Responses to Offseason Outlook: Tampa Bay Rays Leave a Reply

  1. Ausome7 3 years ago

    Castellanos++ for Price?

  2. Jason Tucker 3 years ago

    I love the Offseason Outlook columns, but I would like it even more if you made trade suggestions or Free Agent suggestions in the columns. I’ve noticed it in a couple of them but it’s not consistant. Just a suggestion. Thanks

  3. D’Arnaud, Lind + prospect for Price???
    Then Sign Edwin Jackson or Liriano and the rotation would actually be really good with Romero down as a #3 or #4. Price, Morrow, Jackson/Liriano, Romero, Alverez/Happ

    • too bad itd be within the division

    • Why all the vote downs? That is a damn good offer from Price. The top Catching prospect in baseball, a more than servicable 1st baseman/DH and a good pitching propect for Price? Doesn’t that fill all the needs (1st and catcher) listed in the article?

      • buddaley 3 years ago

        I did not vote, but I understand why people might. D’Arnaud is indeed a tempting target, but was injured last year and remains a prospect, not a proven asset. Lind, according to Fangraphs, has had one decent major league season. Otherwise he has been replacement level or worse, including the past 3 years. And since you did not identify the pitching prospect you would suggest, there is no way to evaluate what additional value he might bring.

        The market for top pitchers has been somewhat strange the last few years as the haul for Cliff Lee, Santana and others has been generally uninspiring, so you might have a point. But as a Rays fan, I am very skeptical that the offer you suggest is enough. Right now, Price is among the 5 best pitchers in the AL, and a lefty to boot who has no injury red flags.

        • Proven at the major league level or not, the top Catching prospect should be worth quite a bit on its own. Lind, although not the top 1st baseman in the league is at the very least average and 5 million for 25/80 is a pretty good deal and he has shown he can go well above that in a good year. Add in a pitcher outside of the Lansing 3 and you have a better package by far than the ones that have gotten Lee and Sabatia to use just your example. If you want a more established catcher, sway in JP A in D’Arnaud’s place. I’m sure AA would be pretty fine with that as well.

          • DieHardMsFan 3 years ago

            I think you are forgetting to consider that both Lee and Sabathia were both rentals. Also at the time it seemed like both teams got a good haul for each considering the circumstances. If I am not mistaken the M’s and Indians both received a top 30 prospect. AA would have to throw in more than just D’Arnaud, Lind or a pitching prospect. If the Rays were to trade Price I am pretty sure they could get a package of something like Olt+Andrus from the Rangers. That easily trumps your package. Just because it is a good deal for your team doesn’t mean it is a good deal for both teams involved…

          • It is actually a great deal for both teams involved as it fills a need without crippling a strength. The Rangers may offer up one of Olt or Andrus, but wont do both. Plus, Andrus doesnt exactly help the offense that is the supreme need.

          • DieHardMsFan 3 years ago

            Not saying it doesn’t fit needs. D’Arnaud would be a great get for the Rays as they desperately need a long term answer @ Catcher. What I am saying is that Lind is a replacement level player who is easily replaceable and they don’t get a good pitching prospect in the deal. If Price had 1/2 a year of control left that is a very good deal for both teams. However Price still has two more years and the Rays could easily get a better return than what you are proposing.

          • Ryan 3 years ago

            Yeah, but comping Price to Lee and Sabathia doesn’t really work because those were before the Latos and G. Gonzalez trades. You would have to match those deals, plus maybe a little more, not to mention even more because it is within the division. Just too much for even the Jays to do, in my opinion, and this is coming from a Rays fan who holds D’Arnaud and the Lansing 3 in pretty high esteem.

          • buddaley 3 years ago

            We disagree. I won’t go into the details of why-although I have to mention that for the past 3 years Lind has had a negative WAR and an OPS in the low .700s, awful for a 1B/DH. Even his one good year, 2009, was rather ordinary by 1B/DH standards. But in the end, we obviously evaluate the players differently.
            In any case, let’s reverse the offer. Suppose you send the Rays Encarnacion. Although he has no defensive value and 2012 was his only truly outstanding offensive year, I have always liked him as a hitter. In return, the Rays will deal you Archer, Torres and a prospect. Interested?

      • hefe300 3 years ago

        I didn’t vote either, but they’re not likely to deal Price without a top pitching prospect as part of the return. That package might land Shields, but not Price.

    • Sniderlover 3 years ago

      Price would cost more along the lines of d’Arnaud + Gose + Syndergaard/Sanchez + another good piece.

      It’s too bad both teams are within the division otherwise they line up well for a trade. Jays have the pieces to get a deal done for Price.

  4. You Know Who 3 years ago

    It’s sad the rays don’t have to fan base to sustain a payroll that a perennial 90 win team should have. If they could keep half of these homegrown guys on regular deals when their price comes close to market value, the rays would be even more of a power house. That said, their formula works every year and they will continue to churn out upper level talent at lower cost and find gems in the free agent market thats overlooked. It’s just amazing how little they have to work with and the talent they find to put out on the field.

  5. mmiller54 3 years ago

    Justin Upton for David Price?

    • got rid of one upton dont want another underachiever

      • mmiller54 3 years ago

        Can’t say I blame you. But as a Dbacks fan, I would love to see Price in the desert. The Rays are going to have to trade him eventually (most likely) and we have many feasible trade chips.

        • Ryan 3 years ago

          Probably would have to start with Goldschmidt or Wheeler then, don’t know what else exactly.

          • mmiller54 3 years ago

            Wheeler is really not a good prospect and Goldschmidt isn’t going anywhere. Matt Davidson is a pretty good prospect and maybe the Rays would be interested in him along with Skaggs and Corbin for Price? I don’t know if this is enough (probably not).

          • Ryan 3 years ago

            Ah ,I see. I figured Davidson was valued more than the both of them, since he’s the best 3rd-base prospect you have, and 3rd seems to be a position the D-Backs are still working out what to do with. Davidson, Skaggs and maybe another bat could work, but I don’t know. The Rays and the D-Backs do match up pretty well, though.

  6. I dont understand why no one is concerned about extensions for evan longoria, or ben zobrist…i mean longoria when healthy is top 3rd base option defensively, offensively, and leadership wise and yet everyones concerned about price and shields expiring in 2 yrs… maybe im missing something. if shields were traded and with bj coming off the books an extension for longoria/zobrist could be afforded or ext for price even if we stretched payroll

    • Longoria is on an incredibly cheap contract right now. The pitching is an immediate issue with their payroll. Which one would you deal with first?

      • Steve 3 years ago

        Not really, because we have so much pitching depth. We have at least one ML-ready starter pitching out of the bullpen, and another two between AAA and ML (Cobb and Archer). Really, we may need to pick up some middle and long relief if Peralta goes (Farnsworth is as good as gone IMO) as McGee could easily transition into a setup role. If necessary, Alex Torres could be brought up to pitch out of the bullpen or Neimann could be a long reliever, with Cobb taking the 5th spot in the rotation. If nothing else, and Shields is moved over the offseason, I could see Price/Hellickson/Moore/Neimann/Cobb.

        • I’m not saying the Rays have pitching issues, only that the pitching is the thing to talk about BECAUSE of the issues of the high price tag on Shields and Price, and why it’s more newsworthy than talking about their hitters.

      • yes longoria is on a cheap contract but as you can read hes owed 9 million through 2013 and zobrist is 8 mill through 2013…hence at end of 2013 they are free agents. its all written there. pitching is important but when u have chris archer, alex torres, and alex cobb and even wade davis available to replace price or shields and you have no one to replace zobrist(might get overpriced so im not optimistic) and longoria which would send offense and defense spiraling

        • mmille32 3 years ago

          The Rays hold team options for Longoria through the 2016 season.

          2013 – $6MM
          2014 – $7.5MM (Team Option, $3MM Buyout)
          2015 – $11MM (Team Option)
          2016 – $11.5MM (Team Option)

          It says $9MM through 2013 because the 2013 salary is guaranteed, while the Rays would have to pay a minimum of $3MM to Longoria if they chose not to exercise the options, beginning in 2014. He will be with Tampa for at least 4 more years as there is no chance they don’t exercise the options on him.

    • Steve 3 years ago

      I agree, Longoria is without a doubt the face of the franchise. I could see an incentive-laden contract including a stake in club ownership. Price and Shields will eventually go, and there is no one else who I can think of who represents the Rays better than Longo. If his stay is only through 2014 or 15, we’ll need a prospect like Olt to have an easier transition.

      • MLB doesnt allow club ownership among its players due to conflict of interest as far as the CBA goes. Not to mention that it would put a negative value on the contract because The Rays lose money left and right

  7. i know there will be other overlooked signings by rays which is one reason why i love them. i think a strong push should be made for professional patient hitters in Travis Hafner(rebound option and no more than 1-2mill or incentive laden) Kevin youkilis(unlikely cuz hes everybodys bargain deal of winter)…and a homecoming of jonny gomes could help in power department and i remember him being a great clubhouse presence a fewdays a month in OF, and dh platoon with hafner etc..just some ideas…i think rays have replacement middle relievers already in dane dela rosa, josh lueke, cesar ramos…dont have a great pedigree but with maddon’s magic and appropriate usage can be serviceable

    • johnsilver 3 years ago

      Youkilis will be a bargain, but not by Rays standards.

      He will in all liklihood still end up with a 2/16-18m deal and can’t see Tampa even getting close to that amount.

      Someone they could approach that would be within the Rays affordability range for 1b, is old friend Casey Kotchman, who seemed to have had his return to younger days career year at Tampa in 2011 and is a FA again. He only made 3m last year, had his typical glove 1st, poor bat year at Cleveland and just *maybe* he could find that magic again in Tampa? he’s the best defensive 1b in the league and would be an upgrade over Pena regardless. Cost an awful lot less to boot.

  8. Another Upton no one wants…

  9. cheez13 3 years ago

    I’m glad I’m not a GM. I could never pay these guys what they are saying they should get. Upton 10mil + per on a multiyear deal…!. Is that what a fast CF that plays mediocre defense, hits for power but has under .300 OBP this past year is worth??? So, a guy can hit a HR every 20-25 at bats, never walks, hits .250, play average defense and walk away with a 5 year/ 55 million contract???
    I don’t think Bourn is worth the 12-15 mil I hear being thrown out there….but, his OBP is better than Uptons and his defense is ridiculous (can’t believe he didn’t get a gold glove). Upton has more pop, thats about it.
    I guess if you can hit one HR a week then you get 10 mil per or more.

    • johnsilver 3 years ago

      Not true. When Upton has his head in the game, he is one of the best around. Combo of glove and an absolute cannon of an arm.

      • $3513744 3 years ago

        well that’s kind of the problem then isn’t it? because he can be one of the best but he’s never been one. and if it doesn’t get his head in the game, he never will be one of the best. his point remains perfectly valid as it’s a lot to pay a guy who “could” be better but never actually is.

        • johnsilver 3 years ago

          Hey.. I am not a BJ Upton supporter.. Don’t target me :-)

          Watch many Rays games (live near Tampa) and get fed up with his many supporters proclaiming how great the guy is, but he only plays hard when he feels like it and they ignore all those times he half heartedly runs after balls in the OF, or mainly he misplays and then jogs after, or jogs down the 1b line on grounders.

          I pity whoever signs him as a FA. Maddon kept him under “control” and had to resort to benching him sometimes even with his attitude. Something about Tampa and guys that have gone thru that organization, but Maddon got rid of most of them finally. Upton is the last remaining one of the bad ones and Maddon probably will be better off without that headache.

          Can’t take away from the fact the guy *is* a terrific defensive CF when he *feels* like it however and throwing? He just might have the best arm out there and including Frenchy is that list also. Upton has a good, accurate arm, just keeping him focused and wanting to play.

          His bat is another matter.. Straight downhill for years and he swings at everything. Look myself for him to end up with Washington, Rizzo has wanted him for years and be another Werth like bust.

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