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Tampa Bay Rays Rumors
With Drew Smyly (shoulder) and Alex Colome (pneumonia) currently out, Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman says the team will consider both internal and external options to address its rotation, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes (Twitter links). “The wheels are spinning and we’re working on contingencies already,” says Silverman.
As Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune tweets, that will likely mean that if the Rays do make a move, it will be to address their rotation at Triple-A Durham, since the organization will lean on pitchers who had been projected to start the season there to instead begin the year in the big leagues. For example, pitchers like Nate Karns or Burch Smith who might have originally started the year in Durham could now begin the year in Tampa Bay, with the Rays making a minor-league signing or a minor trade at some point in Spring Training to fill their spots at the Triple-A level.
Looking more for minor-league depth seems like a sensible solution. There’s very little left on the free-agent market (with Randy Wolf as the only established starter remaining). And while pitchers like Karns and Smith are inexperienced (and any guess about Smith’s 2015 performance would be very speculative, given his forearm issues last year), they project as reasonable rotation patches. Meanwhile, the Rays figure to get Smyly and Colome back at some point, as well as Matt Moore later in the season, so any new acquisition might become superfluous within a couple months. They could, instead, find a pitcher or two near the end of Spring Training, perhaps a veteran with an out clause in his contract with the team he’s in camp with now.
Michael Saunders‘ recovery from a torn meniscus is “kind of a miracle,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters, including Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star. Saunders is already back to baseball activities in camp less than two weeks after deciding to have the injured cartilage removed completely. It was originally thought that the injury would sideline Saunders for the first half of the season, but he now has a shot at the Opening Day lineup and, at worst, should be back on the field by mid-April. Here’s some more from around the AL East…
- Orioles right-hander Darren O’Day said the club has yet to discuss a new contract with him, MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko reports. While O’Day said he’d enjoy staying in Baltimore, he also noted that team will have a lot of other business to handle, as O’Day is one of 11 Orioles who will be free agents after the season.
- “Pitching and defense is how we build this team and it’s going to be the way we continue to succeed,” Rays GM Matt Silverman told Steve Phillips and Todd Hollandsworth of MLB Network Radio interview (audio link), though Silverman also believes the lineup is “much more balanced…and much more formidable 1-through-9.” This balance, Silverman feels, will help Tampa string together more big innings and have more luck scoring runs. “A lot of it [the scoring problems] had to do with situational stuff and things that not necessarily were flukish, but things that we thought would revert back to the mean. We put a lot of guys on base, we just didn’t get them home,” Silverman said.
- Phillips and Hollandsworth also interviewed Evan Longoria during their visit to the Rays‘ camp (audio link), and the third baseman said that he’s hoping to finish his career in a Tampa Bay uniform. Longoria’s contract with the club runs through 2022, which would be his age-36 season, plus the Rays have a club option on his services for 2023. While Longoria expressed his desire to be a one-franchise guy, he did hint that this would be contingent on the Rays continuing to be a winner. “From the beginning, I really wanted to be one of…those rare guys who get to spend their whole career in one place,” Longoria said. “I’ve been lucky enough to be on good teams and that’s really what makes guys want to stay places….For as long as that’s happening, I’m happy being here.”
- Estimates on how long Chris Capuano will be sidelined with his strained right quad range from “at least the first week or two of the season” (as the southpaw told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch) to all of April. Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters, including ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand that Capuano “is not going to do anything, at least for a couple of weeks. Nothing. The problem is we are so early in the process, you are almost going to have to start over.”
The Rays gave new manager Kevin Cash a good bit of security in his first contract, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. His deal is for five years, tying him with former Rays and current Cubs skipper Joe Maddon for the lengthiest remaining guarantee in the game.
Cash, 37, is also the youngest big league manager. Obviously, he will not approach Maddon’s reported $25MM in earnings over their identical five-year terms, though his precise salary is yet to be reported.
Tampa’s investment in Cash represents a strong vote of confidence in his ability to mesh not only with the organization’s players but also its front office, which is now headed by Matt Silverman. Though Silverman declined to comment on the term of the contract, he did offer some insight to Heyman as to why the team would be comfortable with that level of commitment: “Kevin is a great communicator. He has a keen baseball mind. He’s the kind of guy who can be on the forefront of the changes in the game for years to come.”
Diamondbacks Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez has suffered a broken hamate bone in his left hand, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets. Hernandez had seemed on track to open the year as the club’s backup catcher behind presumptive starter Tuffy Gosewisch.
As a Rule 5 pick, Hernandez can still be kept under team control if he is added to the DL and kept on the 40-man roster. In some ways, this could actually make it easier for the team to hold on to him, as it reduces the amount of time that Arizona will be required to carry him on the big league roster. The club will also get a chance to see Hernandez in a rehab assignment, and have a chance to evaluate its big league club, before deciding whether to return him to the Rays.
The injury certainly opens a big league roster spot to start the season, though the D’Backs could simply elect to give the reserve job to one of the veterans it has in camp. Gerald Laird, Matt Pagnozzi, and Blake Lalli each have spent time in the big leagues, with Laird in particular having an extensive track record at the game’s highest level.
After watching Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon depart, and then overhauling their roster this offseason, the Rays will rely on a strong young rotation to remain competitive in the AL East.
Major League Signings
Notable Minor League Signings
- Ronald Belisario, Corey Brown, Joey Butler, Alexi Casilla ($900K if he makes MLB roster), Jake Elmore, Juan Francisco ($2MM if he makes MLB roster), Jim Miller, Eugenio Velez, Jonny Venters, Bobby Wilson
Trades And Claims
- Acquired C/DH John Jaso, SS Daniel Robertson, OF Boog Powell and $1.5MM in cash from Athletics for 2B/SS Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar
- Acquired C Rene Rivera, OF Steven Souza, SP Burch Smith, SP Travis Ott and 1B Jake Bauers from Padres and Nationals as part of a three-team trade (Padres received OF Wil Myers, C Ryan Hanigan, RP Gerardo Reyes and RP Jose Castillo from Rays; Nationals received SP Joe Ross and SS Trea Turner from Padres)
- Acquired RP Kevin Jepsen from Angels for OF Matt Joyce
- Acquired SP Buddy Borden and cash considerations from Pirates for IF Sean Rodriguez
- Acquired SP Jose Dominguez and SP Greg Harris from Dodgers for RP Joel Peralta and RP Adam Liberatore
- Acquired OF Justin Williams and SS Andrew Velazquez to Diamondbacks for SP Jeremy Hellickson
- Acquired RP Mark Sappington from Angels for RP Cesar Ramos
- Zobrist, Escobar, Myers, Hanigan, Joyce, Rodriguez, Peralta, Hellickson, Ramos, Jose Molina, Cole Figueroa, Oscar Hernandez (to Diamondbacks in Rule 5 Draft)
It was already going to be a transformative winter for the Rays with longtime team executive Matt Silverman taking over for Friedman as the team’s top baseball decision-maker, yet the club’s chain of command was further shaken up when Maddon exercised an out clause in his contract and left to manage the Cubs. (The Rays’ tampering charge against Chicago is still unsettled.) After a lengthy search for a new manager, Kevin Cash was hired to lead this new era of Rays history. Though Cash has only a couple of years as a scout and two years as the Indians’ bullpen coach on his post-playing resume, he was considered by many to be a top managerial prospect, and in fact was almost hired by the Rangers earlier in the offseason.
The 37-year-old Cash is currently the youngest manager/head coach in any of the four major sports, which perhaps exemplifies the Rays’ overall offseason youth movement. Tampa’s farm system was in need of rebuilding following several years of unproductive drafts, and thus almost all of the Rays’ moves this winter brought them back at least one pre-arbitration prospect in return. Of all that young talent, Daniel Robertson is probably the best long-term prospect, and he looks to be Tampa Bay’s shortstop of the future.
For 2015, however, the youngster best positioned to help the club immediately is Steven Souza. Ranked as the 37th-best prospect in the sport by Baseball America, Souza received just 26 plate appearances for the Nationals last season but is best known for his spectacular catch to clinch Jordan Zimmermann‘s no-hitter. Tampa Bay’s outfield mix includes Desmond Jennings playing mostly in left field, with Souza and Brandon Guyer (both right-handed hitters) sharing time with Kevin Kiermaier and David DeJesus (both left-handed hitters). Souza and Kiermaier will be given every opportunity to step up as everyday options.
The Rays overhauled their catching situation by releasing Jose Molina (eating his $2.75MM 2015 salary in the process) and trading Ryan Hanigan as part of their big three-team deal with the Padres and Nationals. The newly-acquired Rene Rivera figures to see much of the time behind the plate, and while the veteran is better known for his excellent pitch-framing than his bat, Rivera posted a .252/.319/.432 line over 329 PAs in San Diego last season.
John Jaso will notably not be an option at catcher due to his concussion history, as the Rays will instead use him mostly at DH with perhaps some time at first base or even in left. Jaso will essentially replace Matt Joyce‘s role in Tampa’s lineup — the left-handed power source in need of a platoon partner due to struggles against lefties.
As usual, the Rays weren’t big players in free agency, with Asdrubal Cabrera‘s one-year, $7.5MM deal accounting for almost all of their free agent spending. He’ll add a veteran presence to the middle infield, though it remains to be seen where he’ll start. Going by his below-average career defensive metrics (-10.6 UZR/150 at shortstop, -2.5 UZR/150 at second base), Cabrera would be a better fit at the keystone. With Cabrera filling one MI spot, Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe will battle for playing time at the other, with two post-hype prospects (Hak-Ju Lee and 2008 first overall pick Tim Beckham) and minor league signee Alexi Casilla also in the hunt for playing time.
Despite losing two very versatile options in Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez, the Rays have retained much of their signature infield flexibility. Furthermore, with Cabrera only signed for one year, the team has left the door open for its younger infielders to establish themselves going into 2016.
Once the Rays underachieved over the first few months of the 2014 season, it was only a matter of time before they pared down last year’s team-record $76.87MM payroll. David Price, the biggest piece, was moved at last year’s trade deadline. The cost-cutting continued with Yunel Escobar (owed $13MM in 2015-16), Hanigan ($8MM in 2015-16), Zobrist ($7.5MM in 2015), and Joel Peralta ($2.5MM in 2015) all traded along with players like Rodriguez, Joyce, Jeremy Hellickson and Cesar Ramos who were becoming more expensive in arbitration. The Rays took a chance with an “unsustainable“ payroll in 2014 in order to take a shot at a World Series, and their big bet simply didn’t pay off.
Zobrist’s defensive versatility and still-potent bat made him a 5.7 fWAR player in 2014 — a total topped by only 11 other players in baseball. Given how 26 other teams outscored the Rays last season, losing Zobrist and Joyce’s lefty power will only make it harder for Tampa Bay to score runs. While Wil Myers had a major sophomore slump in the wake of his 2013 AL Rookie Of The Year campaign, trading him is a bold move. Clearly the Rays weren’t totally sold on Myers’ potential, yet given his high ceiling and Tampa’s need for young talent, Myers could eventually turn into a regret if he breaks out in San Diego.
Perhaps the bigger issue for the Rays is that in order to get into contention, they’ll need several players coming off tough seasons to get back on track. Evan Longoria tops the list, as despite playing in all 162 games and posting 23 homers and 83 runs, he contributed only a .253/.320/.404 slash line and a career-low 107 wRC+. Longoria already carries an outsized role with the Rays given his big contract and face-of-the-franchise status, and the team is now counting on him to an even greater extent to make up for the lineup’s lack of pop. If Longoria’s 2014 season was the first hint of a decline phase, his contract could quickly become an albatross for the low-revenue Rays.
Tampa Bay also needs rebound years from James Loney and Grant Balfour, both of whom disappointed after signing expensive multi-year contracts last winter. Loney produced only 0.9 fWAR over 651 PA, while Balfour struggled to a 4.91 ERA and 5.9 BB/9 and lost the closer’s job in June. Both players could also be midseason trade candidates if they return to form and the Rays are out of the race.
Deal Of Note
Of all the Rays’ trades this winter, the Joyce-for-Kevin Jepsen swap was the only one that saw Tampa receive only Major League talent back in return. Jepsen enjoyed the best season of his seven-year career in 2014, posting a 2.63 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 3.26 K/BB rate over 65 bullpen innings for the Angels. The right-hander has been a solid relief option in two of the last three years (injuries hampered him in 2013) and at worst, he projects to be a good setup option for the Rays.
I say “at worst” since the back of the Tampa Bay bullpen is somewhat in flux right now, as Jake McGee is sidelined until late April due to elbow surgery. McGee will certainly figure to get first crack at the closer’s job when he’s healthy given his outstanding 2014 season, and until he’s back, Brad Boxberger is likely the top choice as interim closer. If McGee has a setback or Boxberger regresses a bit from his own excellent 2014 form (he allowed a .227 BABIP last year), then Jepsen figures to get the call ahead of Balfour, though Jepsen only has five career MLB saves. All in all, a solid reliever like Jepsen was a good return for the Rays in exchange for a somewhat limited player in Joyce, who brings little defensive value and struggles against southpaws.
Taken as a whole, Silverman’s very busy offseason almost breaks down as a series of one-for-one replacements. The Rays have a new veteran middle infielder (Cabrera for Escobar), a slugging lefty bat (Jaso for Joyce), a solid righty reliever (Jepsen for Peralta), a touted young outfielder (Souza for Myers) and a defensive ace at catcher (Rivera for Hanigan/Molina). The irreplaceable piece is Zobrist, of course, though if Franklin or Forsythe step up at second and Longoria and Loney get hitting again, that will help fill the void.
Another internal replacement should come in the form of Matt Moore, who is slated to return from Tommy John surgery in late June or early July. With Moore on the way back, the Rays felt comfortable in dealing Hellickson and using Nathan Karns, Burch Smith or Alex Colome as the fifth starter until Moore is healthy.
If Moore is able to rediscover his 2013 form, that will only help a Tampa rotation that could already be the best in the AL East. Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi comprise the Rays’ top four, and given the limitations on offense, Tampa Bay will need this quartet to live up to their considerable potential to give them a fighting chance of getting back to the postseason.
A lot of things went wrong for the Rays in 2014, but despite their many changes, it wouldn’t be a total shock if they got back over the .500 mark. There are just so many questions up and down the roster about young players and possibly-declining veterans, however, that it seems 2015 may be more about rebuilding than the beginning of a new stretch of winning Rays baseball.
Photo courtesy of Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports Images
The Rays have agreed to a two-year, minor league deal with lefty Jonny Venters, according to Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune (via Twitter). Venters had spent all of his professional career with the Braves.
Once one of the game’s most-feared southpaw relievers, Venters has seen his career derailed by elbow troubles in recent years. He underwent his third Tommy John procedure in September, and will now look to accomplish the rare feat of returning to being a productive big leaguer after a trio of UCL replacements.
Soon to turn 30, Venters has not pitched in the big leagues since 2012. After a pair of sub-2.00 ERA, 80+ inning campaigns to start his career, Venters took a slight step back that year (3.22 ERA in 58 2/3 frames) while battling through elbow pain that sent him to the DL. He still seemed poised to continue the excellent start to his career, which included better than ten strikeouts per nine innings and nearly a 70% groundball rate, but went under the knife in March of 2013 and has not yet made it all the way back.
With a two-year minor league pact, Tampa will presumably look to provide Venters with rehab resources and bring him back slowly. It would be an achievement at this point for him to even get back to throwing at full effort, let alone to contribute to a big league pen, but there is at least some precedent in the form of pitchers like Jason Isringhausen.
Drew Smyly has been slowed by shoulder tendinitis this spring and may not be ready for the start of the regular season, but Rays manager Kevin Cash isn’t about to panic, Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune writes. Meanwhile, Nathan Karns, Burch Smith and Matt Andriese, who began camp competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, could be pitching for a second spot, if Smyly isn’t ready.
Here’s more from the AL East:
- Orioles GM Dan Duquette sent his best starting pitching prospect, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, to the Red Sox in order to land Andrew Miller last season. If he had his druthers, that’s not neccessarily the deal he would have made, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald writes. “I offered about 50 other pitchers before him,” said Duquette. “It was required that we give up Rodriguez for Andrew Miller. We had to take a shot.” O’s manager Buck Showalter thought the deal was worth it for both teams, but Silverman wonders if Rodriguez could prove to be the next great ace in Boston.
- CC Sabathia threw live batting practice this morning and remains on track in his recovery from right knee surgery, reports MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch. “I haven’t had a setback and I’ve been feeling so good,” Sabathia said. “I’ve been able to participate in every drill and haven’t had where I’ve needed a day [off]. I feel good about how we’re going and the pace that we’re moving at.” The Yankees left-hander could make his Grapefruit League debut next week, if an upcoming two-inning simulated game goes well.
- The Red Sox‘s decision to play Hanley Ramirez in left field is the biggest gamble a team is taking on a position switch, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
- The AL East is wide open for the taking by any of the five teams, not because of its strength but because of its mediocrity, opines CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam. “I never thought I’d say this,” one talent evaluator told McAdam, “but you could make the case that the AL East is the thinnest division in the game.“
Since taking over as the Rays‘ head of baseball operations, Matt Silverman has taken the somewhat unusual step of polling a small group of key players (including Evan Longoria and Alex Cobb) so that their voices can help inform his decision-making, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Silverman consulted with players about hiring new manager Kevin Cash, as well as on other moves. “It opened up conversations about their feelings not just on the manager position, but the organization and how it operates,” says Silverman. “And I believe those conversations led to some outcomes, and to better dialogue between the front office and the clubhouse. … There are certain things I learned that I wasn’t aware of, and wouldn’t have known, given my prior position [as team president].” Here’s more from the American League.
- Dayan Viciedo was taken aback by the White Sox‘ decision to release him, but he’s landed on his feet after signing a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays, the Associated Press reports. “I was slightly surprised because I thought I had an agreement in place to stay there, but I understand it’s a business,” Viciedo says. “You have good days, you have bad days. I took it in stride. I’m not upset. It kind of surprised me at first but everything had worked out and is OK.”
- Athletics manager Bob Melvin says outfielder Josh Reddick will be out for two weeks with a right oblique strain, MLB.com’s Jane Lee writes. Reddick will then have to take additional time to prepare to play, which means it’s questionable whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day. In the meantime, the Athletics will take looks at a variety of players in right field, including Rule 5 pick Mark Canha and newly-claimed (or, rather, re-claimed) former Red Sox farmhand Alex Hassan. Billy Burns, Jason Pridie, top prospect Matt Olson and perhaps even first baseman Ike Davis will also get looks. From the outside, though, the Athletics’ opportunity to get a better sense of what they have in Canha, who hit an impressive .303/.384/.505 with Triple-A New Orleans in the Marlins’ system last year, looks like the clearest silver lining to Reddick’s injury.
The 32-year-old Miller, a former eighth-round pick of the Rockies (2004), has appeared in the Majors in each of the past four seasons. Most of that work came in a 48 2/3 inning stint with the 2012 A’s, when he worked to a 2.59 ERA with 44 strikeouts against 27 walks. In parts of five seasons at the big league level, Miller has a 3.48 ERA with 7.9 K/9, 5.2 BB/9 and a 33.5 percent ground-ball rate. He’s averaged just under 93 mph on his fastball in his 67 1/3 Major League innings and has a solid 3.78 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 429 Triple-A innings. Miller is a client of agent Joshua Kusnick, as can be seen in MLBTR’s Agency Database.