MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams. Click here for the other entries in this series.
Despite making a number of additions prior to the July 31 trade deadline, the Rays faded down the stretch, falling short of both a wild card berth and even a winning record. The club now faces another offseason of adding low-cost pieces while facing hard decisions about trading pricier talent.
- Evan Longoria, 3B: $81MM through 2022 ($13MM club option for 2023, $5MM buyout)
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF: $47MM through 2022 ($13MM club option for 2023, $2.5MM buyout)
- Chris Archer, SP: $13.75MM through 2019 (plus club options for 2020-21)
- Wilson Ramos, C: $10.5MM through 2018
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Shawn Tolleson (5.109) – $1.0MM
- Adeiny Hechavarria (5.060) – $5.0MM
- Dan Jennings (4.171) – $2.5MM
- Brad Boxberger (4.109) – $1.9MM
- Corey Dickerson (4.101) – $6.4MM
- Brad Miller (4.094) – $4.4MM
- Xavier Cedeno (4.060) – $1.4MM
- Jake Odorizzi (4.042) – $6.5MM
- Jesus Sucre (3.137) – $1.3MM
- Chase Whitley (3.123) – $1.0MM
- Alex Colome (3.118) – $5.5MM
- Steven Souza (3.072) – $3.6MM
- Matt Duffy (3.059) – $900K
- Non-tender candidates: Sucre, Tolleson
- Nathan Eovaldi, SP: $2MM club option for 2018
- Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek, Peter Bourjos, Trevor Plouffe, Colby Rasmus
The Rays haven’t had a winning record since 2013, but with Evan Longoria, Chris Archer and (most recently) Kevin Kiermaier locked up on long-term deals, it seems as though the club will continue to try and contend rather than explore a full teardown and rebuilding process. That being said, Tampa could very well duplicate its approach from last offseason — aiming to add, but prepared to shift course and start selling if an offer too good to refuse comes in for Archer or Jake Odorizzi.
These are the financial realities for the small-market Rays, whose quest for a new ballpark isn’t any closer to resolution, and whose revenues took an extra hit in 2017. While owner Stuart Sternberg recently stated that a total payroll slash wasn’t likely to happen, “the first move is down” for the 2018 payroll.
Salaries for Longoria, Archer, Kiermaier and Wilson Ramos total $36.25MM next year, while the Rays are projected to spend $41.4MM on a large arbitration class of 13 players. Even with a couple of obvious non-tenders, those modest savings would be wiped out by Nathan Eovaldi’s $2MM club option, which is likely to be picked up as he makes his return from Tommy John surgery. That works out to a payroll north of the $77MM mark, which is already higher than any Opening Day payroll figure in franchise history.
The most obvious candidates for trades are the more expensive names within that arbitration class — Odorizzi ($6.5MM), Corey Dickerson ($6.4MM), Alex Colome ($5.5MM), Adeiny Hechavarria ($5MM) and Brad Miller ($4.4MM). It would be surprising if all five of these players were wearing Rays uniforms in April, though they also carry their share of warning signs for potential trade suitors. Hechavarria has an excellent glove but is not a very productive hitter; Colome saw his strikeout rate drop and both his contact and hard-hit ball rates rise; injuries contributed to Odorizzi and Miller delivering replacement-level seasons; and Dickerson’s bat went ice-cold after a strong first half.
Odorizzi’s down year is the biggest concern, as it both lowered his asking price in trades and also gave the Rays a question mark heading into next year’s rotation if the righty is kept. Alex Cobb is a virtual certainty to leave in free agency, whether or not the team issues him a qualifying offer. (There are indications that’s the intention, though putting $17.4MM on the table for one year of Cobb may just be too great a risk, particularly after Jeremy Hellickson took the Phillies’ QO last year.) Cobb’s departure would increase Odorizzi’s importance in next year’s rotation. The starting four looks to be Archer, Odorizzi, Blake Snell and Jake Faria, with Matt Andriese, Eovaldi and top prospect Brent Honeywell all in the mix for the fifth starter’s job. Jose De Leon and Taylor Guerrieri will be at Triple-A but are coming off injury-plagued 2017 seasons, so Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos are currently the top minor league depth options.
There’s enough depth here that the Rays could feel comfortable about their pitching even in the event of an Odorizzi trade, provided they get some injury luck and Snell/Faria both continue to develop as reliable-or-better big league arms. Andriese could also be shopped, though a hip injury limited him to 86 IP last year, and the Rays likely aren’t keen on selling low on a pitcher with four years of team control.
The biggest move, of course, would be an Archer trade. The ace right-hander also comes with up to four years of his control via the club options on his team-friendly contract, and he only reinforced his credentials by delivering more strong numbers in 2017. Teams like the Cubs, Dodgers, Braves and Astros have all been linked to Archer in the past and they (and others) are sure to check in with Tampa’s front office about the righty’s availability. It would take a major blockbuster of a trade package to actually trigger a deal, however, as Archer’s contract makes him particularly important to a low-payroll club like the Rays.
Colome’s asking price wouldn’t be nearly as hefty after a tepid 2017, though his experience as a closer, past dominance, and remaining control would still hold appeal to other organizations. That said, he is another pitcher the Rays would likely prefer to keep since Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo and Steve Cishek could all leave the bullpen in free agency. The Rays don’t have a clear heir apparent at closer if Colome is dealt, unless they feel Brad Boxberger is ready to reclaim his old job after two injury-plagued seasons. After Colome and Boxberger, Tampa Bay probably has enough young arms on hand that they won’t make any hugely notable moves to their relief corps, aside from adding a left-handed pitcher to the mix. Xavier Cedeno missed much of 2017 with forearm problems and advanced metrics didn’t love Dan Jennings’ work, so the Rays could use some extra southpaw depth in the pen.
Consistent offense continued to be a problem for the Rays in 2017, though full seasons from Ramos and Kiermaier should provide an internal boost to the lineup. Logan Morrison’s one-year, $2.5MM deal ended up being a terrific bargain for the Rays, but with Morrison’s 38-homer season likely set to land him a multi-year contract elsewhere, the Rays now have a big hole to fill at first base.
This position could also be addressed from within, should Tampa feel that prospect Jake Bauers is ready for the big leagues. Entrusting a starting role to a rookie who only posted good but not great (.263/.368/.412 over 575 PA) Triple-A numbers would be a bold move, so the Rays could sign a veteran right-handed hitting first baseman like Mike Napoli, Danny Valencia or perhaps even Jose Bautista as a platoon partner.
Alternatively, the Rays could shift Miller back to first base if they feel Bauers needs more seasoning. All of Miller’s 303 career innings as a first baseman came in 2016, when he also enjoyed a breakout year at the plate, and it’s at least possible that playing a less-demanding defensive position contributed to Miller’s performance. Metrics such as UZR/150 and Defensive Runs Saved indicated that Miller was also a below-average defender at first base, though that would be less of a problem than his subpar glovework at second base.
Then again, it’s a question as to whether Miller is in the Rays’ plans at all given his -0.1 fWAR performance last season. A non-tender doesn’t seem likely (it would be hard for the offense-starved Rays to walk away from a player who hit 30 homers in 2016) but Miller is likely to be shopped this winter thanks to his significant arbitration number.
The Rays could again use Miller at second base if they can live with his defense, though options abound in the middle infield. Unlike with Miller, the Rays know what they’re getting in Hechavarria, whose $5MM projected salary comes with the promise of an outstanding shortstop glove. Retaining Hechavarria is probably the safest bet since star prospect Willy Adames has yet to debut in the majors and former shortstop-of-the-future Matt Duffy is a wild card after missing all of 2017 due to complications from heel surgery. Adames and Duffy could factor into the second base picture, however, if Miller is traded or shifted to first.
Dickerson has provided the Rays with capable defense over his two seasons with the team, though he’ll need enough DH time that left field looks like an area of need. Mallex Smith will return as the fourth outfielder but doesn’t have the bat for such a significant role, so Tampa will likely explore veteran outfielders that could be had on a short-term deal, akin to the one-year, $5MM contract with Colby Rasmus from last winter. If the Rays were willing to spend a bit more, a versatile player like Howie Kendrick could be a nice fit as a right-handed bat capable of spot duty in left field, second and first base.
Speaking of versatility, it’s worth noting that the Rays have a “sincere” interest in Shohei Otani, which perhaps implies more than the standard due diligence that every team is undoubtedly doing on the 23-year-old two-way star. Otani’s apparent disinterest in immediate salary riches helps the Rays’ case, though they almost surely wouldn’t be able to offer him a truly massive extension after he has spent enough time in North America for such a deal to pass muster with the league. It can’t be understated what a franchise-altering addition Otani would be, though it’s safe to call the Rays a longshot suitor at best.
After four straight losing seasons, the Rays are still looking for those missing pieces to their roster puzzle, as well as hoping that they can finally get a year where all their key players are both healthy and productive at the same time. The emergence of players like Snell, Faria, Duffy, Honeywell, Adames and Bauers as productive regulars would be an enormous boost for a Rays team that relies on young talent, though some type of proven veteran additions will be necessary to get the club back over the .500 mark.