The recent string of subtractions by the Rays — Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza have all been moved in the past five days — has fans of other clubs hoping for a full rebuild and, thus, trades of Chris Archer, Alex Colome and/or Kevin Kiermaier. However, Tampa Bay GM Erik Neander and senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom both strongly suggested that such moves are unlikely tonight in separate interviews. (Neander spoke with with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, while Bloom’s chat with Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM can be heard on Twitter.)
Tonight’s trade of Souza was a tough one for Rays faithful to absorb, given the amount of payroll that previous moves involving Evan Longoria, Odorizzi and Dickerson had already saved and given Souza’s modest $3.55MM salary. However, Bloom suggested that the trade of Souza had far less to do with cutting payroll than it did with the fact that the D-backs aggressively pursued Souza as a fallback after losing J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox. (Tampa Bay received MLB-ready left-hander Anthony Banda, second base prospect Nick Solak and a pair of players to be named later who, according to ESPN’s Keith Law, are “more than just throw-ins,” though their identities are not yet known.)
“We feel this move, just the way the Diamondbacks came after Steven, that it was something that we couldn’t walk past,” said Bloom before going on to suggest that the Rays may now add some pieces. “And knowing that it does take a chunk out of our lineup, we still feel good about the talent we have on hand. … We want to spend the rest of the spring looking for ways we can support this group, knowing that we’re going to be young, we’re going to be interesting and we want to give this group as much of a chance as possible to succeed.”
Neander had similar sentiments, calling the Souza trade a “pure baseball decision” based on a package “we felt we couldn’t pass up.” Bloom, in his interview, repeatedly speaks about supporting the group of core pieces already on the roster (e.g. Archer, Kiermaier) as well as the emerging wave of talent that is on the cusp of the Majors. (While Bloom doesn’t specify names, the Rays could very well see right-hander Brent Honeywell join a largely homegrown rotation this season and also have position players such as Willy Adames and Jake Bauers on the cusp of the Majors.) To that end, he flatly denied any plans of moving further core pieces.
“As far as Archer and Colome, that’s not our plan,” said Bloom when asked by Bowden about that pair specifically. “…We recognize, again, that we’re in a little bit of a transition phase as we focus on building up that young core, but we don’t want to ignore that we have a pretty dynamic group.” Neander’s message was the same.
“I would say extremely unlikely,” said the GM when asked about further tearing down the club (via Topkin). “Our focus at this point is we’d like to add a little bit. We’re not looking to pull this thing back.”
Neander went on to state that there’s “work to do” when it comes to finding a replacement from Souza, which seems likely to come from outside the organization. As Topkin points out, the Rays currently project to have an all-left-handed-hitting outfield of Denard Span, Kiermaier and Mallex Smith. Generally speaking, the team has a fairly obvious need for right-handed offense after trading Longoria and Souza and, thus far, adding only C.J. Cron as a right-handed bat this offseason.
As always, there are multiple avenues for the Rays to explore when determining how to address that need. The free-agent market isn’t exactly teeming with options, though Carlos Gomez remains available and is still capable of holding down a regular role in the outfield. A roll of the dice on a veteran like Jose Bautista may not excite many fans, though it’d come at a minimal cost given his recent struggles. The trade market would present further options, with Milwaukee’s Domingo Santana standing out as a particularly logical name to pursue given Milwaukee’s outfield surplus and desire for controllable starters. (To be clear, all of those names are merely speculative to this point.)
More broadly, while neither Neander nor Bloom proclaimed themselves definitive contenders for the division, both expressed a belief that the Rays, with some (presumably modestly priced) additions around the periphery of the roster can be a largely competitive unit in 2018. Bloom acknowledged that the Rays aren’t yet among the “upper-echelon” teams in the American League but voiced a desire to get there and optimism about being able to do so with a number of the young pieces that’re already in the organization.
“With respect to the quality of our pitching and the quality of our defense, we’re going to be competitive,” Neander added.