The 2018 season was a banner one in Tampa, where the resurgent Rays will miss the playoffs but have assembled perhaps the most enviable collection of young talent in the sport. As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times details, the once talent-parched organization now faces a new, far more alluring problem: how to keep its young core intact. As Topkin notes, the Rays are set to face a challenging 40-man roster crunch, what with just two set-to-be free agents in Carlos Gomez and Sergio Romo, and only one player (Kevin Kiermaier) with contract in hand for the upcoming season. In addition to seven arbitration-eligible players for 2019, the Rays will return a staggering 27 pre-arb contributors at the MLB level, and will still need to protect top prospects Jesus Sanchez and Brent Honeywell, as well as make room for the oft-injured but highly touted Jose De Leon. With so many capable performers, and more on the way (Topkin lists five other valued prospects who will require Rule-5 shelter this offseason, only one of whom rates in the system’s top 20 in FanGraphs’ latest update), the 40-man issue figures to reprise itself in offseasons to come. It’ll surely be a winter to watch in central Florida: the Rays, as a franchise, seem as well-positioned as any in recent memory to make multiple star-laden upgrades via trade.
In other news from the East . . .
- Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun ruminates on depressing times in the Charm City, where the Orioles, on the verge of wrapping up the franchise’s worst season since the club moved East in 1954, face questions nearly everywhere on the diamond in 2019. After a mid-season firesale that sent would-be ’19 fixtures Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day elsewhere, Meoli posits that the club is likely finished with the jettisoning of its regulars this offseason, owing simply to the group’s poor performance and bloated contracts. Non-performers Chris Davis and Alex Cobb are owed a combined $228MM over the remainder of their deals, and Andrew Cashner and Mark Trumbo, ill-fated signings from the outset, aren’t likely to fetch anything of value this offseason. The rest of the group, highlighted by Dylan Bundy and Trey Mancini, entered with promise but sputtered severely this season, combining for just 0.6 fWAR, though Bundy’s 102 xFIP- and solid K/BB ratio does offer some hope. Perhaps Mychal Givens, the top performer on an otherwise putrid Oriole staff this season, could bring back a decent return, but it appears the Orioles will rely on a burgeoning farm to fill most of their needs this offseason.
- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, a polarizing figure long before his managerial debut this season, faces questions surrounding whether or not prospective free agents will play for him, writes Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Kapler’s innovative style – which attaches the shortest of leashes to most starting pitchers, relies heavily on day-to-day matchups, and is subject to change at the most unconventional of times (Kapler removed Scott Kingery for a pinch-runner in the second inning of a mid-September clash against the Marlins) – has drawn the ire of players and fans alike, but the headstrong skipper isn’t concerned that courted stars will be turned off: “I think free agents want to be treated with respect, I think they want to be shot straight, I think they want to know where they stand, and I think they want a voice,” he said. “That’s something that we do better than any other team, and I think that will come through loud and clear during the process.”
- Luis Severino will not be taking the ball for the Yankees on Sunday, reports Bryan Hoch of mlb.com. The Bombers are still undecided as to who will start Wednesday’s Wild Card game against the A’s, but today’s decision seems to hint strongly at the most likely candidate.