The Rays have begun the offseason facing the potential exits of three notable free agents in catcher Travis d’Arnaud, outfielder Avisail Garcia and infielder/outfielder Eric Sogard. The low-budget club’s interested in re-signing all three, though any new deal would have to come at the right price, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Among the trio, it may be d’Arnaud who’s in line for the richest contract. A somewhat lucrative offseason payday for d’Arnaud looked highly unlikely when the Rays acquired him from the Dodgers for $100K back on May 10. D’Arnaud was then coming off a fleeting run in Los Angeles, which claimed the former star prospect off waivers from the Mets after a disappointing, injury-filled tenure in New York.
Once d’Arnaud got to Tampa Bay, not only did his health hold up, but he gave the team a solution behind the plate. The 30-year-old slashed a respectable .263/.323/.459 with 16 home runs in 365 plate appearances as a Ray. He also threw out 28 percent of would-be base stealers, though Baseball Prospectus graded d’Arnaud as a below-average overall defender. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see d’Arnaud land a two-year contract worth at least $5MM per season in the coming weeks, especially considering he’s among the most impressive choices in a so-so class of free-agent catchers.
Aside from d’Arnaud, Jason Castro and Robinson Chirinos, it’s slim pickings beyond the undisputed top backstop available, Yasmani Grandal. The lack of appealing and affordable alternatives could make it all the more important for the Rays to re-sign d’Arnaud, as Mike Zunino may be a non-tender candidate after a horrid year and Michael Perez has just 135 big league plate trips to his name.
Meanwhile, even if they lose Garcia, the Rays look to be in better shape in the corner outfield than they are at catcher. Austin Meadows and Tommy Pham should make for a more-than-capable top two in 2020, though Garcia looks like a solid option in his own right. After signing a $3.5MM guarantee with the Rays last winter, the former White Sox outfielder batted .282/.332/.464 with 20 homers and 10 steals across 530 PA. Along the way, the 28-year-old, righty-hitting Garcia held his own against both same-handed and southpaw pitchers alike. He was also something of a Statcast favorite, evidenced in part by a .344 expected weighted on-base average (compared to a .338 real wOBA) and a sprint speed that surprisingly ranked in the majors’ 90th percentile. The big-bodied Garcia’s athleticism helped him log quality production in the outfield, where he accounted for a pair of Defensive Runs Saved, a 2.2 Ultimate Zone Rating and three Outs Above Average.
Despite his strong work as a Ray, Garcia’s likely to face skepticism on the market from at least some teams. Age and 2019 performance are on Garcia’s side, but he hasn’t been particularly steady during his career. The White Sox, despite obvious holes in their outfield, non-tendered Garcia just a year ago. It was an understandable decision at the time, as Garcia was then coming off a replacement-level 2018 showing. Furthermore, in five of his seven extensive major league seasons, Garcia has racked up less than 1.0 fWAR. On the other hand, he was a 4.2-fWAR player in 2017. And while this year’s 1.8 doesn’t look spectacular, it’s satisfactory in light of the relatively low-cost deal Tampa Bay gave him.
Garcia’s now a member of a free-agent corner outfield class that also features the likes of Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna, Corey Dickerson, Yasiel Puig and Brett Gardner. Sogard, meantime, is part of a jam-packed group of noteworthy unsigned players at the keystone, but he quietly enjoyed one of the best 2019 seasons of any free-agent second basemen. The 33-year-old easily recorded a career campaign, hitting .290/.353/.457 with 13 HRs and 2.6 fWAR over 442 PA. While Sogard did see his offensive production dive after the Rays acquired him from the Blue Jays in July (.839 OPS versus .732), he was still an adequate option in Tampa Bay.
Sogard’s just an offseason removed from having to settle for a minor league contract, but he just made a legitimate case for a guaranteed deal this winter. Whether the Rays will be the team that gives Sogard his next pact is up in the air, though. Brandon Lowe’s sure to start at second for the club in 2020 after an excellent but injury-plagued rookie season, but there could still be room for Sogard in a multi-positional role.