The reigning American League champions will deploy their usual strategy of tight payroll management and canny roster maneuvering as they look to take the final step of capturing a World Series.
- Blake Snell, SP: $39MM through 2023
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF: $26MM through 2022 (includes $2.5MM buyout of $13MM club option for 2023)
- Brandon Lowe, 2B/OF: $21.5MM through 2024 (includes $1MM buyout of $10.5MM club option for 2025; Rays also hold $11.5MM club option for 2026)
- Yoshi Tsutsugo, 3B/OF: $7MM through 2021
Note on arb-eligible players: this year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.
- Jose Alvarado – $1.0MM
- Yonny Chirinos – $1.6MM
- Ji-Man Choi – $1.6MM
- Tyler Glasnow – $3.2MM
- Manuel Margot – $2.9MM
- Joey Wendle – $1.6MM
- Ryan Yarbrough – $2.2MM
- Non-tender candidates: Chirinos, Alvarado
- Charlie Morton, SP: $15MM club option (declined)
- Mike Zunino, C: $4.5MM club option (declined)
- Morton, Zunino, Hunter Renfroe, Aaron Loup, Chaz Roe, Andrew Kittredge, Oliver Drake, Kevan Smith
It’s possible that in a normal 2020 season with fans in the stands and some extra postseason revenue in hand, the Rays might have taken the plunge in exercising Charlie Morton’s $15MM option. Or, it’s just as possible that the Rays would have declined the option anyway, since trying to maximize value on any available payroll space is just how the team does business. This includes even tough decisions like parting ways with Morton, who delivered nothing but good results over his two years in Tampa Bay.
Given the Rays’ 226-158 record over the last three seasons and the fact that they finished just two games shy of a World Series title, it’s hard to argue with the club’s methods. It also makes their offseason moves both somewhat easy and somewhat difficult to predict. Obviously we can rule out any big free agent signings or acquisitions of high-salaried stars (without another big contract going back in return), yet pretty much anything else besides a Wander Franco trade is conceivably on the table.
For instance, it isn’t surprising that the Rays are open to discussing Blake Snell in trade talks. Should any future reports indicate that Tampa Bay is floating other guaranteed-salary players like Kevin Kiermaier, Yoshi Tsutsugo, or even Brandon Lowe in discussions with other teams, that also shouldn’t raise eyebrows. It remains to be seen if Snell or any of this group will actually be dealt, but GM Erik Neander has shown he is willing to deal even premium players for less-heralded talents who are much less expensive but end up being comparably productive.
Let’s begin with the rotation, which is the most natural area of need with Morton gone. The Rays had hopes of bringing Morton back on a lesser salary, but the veteran found another $15MM in the form of a one-year deal with the Braves. That leaves Snell, Ryan Yarbrough, Tyler Glasnow, and likely Josh Fleming as the projected top four starters, with a host of candidates for the fifth spot. Prospects Shane McClanahan and Joe Ryan are on the cusp of big league action — McClanahan debuted in this year’s postseason — and the hope is that former top prospect Brent Honeywell Jr. might finally be healthy after three years lost to major injuries. Brendan McKay isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, but is penciled in to pitch at some point in 2021.
While the Rays have shown they’re comfortable putting young starters into high-leverage positions, it’s probably safe to assume the team will look to add at least one veteran to the mix. We can likely rule out any eight-figure average annual salaries for that next veteran — Morton’s two-year, $30MM deal was a surprise — but several interesting names could emerge as candidates for lower-cost one-year deals. These free agents could be attracted at the idea of pitching for a contender.
Tampa figures to look into acquiring a veteran to the relief corps as well, probably a left-hander since the club’s current bullpen mix tilts to the right. Jose Alvarado is a potential non-tender and Aaron Loup is a free agent, so there would certainly be room for more southpaw help. But, the Rays will likely continue to rely on their farm system and their ever-active shuttle of fresh Triple-A pitcher to fill out their pitching staff, whether it’s starters, relievers, or openers.
Trading from this minor league depth is a definite possibility, if perhaps a less of an option for the Rays this offseason than in past winters. Between all of their pitching injuries last season and Morton’s departure, the Rays might prefer to keep most of their young arms in the fold rather than openly offer them as trade chips, though naturally that wouldn’t stop Neander and company from moving a pitching prospect if the right offer emerged.
In what has become almost an annual offseason tradition, the Rays will again be looking for catching help. Mike Zunino’s option was declined, Michael Perez was claimed by the Pirates, and Kevan Smith elected free agency, leaving Tampa Bay without a single catcher who appeared in a game for them in 2020. It’s possible Zunino could be re-signed at a lower cost than his $4.5MM option, though even if he is brought back, the Rays would be in some sense settling for a catcher who offers quality defense but whose offense has cratered over the last two seasons. Prospect Ronaldo Hernandez could get a look but is more likely to be broken in as a backup rather than thrust into a regular role.
There aren’t many truly expensive options within the free agent catching market, so the Rays could make a signing and land another one-year stopgap behind the plate. If Tampa Bay did decide to trade from its prospect depth, it could be argued that they should be using that trade capital to find a more longer-term catching option. There aren’t many teams with a surplus of young catching, of course, but the Padres or Dodgers seem like speculative trade partners. Since the Cubs seem open to trading any veteran making a significant salary, Willson Contreras would also seem like a trade target, though Contreras’ projected $5.6MM arbitration salary might give the Rays some pause.
Elsewhere around the diamond, Randy Arozarena’s status is up in the air given his recent detainment due to an alleged domestic incident. Details are still scarce about the exact nature of the incident or what charges Arozarena may face, though legal issues aside, Arozarena may still face a possible suspension under the MLB/MLBPA joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy.
The outfield was probably already going to be a target area since Hunter Renfroe was let go, but if Arozarena could also miss time, the Rays would have a starting outfield of Manuel Margot, Kiermaier, and Austin Meadows, with Brett Phillips as a potential fourth outfielder, and Tsutsugo, Lowe, and Mike Brosseau all getting some time in the corner spots. (Prospect Josh Lowe, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2016, could also make his MLB debut in 2021.) A right-handed hitting outfielder would be a solid addition to that collection, and Arozarena’s situation could determine whether that outfielder is more of a part-timer, or a potential everyday type.
The Rays are pretty set around the infield, but it would fit Neander’s M.O. to trade any of these players if a (more) inexpensive upgrade could be found elsewhere. Depending on how the Rays feel about Nate Lowe’s readiness as a regular, it’s possible Ji-Man Choi could be replaced as the primary left-handed first base option, though Choi’s $1.6MM projected arbitration number isn’t onerous even for Tampa.
With so many controllable infielders already on hand, the Rays might feel more comfortable about moving some infield prospects in trade talks. Franco obviously isn’t going anywhere, but the likes of Vidal Brujan, Taylor Walls, or Xavier Edwards would definitely get the attention of other clubs.
Franco’s development looms over the Rays’ infield plans, and while he doesn’t even turn 20 years old until March and has yet to play above high-A ball, it wouldn’t be a shock if he made his big league debut before 2021 was over. Rays coaches and staffers did get a chance to evaluate Franco against higher-level talent at the team’s alternate training site over the summer, and Tampa has been aggressive in promoting its top prospects in the past. This all said, the smart money is on Willy Adames continuing to hold down the fort at shortstop while Franco gets another year of development under his belt.
Pre-pandemic, Tampa Bay had a projected Opening Day payroll of just under $72.5MM. Counting guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration salaries, and minimum salaries for pre-arb players, the Rays have approximately $63.68MM committed to their 2021 payroll. Considering revenue losses, getting back up to even the $70MM threshold seems like a stretch, leaving Neander (as usual) without many extra funds on hand this winter. The Rays front office’s ability to thrive within limited financial parameters will again be tested, but with much of a pennant-winning core already in place, Tampa could be just a piece or two away.
Well wrote piece
Unlike your comment.
I know it is a non starter to trade in the division, but Snell to the Yankees? What does it take . Sanchez, Frazier and then some prospects. Who are the top 3-5 yankeee minor leaguers that smart front offices would demand be included?
Yankee fans continue to run out Sanchez, Frazier, plus one in trade scenarios lol.
Psst: no one wants them. Trades are not about dumping slop for another team’s quality.
Lots of teams want Frazier. Nobody wants Sanchez.
Unless you’re the Dodgers. We did it thrice to them but they did get Betts out of it so the last time paid off.
Meh LA hasn’t had a losing season since taking any of your “slop”
Think what you really mean is the Dodgers steals all stars from Boston every time Boston doesn’t want to pay a bad contract… And your cheapness just won the Dodgers the World Series
Don’t think they care what you think
For the Rays to deal Snell to anyone this offseason the offer has to be very good (at least 1 good young SP has to be in the offer + possibly a young catcher) & address a long term position need. I see a trade next offseason of Snell with some injured pitchers healthy & their pitching prospects another year along.
This makes a lot of sense. Well said
Sanchez & Frazier both now in arbitration will cost more than Snell after 2-3 years. If the Rays are trading Snell to tamp down payroll, that doesn’t get it done.
It would be doing Snell a favor to trade him to the yanks since it would force him to shave
He looks bad now, but not sure if shaving makes it better or worse
(But I laughed at your comment)
It’s not that the rays don’t have the funds to spend 70/80/90 million in payroll or more – it’s their organizational strategy to not do so. Morton simply wasn’t worth 15 million to them or 20% of their total payroll. So they maximized value and let him go. They’ll do the same w snell this offseason – take much less than everyone expects and still put a competitive team on the field next year.
Best ran organization in baseball !
Giants have money to spend, now and more next year. With Posey returning they can wait on Bailey and move Bart. Add a starter like Snell and a free agent closer (B. Hand) and that lineup looks playoff competitive to me.
Dodgers get snell Ray to get starters 2 plus a catcher, any catcher not named Ruiz.. then some low-level players.
Snell would likely take Ruiz, if being realistic. Or a lot of extra talent around Austin Barnes
bot – Your last statement will be closely scrutinized this season. They set the bar quite high for themselves after getting to the world series this year so time will tell if they can achieve the same results by continually going with very inexpensive kids. I think the saving of $15 M on Morton might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back but we will see. Some of their people could have been playing over their heads and might come down to earth this year; so we will see.
Morton overall Ray’s stats are skewered by his outstanding 2019 stats. His fastball velocity definitely declined last season & his ERA did jump up as the result.
Right ! He was solid in postseason but mediocre in short reg season- that’s why they didn’t pick up his option. He put up a 3 era last season and he’s a Ray next year
Wonder if the SFG would give Bart for Snell?
I wouldn’t make that trade.
Thats a clown comment bro.
That would be good, but I don’t think the Giants are far enough along their rebuild to make such a splash despite finishing .500 last season. I’m thinking Padres, since they need another starter with Clevinger out and have 2 young catchers to back up Nola. The Rays could throw in a corner infielder as well since the Padres need a back up for Hosmer who can come off the bench to pinch hit. I don’t think Gore needs to be part of the deal since the Padres have some good pitching in their ranks. So it would be something like:
Padres acquire: Blake Snell, Ji-man Choi, Jose Alvarado
Rays acquire: Francisco Meija, Luis Patino (no. 3 prospect), Justin Lange (No. 12 prospect)
Old User Name
@Rbase.. as a Yankees fan I fully support Choi going far away from the ALE.
Hold on…another Padres trade rumor…..how many is that now supposedly for the team that has so many young assets that they just can’t wait to trade.
It’s AJ Preller. Moves are going to be made.
This trade is very bad.
Zunino put on a clinic on how to play the position of catcher in the 2020 playoffs. To me his defense is worth at least 3 million, anything offensive is just a bonus. There was one play he blocked a pitch in the dirt standing up? Ball took a high bounce in the dirt and bounced off his chest? Wonder if the Rays have any tricks up their sleeves for this off season?
You listen too much to Joe Buck and just because he fawned all over Zunino, doesn’t make him worth fools gold!
This. As a rays fan it’s been hard to watch them have a hole in the lineup from catchers since….forever. Exception: Travis d. If they kept him for 2020, who knows what would have happened. At some point the Rays gotta score runs, too. If Cash had any confidence in the offense in Game 6 (or the previous 90 games in 2020), he lets Snell face Mookie at least. Without that confidence, he can’t let LA score any more runs when they are already trailing 2-1. [read: this is about Rays offensive woes generally, and especially catcher, not about the Cash decision.]
Mark might have mentioned that without any Revenue Sharing next year (which I believe has been decided), the Rays really DON’T have the funds. This isn’t like previous cries of poverty that owner Stuie used to moan, which became nauseating and ultimately contributed to the franchise’s failure to thrive.
In previous years, no one believed Stuie and with good reason; he was lying (he actually claimed he lost money one year; guys like Maury Brown proved how bizarre of a claim that was). And his BIG offer of 125M toward a new stadium was downright insulting.
So unless Stuie wants to put his big boy pants on and take some losses (definite in 2020, probable in 2021) , expect some cost cutting. Their system can take some of the losses, but not all.
And the Yanks aren’t exactly going to stand still; neither will the Sox and Jays.
Funny how Stu isn’t one of the poorest MLB owners but one of the more richer owners, but still decides not to spend any money.
And people say Nutting is bad, and rightfully so, but the Pirates are awful and don’t really need to spend a lot now. Rays are a great team but still don’t spend.
For some owners owning an MLB franchise is an expensive hobby. Other ownerships operate like it’s a business. Depending on how many people (stockholders) there are in a given franchise makes a lot of difference in how they operate. We,the fans, have our expendable income and our fanbase loyalty to the teams. It’s so easy to look at what’s in the best interest in a team when we’re imagining it with other people’s money.
So caring enough about your team to put together an organization that wins on a budget is worse than what the Pirates do…which is just throw darts at a board, also without spending money
Hey !heart sports…….That can’t buy a win team…you know the Yankees have made the playoffs in every year since 1995 with the exception of 2008….exactly which team matches that…..agree they haven’t won the WS since 2009, but to say what you say sounds a bit moronic!
2008 and 2013 and 2014 and 2016.
Rays should trade for Contreras or S. Perez a package of Manuel Margot, Brent Honeywell to either team. Maybe for CHC Margot, Honeywell, Tsutsugo for Contreras and Alec Mills. And for Perez maybe Margot, Josh Lowe, Honeywell for Perez and Keller.
Contreras or Perez too expensive for Rays. Snell for Bart rids TB of salary and gets cheap MLB ready C back. Both teams needs met.
Contreras is making 5.6 million, and is less than tsutsugo is making. So it would work out.
Except Tsutsugo looks like a “bad contract” , why would the CHC want him?
Everyone in KC laughs at that. I highly doubt Salvador Perez wears a different uniform in the near future.
Honeywell for Gallagher or Viloria possibly. Guy has had 3 major injuries in the last 3 years. His value is not even close to what it used to be. Margot is not worth the Royals time either. Plenty of Margot types in the Royals system.
Contreras for Snell straight-up. That package you floated would get you Caratini.
Wouldn’t come close to getting Snell. Bart & one other prospect would though.
Nobody would want Margot’s poor offense, not a smart base runner.
LOL. This might be the most clown take of an offer I’ve seen. Top 3 catcher in baseball PLUS a young SP making the minimum for a meh 4th OF, a post hype injury riddled minor leaguer and a bad contract? Gimme a break. Contreras alone for Vidal Brujan Shane Baz and Kevin Kiermaer is more like it.
I’ve never seen a bigger joke than that cubs-rays package. Why don’t you trade Yonny Chirinos and a bag of potato chips to the Angels for Trout with the halos eating 1/2 his contract while you’re at it.
Imagine if they moved and just spent $125m a year… with Glasnow not having a breaking pitch or good change up I look for them to sell high on him and get several prospects in return.
Should have kept Morton.
30 Parks:I agree. However, as a Braves fan, I’m glad that they didn’t.
Great signing & perfect fit for the Braves – agreed, Prospect. As a Sox fan, I’m glad he’s out of the AL East.
Yeah, I have to admit them declining Morton’s option left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth after rooting for them in the playoffs. They’re not going to be back in the World Series anytime soon if they continue to be so incredibly cheap.
He had 2 wins and a 4.79 ERA last year. How much are you going to miss him.
He’s good but how long will he last?
They need to leave Tampa. Move somewhere where fans will show up
That cancels Montreal…
Nashville is trying to get a team to come there.
They should move to Montreal
Just the opposite, they need to actually move TO Tampa and out of St pete
Agreed Mehcky. It worked with Al Lang in the minor leagues but not at the big league level. Move to Tampa and they will be fine.
You know the Rays desperately want to trade Kiermaier and his roughly .220/.290/.380 slash line the past three seasons, but there are no takers at that salary. He remains a very good defender, but no longer an elite defender. The anemic bat and declining defense in his 30s makes him unmovable in a trade, although perhaps they can attach him to a Blake Snell deal. The Mets can use a quality starting pitcher and a legit defender in CF and have enough offense where they could hide Kiermaier’s bat.
Kiermaier’s contract cost them Charlie Morton.
I think trading Snell is not a bad idea. Guy barely gets through 5 innings on average, hasn’t pitched 200 innings, is completely erratic and while he has the stuff he walks guys a lot. He basically had one good season. I’d honestly put more trust in Glasnow then I would in Snell. It’s the right time to trade Snell and get something back.
Glad to see Morton choose Atlanta. Tampa’s constant penny-pinching makes them impossible to root for.
Rays got what they needed from Morton and with vaccine on the way can’t wait to get back to stadium to watch meaningful late season quality games at fair ticket price with free parking for the family. Players over 30 all must go!
Rays should sign Kike Hernandez. He’d fit well in their system.
How many Lowe’s does one team need??
So confusing. They definitely have the Lowe down. Brandon, Nate and now Josh….
Declining Morton’s option will come back to haunt the Rays, even as they did it to cut costs. You’re a major league club. You’re already paying tons of guys healthy 8-figure salaries. Morton wasn’t gonna hamper you, just help and now you don’t have him and can’t replace him adequately with anything at your disposal, nor will anybody near his calibre sign with you, even for that kind of contract value, which was unexpected when the 2 year/$30M deal got made in the first place.
That Kiermaier contract has never made any sense to me in length, value, AAV, etc. I have just never understood it. And it’s hampered the Rays ever since. It was oddly timed, it was an odd total, it was an odd AAV and way way way too long. I mean it’s been great for Kiermaier. The guy basically won the lottery with that contract. But man from the Rays standpoint its been and continues to be a real head scratcher. I don’t think anybody will take on Kiermaier or give anything of value up for him at this point, let alone further along in that contract and he’s not going to provide the value for what they’ll be paying him as the contract runs out.
As for Blake Snell- I think they should keep him. His deal is very reasonable. He might be getting paid a bit much by the Rays’ standards as the contract gets long in the tooth, but from the stand point of league average value for pitching, it will continue to be a steal even toward the end, regardless of the low AAV. They cannot pick up in offense what they would give up in defense for the numbers he provides them, even if he maintain a 3+ ERA.
Examples of similar value contracts and opposite value players, one of whom is un-tradable, the other of whom should not be traded for anything they can get for him, salary dumping and cost considerations included.
You do realize he had a 4.79 and two wins, right?
I do realize that, but I don’t get the sense he’s gassed- a lot of guys had down seasons overall. I dunno… I don’t think he’ll be terrible for Atlanta. He got that $15M contract pretty quickly, so he still got assessed to be worth that kind of money by a team that doesn’t throw money around without consideration.
Tons of 8 figure guys as in 2. And 1 more making 5 mil + Morton wasn’t good enough to be 20% of their payroll
Ducky Buckin Fent
Man, these guys.
Off-season outlook for the Rays
– somehow spend even less money
– somehow actually have a better team
Keeps poor ol’ Hal awake at night, man.
Bad year to be a free agent. Lots of one year deals coming. Austin Hedges would be perfect for Rays. Low cost…great defense….pitchers loved him in SD. He seems to be blocked in the mistake by the lake.
Trading Morton was a big mistake. Think about how the other players think about a salary dump like this. He has been one of the great playoff pitchers. What would $15 mill buy for another starter?
Don’t trade snell. You are making the team strength a weakness. Very reasonable salary for a young solid starter. Look how he pitched against the dodgers in a huge game.
The problem is owner ship. Stu is in it to make money. He is a nyc owner of a florida team. It is a cold cash investment for him not the love of the team.
They just missed the World Series and just gave back hard earned public support capital . Support to get a new stadium in Tampa. They need new invested ownership. One who is looking at how do we improve the team for two more wins to win a WS not a salary dump of a great clutch pitcher and young team role model. The Rays are worth $1B Let’s encourage Stu to cash out to a owner who is a fan first. The new stadium in Tampa would be obtained and we will be trying to win those two games to win the World Series not let one of your top pitchers go and then float losing your other top pitcher
Lets encourage Stu to leave and a new ownership committed to winning and keeping the Rays in Tampa. Stu must go. Are you with me”????????
A true fan.
A true fan who doesn’t realize that Morton was not traded?
Get rid of the softball players
Sometime during the year the Ray’s will have to create an opening on the 40 man roster problem because of an injury.choi and wendle are currently at the top of the list to be let go.the Ray’s like roster flexibility so I think they will make a trade before spring training.getting rid of kiermaiers contract would definitely help
Arozarena was brought in to take the center job. I think KK is a gunner at some point before or during season!
You are correct. Let him go when they had a team option. Any other comments?