The Rays had a busy couple of weeks prior to the MLB lockout, but there’s still work to be done when transactions resume. Here’s a look at where things currently stand and what might be next in Tampa Bay.
- Wander Franco, SS: $182MM through 2032 (includes $2MM buyout of $25MM club option for 2033)
- Brandon Lowe, 2B/OF: $19MM through 2024 (includes $1MM buyout of $10.5MM club option for 2025; contract also contains $11.5MM club option for 2026)
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF: $14.5MM through 2022 (includes $2.5MM buyout of $13MM club option for 2023)
- Brooks Raley, LHP: $10MM through 2023 (includes $1.25MM buyout of $6.5MM club option for 2024)
- Corey Kluber, RHP: $8MM through 2022
- Mike Zunino, C: $7MM through 2022
- Ji-Man Choi, 1B/DH: $3.2MM through 2022 (arb-eligible through 2023 season)
- Total 2022 guarantees: $41.95MM
- Total long-term commitments: $243.7MM
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projected salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Matt Wisler – $1.8MM
- Manuel Margot – $5.0MM
- Tyler Glasnow – $5.8MM
- Ryan Yarbrough – $4.4MM
- Yonny Chirinos – $1.2MM
- Yandy Diaz – $2.7MM
- Austin Meadows – $4.3MM
- Andrew Kittredge – $1.6MM
- Jalen Beeks – $600K
- Francisco Mejia – $1.5MM
- Jeffrey Springs – $1.0MM
- Brett Phillips – $1.2MM
- Nick Anderson – $900K
The Rays got a huge portion of their offseason lifting done prior to the lockout, extending Wander Franco on a record-setting contract for a player with under a year of service time. By guaranteeing Franco $182MM through the 2032 season, Tampa Bay solidified him as the face of the franchise and locked in a burgeoning star who turned in one of the more memorable rookie performances we’ve seen in recent years.
As is typical with the Rays, their early dealings involved plenty of tinkering with their arbitration class as well as what the team hopes will be some bargain additions on the pitching side. Gone are super-utility man Joey Wendle — traded to the Marlins for outfield prospect Kameron Misner — and lefty masher Jordan Luplow, who was sent to the D-backs for minor league infielder Ronny Simon. The Rays also parted ways with lefties Adam Conley (outrighted), Ryan Sherriff (claimed by the Phillies) and Dietrich Enns (granted his release to sign in Japan). Additionally, pre-arb righties Brent Honeywell (A’s) and Louis Head (Marlins) were swapped for cash.
Incoming arms include former Cy Young reclamation hopeful Corey Kluber, spin-rate standout Brooks Raley, bolstering the rotation and bullpen, respectively. There’s work to be done on both sides of the pitching staff still, however, particularly with ace Tyler Glasnow likely out for the 2022 season due to Tommy John surgery. The Rays will also be without Yonny Chirinos early in the year after he fractured his elbow late in the 2021 season while rehabbing from 2020 Tommy John surgery. Lefty Brendan McKay, too, is a question mark after recently undergoing thoracic outlet surgery.
Among the potential members of the rotation — Kluber, Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Ryan Yarbrough, Shane Baz and Luis Patino — only Yarbrough and McClanahan topped 110 innings this past season. Kluber managed just 80 innings and didn’t pitch particularly well in six starts upon returning from the IL late in the season. Yarbrough, meanwhile, posted a career-high 155 innings but also a career-worst 5.11 ERA in that time. Baz dazzled at Double-A, Triple-A and in three big league starts late in the season, but the ballyhooed top prospect was also hit hard in his lone postseason outing. He could follow McClanahan’s lead as a late-season debut who carves out a concrete rotation role the following year — but there’s also still some uncertainty surrounding both him and Patino, another touted top pitching prospect.
Suffice it to say, with plenty of talent but just as many questions surrounding the young arms on the staff, the Rays figure to be on the lookout for some further pitching help. They’re not a likely fit for high-priced free agents still sitting on the market (e.g. Carlos Rodon, Clayton Kershaw), but plenty of veterans who may command one-year deals remain unsigned (e.g. Matthew Boyd, Michael Pineda, Garrett Richards and old friend Drew Smyly). Similarly, it’d be a surprise to see the Rays trade for a relatively high-priced starter (e.g. Sean Manaea, Luis Castillo), but president of baseball ops Erik Neander, newly minted GM Peter Bendix and the rest of the Rays staff will be on the lookout for under-the-radar rotation adds (much like they found with Rasmussen during the 2021 season).
Of course, if the Rays were able to cull the current payroll a bit — projected at nearly $84MM, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez — perhaps there’d be a bit more room for an additional pitching splash. Tampa Bay reportedly discussed Kevin Kiermaier in trades at the same time Joey Wendle was being shopped, and it stands to reason that Kiermaier will again be made available post-lockout. While the Rays have explored Kiermaier trades for years now, the current market circumstances suggest a trade is now likelier than ever.
Kiermaier is entering the final guaranteed season of his six-year, $53.5MM contract extension and, at $12MM (plus a $2.5MM buyout on a 2023 option) is the team’s most expensive player in 2022. Excellent as Kiermaier is with the glove, Tampa Bay could move him and still boast arguably the best defensive outfield in baseball, with Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot, Brett Phillips and center field prospect Josh Lowe (already on the 40-man roster) all possessing high-end defensive skills.
Beyond that, there are several teams who could be eyeing center field upgrades, including the Phillies, Marlins, Astros and Cubs, to name a few. The Rays might have to pay down a bit of Kiermaier’s salary in a deal, although speculatively speaking, they could alternatively look to swap him for a comparably priced player who better fits the team’s needs (e.g. Craig Kimbrel, Jake Odorizzi).
While Kiermaier’s salary makes him a more obvious trade candidate, the Rays could also at least entertain interest in Margot instead, given that he’ll be a free agent next winter. A standout defender in his own right, Margot would hold similar or perhaps even broader appeal to teams with outfield vacancies and a preference for defensive upgrades.
Broadly speaking, when looking ahead for potential Rays moves, it’s always best to consider the possibility of them dealing from positions of great organizational depth. At the moment, that means outfield and perhaps middle infielders. Franco’s extension locks him into the lineup for more than a decade, and Brandon Lowe is signed through at least 2024 on a highly reasonably deal that includes a pair of team options. Meanwhile, the Rays still have well-regarded shortstop prospects like Taylor Walls, Vidal Brujan and Xavier Edwards. Both Walls and Brujan have made their big league debuts already. Dealing young prospects of that nature is never easy, and the Rays certainly wouldn’t mind keeping them as bench pieces or upper-level depth options, but they’ll surely receive interest in that perceived surplus. Teams that seek shortstop help in the long run but aren’t willing to pay one of Carlos Correa or Trevor Story, in particular, will be keenly intrigued.
Another general rule when looking for potential Rays moves is to follow the money. In this arbitration class, that means the aforementioned Margot and, perhaps more interestingly, Glasnow. The loss of Glasnow, who had Tommy John surgery Aug. 4, is a major blow to the Rays’ 2022 hopes. The team tendered him a contract knowing he’ll miss most or all of the season, which is only sensible given that he’s controllable through the 2023 campaign. That said, a projected $5.6MM salary for Glasnow amounts largely to dead money for the Rays in ’22, and Glasnow figures to earn that same sum (or a slight bit more, if he makes it back to the mound this year) in 2023 — his final year of team control.
Paying $11-12MM for what’s effectively one season of Glasnow (2023) is hardly burdensome, but for a low-payroll club like the Rays, it’s also not ideal. Tampa Bay surely wouldn’t make a salary-dump deal for a pitcher of this caliber; if the money were an issue he could’ve been non-tendered, so that’s clearly not the case. But, other teams with deeper pockets could also try to opportunistically bolster their 2023 hopes by giving the Rays some immediate help in 2022 at the cost of acquiring Glasnow for the 2023 season. It’s not necessarily a likely outcome, but larger-payroll clubs will undoubtedly inquire at the very least.
An underrated but nonetheless enviable aspect of the Rays is the team’s bench mix. Tampa Bay’s reserves figure to include a blend of versatile defenders (Walls, Brujan, Josh Lowe) and switch-hitters (Walls, Brujan, backup catcher Francisco Mejia) who currently or very recently ranked among the game’s top 100 prospects. There’s room for third baseman Yandy Diaz and/or first baseman Ji-Man Choi to be pushed into a part-time role if either Brujan or Walls forces the team to adjust. And, with Franco able to handle third base, Brujan able to handle three infield spots, Brandon Lowe capable of playing second, first or in the outfield, Diaz capable of playing both corners — there’s a virtually limitless number of lineup permutations that could emerge from this grouping.
Whenever play resumes, the Rays will find themselves in a strong position. They already have a deep and talented MLB roster that’ll be anchored by a premium defense and one of the game’s most exciting young talents, Franco. The rotation has its share of question marks, but that’s true on a semi-regular basis and was perhaps never more true than in 2021, when Tampa Bay still went on to win 100 games.
The Rays could take the current iteration of their roster, as-is, into the 2022 season and likely be competitive in the American League East. The front office, however, could also elect to explore trades from the considerable outfield and middle-infield depth, perhaps dropping payroll a bit and then using that combination of trades and increased resources to further supplement the pitching staff. The Rays always have a fairly broad outlook, and that won’t change after the lockout. Whichever path Neander, Bendix & Co. choose to walk, the result figures to be a roster that may lack in name value but will make up for it in talent. In other words: business as usual for the Rays.