The Rays have designated right-hander Matt Wisler for assignment, per a team announcement. His roster spot will go to righty Luis Patiño, who has been recalled to start today’s game against the Red Sox.
Wisler, 29, began his MLB career with Atlanta, mostly as a starter. He had been a highly-touted prospect, landing in the top 50 on Baseball America’s top 100 in both 2014 and 2015. However, he didn’t fare so well in his first tastes of the majors and eventually transitioned to more bullpen work. As a reliever, he started leaning heavily on his slider, having a tremendous breakout with the Twins in 2020. During that shortened campaign, Wisler threw 25 1/3 innings over 18 games, including four starts, though none longer than two innings. He registered a tiny 1.07 ERA that year along with a 32.7% strikeout rate. Despite that excellent showing, he was non-tendered by the Twins, perhaps due to his 13.1% walk rate.
Wisler then signed with the Giants for 2021 but struggled to a 6.05 ERA, getting flipped to the Rays in June last year. He’s been solid since the move to Tampa, registering a 2.15 ERA in the post-trade portion of 2021 and then a 2.25 ERA here in 2022. That ERA is nice, but the Rays are likely moving on because of some less-impressive numbers under the hood. His control is fine, with an 8% walk rate on the year, but Wisler’s 19.9% strikeout rate is a noticeable drop from the previous three seasons, where he was hovering around the 30% mark. The reason why that hasn’t resulted in more earned runs is probably his .198 batting average on balls in play this year. Wisler’s 30.7% hard hit rate is in the 93rd percentile in terms of limiting hard contact this season, but that BABIP is still about 100 points lower than his career mark coming into the year. The Rays must have been expecting some regression, based on this decision to let him go.
With the trade deadline having passed, Wisler will be placed on outright waivers or release waivers in the coming days. There’s little distinction between the two in this case, as Wisler has over five years of MLB service time. That means he has the right to reject an outright assignment and elect free agency without forfeiting any salary. He and the Rays avoided arbitration in March by agreeing to a $2.16MM contract for the season, leaving about $345K to be paid out.
For teams considering a claim, Wisler is certainly an interesting case. He has continued to increase his slider usage each year, throwing it 70.5% of the time in 2019, followed by 83.4% in 2020, 90.9% last year and 91.5% this season. That led to huge strikeout numbers the first three years, though not so much this season. He’s a free agent this winter, meaning there would be no long-term benefits to claiming him. The short-term appeal would also be limited by the fact that the postseason eligibility date has passed. That means another team could use Wisler down the stretch but not in the postseason. If he clears waivers, the Rays would be on the h0ok for the remainder of that salary. Wisler could elect free agency and sign with any club, who would only have to pay him the prorated league minimum, with that amount being subtracted from what the Rays pay.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweeted the roster moves prior to the official announcement.