The Rays are known for their roster turnover and this offseason was no exception as they made many trades. However, most of the moves were around the edges of their roster, meaning they will go into 2023 with a fairly similar squad to the one that just won 86 games and made the playoffs for a fourth straight year. It’s possible they could have better results this season simply by having better health outcomes, though they also made one significant free agent splash to upgrade the squad.
Major League Signings
- RHP Zach Eflin: three years, $40MM
2022 spending: $11MM
Total spending: $40MM
- Club declined $13MM option on OF Kevin Kiermaier in favor of $2.5MM buyout
Trades And Claims
- Acquired RHP Jack Hartman from Pirates for 1B Ji-Man Choi
- Acquired RHPs Marcus Johnson and Santiago Suarez from Marlins for RHP JT Chargois and IF Xavier Edwards
- Acquired RHP Alfredo Zárraga from Cubs for IF/OF Miles Mastrobuoni
- Acquired OF Tristan Peters from Giants for IF Brett Wisely
- Traded RHP Javy Guerra to Brewers for a PTBNL
- Acquired LHP Keyshawn Askew from Mets for LHP Brooks Raley
- Acquired RHP Kevin Kelly from Rockies for cash (Rockies selected Kelly from Guardians in the Rule 5 draft)
- Acquired LHP Jeff Belge from Dodgers for RHP J.P. Feyereisen
- LHP Jeffrey Springs: four years, $31MM plus incentives and club option for 2027
- RHP Pete Fairbanks: three years, $12MM plus incentives and club option for 2026
- IF Yandy Díaz: three years, $24MM plus club option for 2026
Notable Minor League Signings
- Nick Dini, Heath Hembree, Ben Heller, Zack Burdi, Elvin Rodríguez, Trevor Kelley, Jaime Schultz, Charlie Culberson, Daniel Robertson, Kyle Crick, Ben Gamel
- Mike Zunino, Corey Kluber, David Peralta, Nick Anderson, Kevin Kiermaier, Jimmy Yacabonis, Roman Quinn, Bligh Madris, Ryan Yarbrough, Ji-Man Choi, JT Chargois, Xavier Edwards, Miles Mastrobuoni, Brett Wisely, Brooks Raley, J.P. Feyereisen
The injury bug hit the Rays pretty hard in 2022, as only four pitchers on the staff topped 80 innings pitched and only four position players got into more than 115 games. Tyler Glasnow, Shane Baz, Wander Franco, Brandon Lowe and others missed significant time. But the club leaned on its trademark depth and still managed to squeeze into the postseason for a fourth straight year.
As the offseason began, the first item on the agenda was a roster crunch, a common issue for a club that stockpiles depth and runs tight budgets. They had to make some tough decisions due to a 19-player arbitration class and a number of players who needed to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. Those tough decisions led to the departure of a few long-tenured Rays.
Defensive specialist Kevin Kiermaier had his option turned down after a 2022 season ended by hip surgery. Ryan Yarbrough was non-tendered after another season of passable but fairly uninspiring results. Nick Anderson was placed on waivers after two straight seasons mostly lost to injury, later clearing and signing with Atlanta. Ji-Man Choi could have been retained for one more season via arbitration but was instead flipped to the Pirates. J.P. Feyereisen still had four years of club control but was traded to the Dodgers as he is expected to miss most of the upcoming season due to shoulder surgery. Along with a few other swaps, the Rays ended up making eight trades in a span of about a month, from mid-November to mid-December. Those moves helped clear out some salary and some roster space, along with the free agent departures of Corey Kluber, Mike Zunino and David Peralta.
It feels strange to look at all of that roster churn and characterize it as stability, but the club didn’t really subtract a core performer, at least from last year’s club. Some other offseasons have seen the Rays part with notable players like Tommy Pham, Austin Meadows or Blake Snell, but this year’s departures weren’t quite as prominent. Players like Kiermaier, Zunino, Feyereisen and Anderson missed significant time last year and weren’t really factors very often, if at all. Kiermaier has been a key cog on the team for the past decade, though he’s often been limited by injuries, including being held to just 63 contests last year. It’s a similar story for Zunino, who has been the club’s primary catcher for the past four years but only got into 36 games last season.
Arguably, the club’s biggest loss from last year is Kluber, as he made 31 starts with a 4.34 ERA. That’s not exactly within range of his previous Cy Young form, but that still had value to a club that dealt with so many injury absences.
It’s possible that the club recognized this, as their most significant offseason splash was to replace Kluber in the rotation. Zach Eflin was signed to a three-year, $40MM deal. When compared to some of the other free agent deals signed around the league, it might not seem that significant. However, that was the only major league deal that the Rays gave out this winter, and the $40MM guarantee is the largest they’ve given to a free agent in the history of the franchise.
Eflin, 29 in April, has spent his entire big league career thus far with the Phillies, serving as a solid mid-rotation option. Over the past five years, he’s tossed 531 2/3 innings with a 4.16 ERA. It’s possible that he could find another gear, as he’s kept his FIP, SIERA and xERA under 4.00 in each of the past three seasons. The Rays have shown a penchant for helping players maximize their potential and maybe they’ve found a solid candidate here, showing their faith with that huge commitment, relative to their standards.
But it’s not without risks as Eflin has continually battled knee issues and only once topped 130 innings in a major league season, which was back in 2019. In 2017, a then 22-year-old Eflin admitted to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com that he’d already been dealing with knee pain for 10-12 years. He felt good after surgery at that time but had to go under the knife again in 2021 and also missed a couple months with knee issues last year. That doesn’t exactly paint a picture of Eflin being a solid bet for the largest free agent investment the club’s ever made, but there were fairly similar concerns around Kluber a year ago. Perhaps the Rays have a plan in mind for how to keep Eflin healthy and effective all year long.
The club was also connected in rumors to other players this offseason, including big names like Jacob deGrom, Brandon Nimmo and Sean Murphy. Ultimately, none of those came to fruition, leaving the main storylines in Tampa as the Eflin signing and the batch of trades. Most of the players that came back in those deals are still young and a ways off from contributing. That means the 2023 club will be fairly reliant on better health from the incumbent players, in addition to the club’s annual tradition of funneling minor leaguers onto the major league roster.
Eflin will jump into a rotation that will be without Baz for much or perhaps all of the season, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in September of last year. Glasnow, who missed almost all of 2022 from his own Tommy John recovery, was hoping for a fully healthy season here in 2023. He’s currently dealing with an oblique strain that will keep him out for the next six to eight weeks, but he should be able to take a spot once he gets past that. With Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs still in the mix, the rotation seems to be in decent shape. While Glasnow is out, they might have to do some of their bullpen games or opener days, but they also have depth options in Luis Patiño, Yonny Chirinos and Josh Fleming. Prospect Taj Bradley could launch himself into the mix at some point as well, having reached Triple-A last year.
On the position player side, much of the same crew from last year will be back, despite the aforementioned roster shuffling. With Choi gone, first base could perhaps be manned by Yandy Díaz, freeing up the hot corner for Isaac Paredes, though Díaz could still see some time at third going forward. First base could also be manned by Harold Ramírez at times, with he and Diaz perhaps taking turns as the designated hitter. In the middle infield, the club will be hoping for better health from both Franco and Lowe, who were limited by injuries to 83 and 65 games last year, respectively.
In the outfield, the post-Kiermaier era will start with Jose Siri taking over in center. He didn’t hit much last year but was great in the field and on the base paths. He’s got a solid floor and could be a great contributor if he can cut down on the strikeouts. That’s a big “if” though, since he’s gone down on strikes in 33.4% of his plate appearances thus far, with fairly similar rates in Triple-A and Double-A. Since he turns 28 in July, it remains to be seen how much more rope the Rays will give him to correct that issue.
Randy Arozarena and Manuel Margot are still around and should be flanking Siri out on the turf. Both the infield and the outfield will be bolstered by depth options who could force their way into more playing time as the season goes along. Taylor Walls, Jonathan Aranda, Luke Raley, Curtis Mead, Vidal Bruján and Josh Lowe are all on the 40-man roster and can all play multiple positions. Depending on health and performance, they all could get slotted in somewhere at some point. Mead seems to be particularly highly valued by the club, as they have reportedly been discussing an extension despite the fact that he’s yet to make his major league debut. Brujan used to be in that position, as he was once considered one of the top prospects in the league but has slashed a dismal .150/.207/.231 in his first 188 MLB plate appearances.
The club had at least some desire to upgrade behind the plate since they were interested in Murphy, but they didn’t ultimately make a move. This is one area of the roster where the club feels a bit vulnerable, with Christian Bethancourt, Francisco Mejía and René Pinto the three backstops on the roster. Bethancourt had a solid season in 2022, but that was his first major league action since 2017, as he had been in the minors and the KBO in the interim. Mejia was solid in 2021 but disappointed last year, both at the plate and behind it. Pinto has just 25 games in the majors but struck out in 42.2% of his plate appearances in that time.
In the bullpen, despite losing Feyereisen, Raley and others, they still have an enviable collection of intriguing arms. It includes Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Garrett Cleavinger and more. Given the club’s ability to produce quality relievers seemingly at will, a few surprising names could jump into this mix later in the summer.
Turning to the long-term picture, the Rays added some cost certainty by agreeing to extensions with three players. Springs, Fairbanks and Diaz all put pen to paper this winter, locking in some future earnings. In exchange for that financial security, each of them pushed back their respective trips to free agency. Including the club options that the Rays now have on all three players, Fairbanks relinquished one free agent season, Diaz two, and Springs three. Those extensions theoretically give the club a bit more continuity in the years to come, but that might not necessarily be the case. An extension doesn’t mean a trade is off the table. Snell was extended going into 2019 but was traded to the Padres less than two years later.
Another piece of the long-term picture that needs to come into focus is the stadium. Both the club and the league have been open about the fact that an upgrade is needed over Tropicana Field. The team’s lease on the Trop goes through 2027, which puts some pressure to get solutions in place. The latest updates are that the mayor of St. Petersburg has given his support to the proposed redevelopment plan. The next step is that city council needs to approve a term sheet, which is currently being negotiated. Once it’s determined what funding commitments will come from the city, Pinellas County and the Rays, it’s possible the term sheet could be agreed upon by this summer. Making progress on this front will have implications not just for the Rays but for the league as well, as commissioner Rob Manfred has repeatedly stated that expanding beyond the current 30 major league teams won’t happen until both the Rays and A’s find solutions for their respective stadium situations.
How would you grade the Rays’ offseason? (Link to poll)
In conjunction with the Rays offseason review, we hosted a Rays-focused chat on March 9. You can click here to read the transcript.
In my fantasy mock drafts, Zach Eflin keeps going in the mid-200s, if he even gets that high. Surely feels like he’ll be the steal of the offseason
I do wonder how the Tampa Bay pitching machine will work on Eflin
They don’t need to do anything with him. Good chance they will improve him but he is already 4 era ish with a better fip. Looks good on video. Data looks good. Heck of a bargain. Other teams paid much more for less.
Pretty good chance they have some specific idea how to make him better but the injuries will still be a concern.
It will work great if his knees hold up.
I can’t believe the Rockies traded Kevin Kelly for cash. Actually, I can believe it because it’s the Rockies. It’s more disappointment.
There is nothing Colorado could do that would surprise me. One of if not the worst teams.
Are you saying you wont be buying several kris bryant jerseys?
Won’t be buying any jerseys. Nothing personal. They are just awful. I feel for any fan of a team that doesn’t have a smart owner or gm. Some teams just look hopeless.
How do they do it ?
A great scouting department for both the draft and trades. Also, manipulation of service time and game appearances (e.g. the “opener”) to keep arbitration salaries low.
Ownership management has a smart philosophy and they have the evaluation and development to excel at it.
I think mlb is very hard but one obvious solution for small market teams is that player values are best before age 30. They do a very good job at taking many shots to find the good values. Keep players down til 23 to capture as much of the prime years at low cost.
This team is better then the Yankees and it’s not particularly close. All around roster construction, depth and flexibility
We will see about that.
Injuries affected the Rays offense more than any other team. Adding a few veteran bats on Milb deals was a smart move & if 1 or even 2 can make the final roster that will be a bonus for the Rays. I like the extensions the Rays did with their in house pitchers.
Aaron Judge is better than the entire Rays 25 man roster put together.
Judge contract could cover the rays entire team for 4 seasons.
Yeah? Which ROTATION SPOT do you think Judge will fill?
But can he cover the entire field by himself?
Time will tell if Judge is a 35+HR a year guy or a guy who hits under 30HRs a year. If it’s under 30HRs a year that $40mil per x 9 contract will not age well & the Yanks can pay him.
How many World Series titles have the Yanks won since 2008? Yup. The same as the Rays 0.
They are always building up their farm while staying competitive. Imagine if the Yankees had someone like Erik Neander running the show. But oh Cashman is great.
Then you get the dodgers…. Neander came in under friedman in Tampa
Fever Pitch Guy
kc – Notice the Rays kept Neander and let Bloom walk.
Gee, I wonder why ….
I’m guessing that Boston offered a promotion to Bloom and not Neander.
When’s the last time Cashman had a losing season? I don’t like some of his moves. The Ellsberry signing made me stop being a Yankee fan. But the guy gets results.
You stopped being a Yankees fan over the Jacoby signing? Damn I hate a lot of things the Yankees do but I ain’t never gonna stop being a Yankees fan. You were never a true fan anyway. Just choose whatever team wins the WS.
My father had season tickets so I went to just about every game since I could walk until I went to college and many road games. Just learned how baseball worked. As a kid I just rooted for my home team. Didn’t care where the players came from or what they cost. I don’t root for any team. I have my own life and achievements to worry about. I enjoy the team building aspect. I will do some scouting and take my kids to some games.
With that payroll, of course he does. He’s not incompetent. He’s adequate.
Solid 92 win team
C. Did what they needed to do. They can find 700 ops 4 era guys easily. No need to pay significant $ in free agency for these types like many weaker desperate teams do. 800 ops and 3 era cost big $. Best to lock those players up before they become free agents. I think they got a real value in Eflin who can pitch to a 3 something era. With their bullpen they don’t need a innings eater.
Eflin pitches better than his ERA and with Tampas defense behind him he should do quite well. Knowing Tampa, they will get some value out of him and then flip for a solid prospect package in two years.
They will if they have a replacement for Eflin. His contract isn’t a big problem. They wanted Morton back for 10M, but he went to the Braves for 15M.
I gave them a ‘C’ also. It would have been a ‘B’ if they picked up any power bat. The season will depend on Lowe’s and Franco’s health; along with how well the BP arms they picked up will do.
Curtis Mead is an interesting prospect this year because he’s not a ‘no power’ middle infielder.; which they seem to love and then wind up trading for nothing.
I agree, Brett Phillips isn’t even a notable loss.
If tampa bay prospects and post prospects take over then they will be fine.