Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow’s name has been floated frequently in the rumor mill this offseason, and it’s not hard to see why. Tampa Bay’s highest Opening Day payroll in franchise history, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, was a figure just under $84MM in 2022. Meanwhile, RosterResource projects the Rays for a substantial increase over that figure, with a $126MM projection for the club’s 2024 Opening Day roster as things stand. That disparity of more than $40MM has led to a widespread belief around the league that the club needs to slash payroll this offseason, and Glasnow’s $25MM salary in 2024 is far and away the largest salary on Tampa’s books for 2024.
That said, the Rays are facing a great deal of question marks regarding their starting rotation due to significant injuries to lefties Shane McClanahan and Jeffrey Springs as well was right-hander Drew Rasmussen last season. Each of the three required season-ending surgery in 2023 and figure to miss much, if not all, of the 2024 campaign as well. That leaves the Rays with just three sure-fire starting pitchers entering the 2024 season as things stand: Glasnow, Aaron Civale, and Zach Eflin.
The club could get additional help next year from youngsters Taj Bradley and Shane Baz (the latter of whom is coming off a lost season due to Tommy John surgery in 2023) as well as righty Zack Littell, who pitched solidly as a swingman for the Rays in 2023, but the club’s many pitching injuries this past season serve as a reminder of the importance of maintaining starting pitching depth. Trading Glasnow would represent a major blow to that depth, particularly after he finished second to only Eflin in innings on the Rays last year despite not making his season debut until the end of May.
It’s worth noting the possibility the Rays’ situation isn’t as dire as it may seem. After all, president of baseball operations Erik Neander has indicated that the club would be open to running a higher payroll in 2024 than they have in previous years in order to keep more of the club’s 99-win 2023 roster together. Specifics on exactly how high of a payroll club ownership is willing to stomach aren’t clear, but cutting projected payroll to $100MM would place them 22nd among majors league clubs in projected payroll for 2024, just behind the Brewers ($101MM) and just ahead of their southern neighbors in Miami ($96MM). While the club has typically run a bottom-five payroll among MLB clubs in recent years, precedent for the Rays ranking higher does exist, as Cot’s indicates their 2010 payroll was 22nd in the majors as well.
Given the club’s pitching and financial situations, it’s fair to not only ask if the Rays can afford to keep Glasnow in 2024, but also if they can afford to part with him. While there are no simple answers to the second question, it’s worth looking into the first: if the Rays are willing to run a payroll of $100MM in 2024, is there a path to retaining Glasnow as a member of the Opening Day roster?
Glasnow isn’t the only Rays player who’s seen his name appear in the rumor mill this offseason; outfielder Manuel Margot’s name has percolated almost as frequently as the hulking right-hander’s, with the Mets and Yankees among his known suitors. Moving on from Margot, who has posted roughly league average numbers (97 wRC+) at the plate over the past four seasons alongside stellar defense in the outfield, would likely be a must if the Rays are to trim their current payroll to $100MM while retaining Glasnow. Margot’s $10MM salary in 2024 is third-highest on the team, behind only Glasnow and Eflin. Trading two years of Eflin, who’s under contract for a combined $29MM over the next two seasons, in order to retain one year of Glasnow would make little sense for the Rays beyond an exorbitant trade return for Eflin’s services.
Margot isn’t the only outfielder who’s seen his name floated frequently as a potential Rays trade chip this offseason. Righty slugger Harold Ramirez has also seen his name floated as a potential trade candidate thanks to the similarity of his role to that of fellow slugger Luke Raley. While Ramirez’s projected $4.4MM salary in 2024 (courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) is a reasonable price to pay for his services, Raley’s presence as a .249/.333/.490 hitter who crushed 19 homers in just 406 trips to the plate last season fills a similar niche to Ramirez on the club’s roster at a pre-arbitration rate. That makes Ramirez somewhat expendable for the Rays despite a solid .306/.348/.432 slash line over his two seasons with Tampa.
If the Rays part ways with both Margot and Ramirez this offseason, that would trim just under $15MM from the club’s payroll without doing too much damage to the club’s outfield depth, which would still include Raley in addition to Randy Arozarena, Jose Siri, Josh Lowe, and Greg Jones. That still leaves the club with more than $11MM in payroll that would need to be trimmed to get the club’s payroll down to $100MM, however. While dealing a veteran relief arm like Jason Adam or Andrew Kitteredge could save the club $2-3MM while opening up a roster spot for a youngster like Manuel Rodriguez or Colby White, the club’s bullpen depth would suffer for it and the Rays would still need to part ways with a more significant piece.
The two most likely candidates to depart in such a deal would be outfielder Randy Arozarena and second baseman Brandon Lowe, but parting with either player opens up significant question marks within the club’s positional group. Arozarena has become a face of the franchise in recent years thanks to his steady production and postseason heroic. In 2023, the 28-year-old delivered a 20/20 season while posting a 127 wRC+ as the club’s regular left fielder, production that would be difficult to replace without adding even more in payroll than Arozarena’s projected $9MM salary. That being said, there’s at least an argument to listen to offers on Arozarena’s services given the club’s budget crunch and the fact that he figures to only get more expensive in future trips through arbitration as he enters his thirties.
Lowe, on the other hand, could be easier for the club to replace. The 29-year-old had something of a bounceback season at the plate in 2023, slashing .231/.328/.443 with a 117 wRC+ in 109 games this past year after posting roughly league average numbers at the dish in 2022. Like Arozarena, Lowe figures to only get more expensive in the coming years as the Rays hold a pair of club options on his services for 2025 and 2026, valued at $10.5MM and $11.5MM respectively. With plenty of young infielders like Junior Caminero, Curtis Mead, and Jonathan Aranda approaching the big leagues, Lowe’s production could be easier for the club to replace internally than Arozarena’s, as well.
That being said, a Lowe trade comes with its own pitfalls. Lowe flashed the offensive production of an impact player from 2020-21, when he slashed .253/.346/.532 (140 wRC+) with 53 home runs in just 205 games. While he’s now two years removed from that offensive outburst, it’s worth noting that Lowe has been slowed by back issues over the past two seasons. A healthy 2024 campaign could see Lowe return to the All-Star caliber production from earlier in his career and substantially increase his value, both to the Rays and on the trade market. A Lowe trade would also exacerbate the uncertainty Tampa’s infield is facing due to the off-the-field issues of franchise shortstop Wander Franco and the offseason surgery of slick-fielding backup Taylor Walls, though it’s at least possible one or both players could be back in time for Opening Day.
For the Rays to make considerable cuts to their 2024 payroll while also retaining Glasnow, the club would likely have to part ways with at least four players in Margot, Ramirez, one of Adam or Kitteredge, and one of Arozarena or Lowe. While shipping out Margot, Ramirez, and a relief arm would all be perfectly defensible actions that subtract from areas of substantial depth for the club, dealing Arozarena or Lowe would entail giving up a slugger with multiple years of team control in the midst of his prime years who the club could struggle to replace the production of. That’s a steep price to pay in order to retain the services of Glasnow for the 2024 season, particularly when he figures to depart in free agency next winter either way.
Of course, there’s plenty of factors this exercise doesn’t take into account as well. Chief among them is the potential trade returns the Rays could garner, not only for Glasnow, but also for a longer-term piece like Lowe or Arozarena. If the Rays find themselves bowled over by an offer for any of the pieces mentioned here, the options at their disposal could certainly change. It’s also fair to note that the Rays could at least plausibly be willing to carry a payroll that exceeds even the $100MM figure used in this exercise; after all, the club made an offer to superstar first baseman Freddie Freeman during the 2021-22 offseason and had interest in dealing for two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, both of whom would have likely required financial commitments north of Glasnow’s $25MM salary. Since then, the Rays have also hammered out an agreement on a new stadium in St. Petersburg, potentially further incentivizing the club to loosen the purse strings.