The Rays bulked up their bullpen Wednesday, finalizing their previously reported one-year contract with free agent righty Phil Maton. The Paragon Sports International client is reportedly guaranteed $6.5MM, which takes the form of a $6.25MM salary and a $250K buyout on a $7.75MM club option for the 2025 season. Tampa Bay transferred left-hander Shane McClanahan, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, to the 60-day IL to open a spot for Maton on the 40-man roster.
The Cardinals, Phillies, and Yankees have been linked to Maton’s market this winter, but the reliever will now head to Tampa Bay as he enters his age-31 season. Maton has seven years of MLB experience, breaking into the big leagues with San Diego in 2017 and then landing in Cleveland and Houston. Maton had a 4.76 ERA over 215 1/3 innings in the 2017-21 seasons, but a 3.68 ERA in that same span and excellent spin rates and soft-contact numbers indicated that the ceiling was higher on the righty’s performance.
The results began to show over Maton’s last two seasons, both with the Astros. He delivered a 3.84 ERA in 65 2/3 innings in 2022 and then followed up even more strongly with a 3.00 ERA over 66 frames this past year. As per Statcast, Maton had the second-best hard-hit ball rate of any qualified pitcher in baseball in 2023, and the spin rates on his curveball and fastball were both in at least the 98th percentile of all pitchers.
Walks have been an issue for Maton, and his above-average but not standout barrel rates indicate that batters can hit for power on the rare occasions when they actually make solid contact on Maton’s offerings. Still, between his ability to generate soft contact and his above-average strikeout rates, Maton has rather quietly been one of the more effective relievers in baseball over the last two seasons. This success has also extended into the postseason, as while injuries forced Maton to miss the Astros’ 2022 World Series run, he has a sparking 0.83 ERA over 21 2/3 career playoff innings.
Given the Rays’ success at helping pitchers achieve higher levels of performance, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Maton at least continue or even improve on his strong numbers from 2022-23. Maton figures to essentially act as the replacement for Robert Stephenson, a reclamation project-turned-high leverage reliever after joining the Rays last summer.
Stephenson parlayed his spectacular four-month run in Tampa into a three-year, $33MM free agent deal with the Angels. Jake Diekman also signed with the Mets, Andrew Kittredge was traded to the Cardinals, and Jalen Beeks and Josh Fleming were both let go at the start of free agency, leaving the Rays with some holes to fill in the relief corps. Pete Fairbanks figures to be the team’s primary closer again, and though the Rays are traditionally pretty flexible with their bullpen roles, Maton will likely stick to set-up duty since he has only one career save.
According to Roster Resource, Tampa Bay has a projected $93.3MM payroll, which would already be the highest payroll in Rays franchise history even before Maton’s deal is added to the tally. President of baseball operations Erik Neander said in October that the club was open to spending at a (comparatively) higher level to help keep their core in place and to make a deeper playoff run, though the Rays did move Tyler Glasnow and his $25MM salary to the Dodgers in a trade.
MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand first reported the two sides were nearing a deal (via X). Robert Murray of FanSided reported (on X) the terms of the deal, while Ari Alexander of KPRC 2 reported the specific year-to-year breakdown (X link).