The Tampa Bay Rays have money to spend and an uncharacteristic willingness to entertain higher profile free agents like designated hitter Nelson Cruz this offseason. The front office, however, does not feel any particular urgency to spend that nest egg. Working on a rolling five-year budget, the Rays won’t be shy about pushing this payroll space over to next season or later if they can’t get the players they want at a reasonable price, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Topkin pegs their current payroll at a meager $32MM (roster resource estimates closer to $37MM), more than enough space for additions even before reaching last season’s payroll number of $76MM. Still, their 90-win 2018 was an incredible achievement in part because of the large number of pre-arbitration players on the roster, but those same players won’t be inexpensive forever. Hence the willingness of the Rays front office to bank any remaining funds for future seasons if they don’t like the prices in free agency.
Speculatively speaking, that could point to contract extensions for pre-arb players like those they signed with Evan Longoria and Matt Moore in the past, or it could simply be language intended to prime their expectant fanbase for the eventuality of a disappointing winter. With the possibility of a splashy free agent signing on the table for the first time in a long time, the Rays are surely aware of the excitement forming around this offseason.
Some more notes from around the American League as teams prepare for tomorrow’s winter meetings…
- Speaking of Matt Moore, he and the Tigers found something in common: they both viewed Moore as a starting pitcher. He came out of the bullpen for much of last season, working to a 6.79 ERA over 102 innings (12 starts) for the Rangers, Moore’s primary motivation in choosing a new home in free agency was finding an opportunity to get back into a starting rotation, where he is most comfortable, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. The Tigers signed Moore to a one-year, $2.5MM deal with incentives up to $1MM more based on the number of starts he makes. Both sides are incentivized to turn Moore back into a serviceable rotation arm, Moore for his own sake, and the Tigers because he’ll be a more attractive trade chip as a starter.
- The Angels have mostly tinkered around the edges of their major league roster thus far this offseason in acquiring Tommy La Stella, Dillon Peters and Peter Bourjos, among others, but pitching remains their biggest area of need as GM Billy Eppler heads to Las Vegas for the winter meetings, per MLB.com’s Maria Guardado. It’s been addition by subtraction with the non-tenders of Matt Shoemaker and Blake Parker, freeing up additional funds in an effort to add durable arms to their pitching staff. With an Opening Day payroll that usually comes in at around $165MM, the Angels have at least $20MM and maybe as much as $30MM to build a winner around Mike Trout this winter. Fancred’s Jon Heyman names Marwin Gonzalez and Joakim Soria as two potential targets, though both players are sure to have their share of bidders.
- The Mariners may not be done shedding veteran contracts, per TJ Cotterill of the News Tribune. Nobody expects GM Jerry Dipoto to stop dealing, of course, as baseball’s most active GM has already made six trades this offseason. With the return in these deals leaning towards youth, Dipoto suggests the prospects imported this winter has transformed the Mariners’ farm into a top-10 system, but not everyone is equally optimistic, writes Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, who takes a look at the new Seattle youngsters. Heyman suggests they’ll be in on Japanese free agent Yusei Kikuchi, but the bullpen is the larger area of need, as tumbleweeds now populate a pen that has recently expelled Edwin Diaz, James Pazos, Alex Colome and Juan Nicasio.