- The Rays have some interest in newly knuckleballing righty Brian Wilson, according to Marc Topkin and Roger Mooney of the Tampa Bay Times. Once a power late-inning reliever, Wilson has battled injuries and hasn’t pitched competitively since 2014. Tampa Bay has dedicated resources to finding and developing knucklers, and trying out the soon-to-be-35-year-old would at least represent a fun-to-follow experiment.
9:41am: The two sides have an agreement in place, reports SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (on Twitter).
9:28am: The Rays are closing in on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Tommy Hunter, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (on Twitter). An agreement with the Moye Sports Associates client could be finalized today, he adds.
The 30-year-old Hunter, long a member of the division-rival Orioles’ bullpen, split last season between Cleveland and Baltimore, pitching to a combined 3.18 ERA with 6.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a 49.5 percent ground-ball rate. Hunter opened the 2016 season on the shelf due to offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia, and he also missed a stretch of time this past summer after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his back in a fall at his home during the 2016 All-Star break.
Over the past four seasons, Hunter has worked to a collective 3.24 ERA and averaged 6.8 strikeouts against 1.8 walks per nine innings across 241 1/3 frames with the Orioles, Indians and Cubs. He’d bring another experienced right-handed arm to a crowded Tampa Bay bullpen mix. Currently, the Rays are set to deploy Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Danny Farquhar, Shawn Tolleson and Erasmo Ramirez as right-handed options out of the ’pen, with Xavier Cedeno lined up as the team’s primary left-handed option.
The Rays’ interest in free-agent catcher Matt Wieters is serious enough that they’ve made a formal offer, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. However, the team’s offer is “likely for one year” and would be less lucrative than whatever figure Wieters and agent Scott Boras are still hoping to find in free agency. FanRag’s Jon Heyman first tweeted word of Tampa Bay’s offer to Wieters, though he cautioned that they may not be the front-runner to land his services.
Even a $10MM guarantee would be a fairly surprising sum for the Rays to offer, Topkin opines, though he notes that perhaps “creativity and incentives” could push the potential value of an offer beyond that threshold. Tampa Bay’s hope is that the switch-hitting Wieters will be enticed by the opportunity to work with a superior pitching staff and receive regular at-bats between catcher and, later in the year (when Wilson Ramos is healthy enough to take some of the time at catcher), designated hitter.
The question Wieters and Boras must now weigh is how long they’re willing to wait out the spring market. An injury to a contending club’s starting catcher would immediately create a new potential landing spot and could certainly lead to a larger offer (in terms of total dollars and/or years), but there’s certainly no guarantee of any such fit arising. Wieters’ camp could also look to drum up a bidding war between teams that are willing to sign him for one year; ESPN’s Jayson Stark tweeted yesterday that the Nationals still have interest in Wieters but wouldn’t be likely to offer anything more than a one-year pact. It’s not clear whether Boras and Wieters have dropped their asking price to the one-year range just yet, though I’d imagine that if they did, there’d be more clubs beyond the Rays and Nationals that were willing to try to make something work.
As it stands, the Rays will enter the season with Curt Casali and Luke Maile as their lead catchers on the 40-man roster, with veterans Michael McKenry and Jesus Sucre in camp as non-roster invitees. Ramos is reportedly eyeing a May return to the team, Topkin tweeted yesterday, but that’s an ambitious goal for a catcher who suffered his second career ACL tear late last September.
The 30-year-old Wieters is coming off a season in which he batted .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs in 464 plate appearances. His at-bats were limited early on as he ramped back up to full durability after missing much of the 2014-15 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, but Wieters was catching a significant workload by September of last season. He routinely draws poor framing marks, however, and his market has seemingly been hampered by that fact this winter as teams place a continually growing emphasis on that ability when evaluating backstops.
The Rangers announced that they’ve acquired right-hander Eddie Gamboa from the Rays in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. Both Prince Fielder and Jake Diekman have been placed on the 60-day disabled list, as well, per the Rangers’ announcement. That brings their current 40-man count to 39.
Gamboa was just designated for assignment by the Rays earlier this morning, though it didn’t take Tampa Bay long to find a team that was interested in the 32-year-old knuckleballer. A longtime Orioles farmhand, Gamboa finally cracked a big league roster with the Rays in 2016 after spending parts of nine seasons in the minors. He logged a pristine 1.35 ERA in 13 1/3 innings with the Rays, striking out 11 but also issuing a more troublesome eight walks in that time.
Gamboa has worked primarily as a starter in the minors and didn’t adopt his knuckleball until the 2013 season. He had a breakout campaign with the pitch last year in 2016, working to a stellar 2.68 ERA with 8.5 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9 across 94 innings. He split his time in 2016 more evenly between the rotation and bullpen than in previous seasons (15 relief appearances, 12 starts), though it’s not entirely clear how the Rangers intend to utilize him this year. The Rangers noted in their press release that Gamboa was originally signed by former Orioles scout James Keller, who is now a special assistant to Rangers GM Jon Daniels, so Gamboa comes as somewhat of a known commodity to at least one Texas exec.
Arbitration decisions on several first-year arb-eligible starting pitchers have been released. According to prior reports, the outcomes of the pending cases were being held until all had been heard and decided, to avoid earlier results impacting later decisions.
Three starters won their cases:
- Collin McHugh, Astros: With his victory, McHugh will earn $3.85MM rather than the $3.35MM that the team had argued for, as Brian McTaggart of MLB.com first reported on Twitter.
- Jake Odorizzi, Rays: In another relatively high-dollar case, the right-hander will get his requested $4.1MM payday over the club’s $3.825MM submission, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (via Twitter).
- Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays: Stroman takes home $3.4MM in his Super Two year instead of the team’s $3.1MM proposal, also via Heyman.
Teams prevailed against three others:
- Taijuan Walker, Diamondbacks: The new Arizona rotation member, who’s also a Super Two qualifier, will earn $2.25MM instead of his filing figure of $2.6MM, per Jack Magruder of Fan Rag (via Twitter).
- Chase Anderson, Brewers: Anderson, the final Super Two member of this bunch, will settle for the team’s $2.45MM proffer rather than the $2.85MM he sought, according to Heyman.
- Michael Wacha, Cardinals: In his first year of eligibility, Wacha will take home $2.775MM, falling shy of his $3.2MM request, per Heyman.
The Rays have designated righty Eddie Gamboa for assignment, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported (via Twitter). The move was made to clear roster space for fellow righty Nathan Eovaldi, whose signing was announced.
Though Eovaldi will not be available to the team, as he recovers from elbow surgery, his roster spot can be used again once he’s placed on the 60-day DL. It remains to be seen whether Gamboa will remain with the Rays. Assuming that he clears outright waivers, he could reject an assignment, as he has been outrighted previously.
Gamboa, a 32-year-old knuckleballer, finally made his big league debut last year in Tampa Bay, holding opposing hitters to two earned runs on nine base hits over 13 1/3 innings. He earned that brief look with a solid showing at Triple-A, where Gamboa spun 94 frames of 2.68 ERA ball with 8.5 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes that after the Rays passed on Franklin Gutierrez and Byung Ho Park, they’ll likely to see which right-handed bats emerge as potential additions over the course of Spring Training (unless Matt Wieters “falls to them,” he notes). Tampa Bay was tied to a number of right-handed bats, with Mike Napoli, Chris Carter and Mark Reynolds all linked to the Rays at one point (in addition to Gutierrez and Park). The Rays could add either a first baseman or second baseman to serve as a platoon partner for Logan Morrison and/or Brad Miller. Also of note, regarding the Rays, Topkin adds that past interest in right-handed reliever Tommy Hunter could suggest that he’d be a fit as a late pickup.
The Rays’ front office triad of Matt Silverman, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom is profiled by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, who outlines how this unique three-man management structure operates. While Silverman has the lead role as the president of baseball operations, he notes that between himself and his two senior VPs, “there are three of us that can make decisions for the department. If one person is responsible for the final stamp on decisions, it can slow things down. Knowing three of us, if not more, are empowered to make decisions and keep our operations running smoothly and effectively, that’s a real advantage.” Major decisions are made as a group, though day-to-day tasks seem more or less shared between the trio. Trade talks with other organizations are split evenly “based on each’s strongest relationships” — multiple trades between the Rays and Mariners in recent years, for instance, have stemmed from the good connection between Neander and Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto.
FEBRUARY 14: Eovaldi can also earn up to $3.5MM in incentives in the 2018 season, Topkin adds on Twitter.
FEBRUARY 12, 8:27pm: Eovaldi will also earn $2MM in 2018 if the Rays exercise their option, Topkin reports (Twitter link).
4:04pm: Eovaldi’s pact will include a $2MM salary for 2017, a club option for 2018 and incentives, tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney.
1:30pm: The Rays are close to signing right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to a major league deal, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). The contract will include a 2018 option, as the ACES client will miss the upcoming season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Eovaldi has been on the market since the Yankees released him in November, which came just over three months after his August elbow procedure. The soon-to-be 27-year-old previously underwent Tommy John surgery as an amateur, and he also had his right flexor tendon repaired during his latest operation.
Before landing on the shelf last year, the hard-throwing Eovaldi averaged a personal-high 97 mph on his fastball, registered a career-best 9.3 percent swinging-strike rate and posted a 49.6 percent ground-ball mark. Nevertheless, he struck out only seven batters per nine innings and logged a below-average 4.76 ERA over 124 2/3 innings frames. Home run troubles were the main reason Eovaldi had issues preventing runs, as he allowed HRs on 18.7 percent of fly balls.
From 2011-15, when he also spent time as a Dodger and Marlin, Eovaldi recorded a far more palatable homer-to-fly ball ratio (7.1 percent) and yielded a much better ERA (4.10) over 614 1/3 innings. Despite his velocity, Eovaldi wasn’t a strikeout artist during those five years (6.48 per nine), though he did a respectable job limiting free passes (2.92 BB/9). Going forward, Eovaldi could at least provide the Rays an intriguing relief option in 2018 if he doesn’t slot into their rotation.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Although Brad Miller said he’s “on the same page” with the Rays about potentially shifting from first base to second, he hasn’t necessarily embraced the move, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The 30-home run man from 2016 last played second two seasons ago as a member of the Mariners, and he has generally fared poorly as a middle infielder (minus-27 Defensive Runs Saved, minus-12.3 Ultimate Zone Rating as primarily a shortstop in 3,300-plus innings). Should Miller scuffle in his return to the keystone this year, the Rays would likely scrap the experiment and divide his playing time among first, designated hitter and short, per Topkin, who points to Tim Beckham, Nick Franklin and Daniel Robertson as their other in-house second base possibilities.