The Rays are changing it up tonight in an effort to even up the World Series with the Dodgers, per MLB.com’s Juan Toribio (via Twitter). Against the southpaw Julio Urías, the Rays have dropped Brandon Lowe to the 5-spot, while lefty killer Mike Brosseau gets the start at third base batting third. Hunter Renfroe gets the start in right field in place of Austin Meadows. The Rays tend to play match-ups against lefties, but don’t be surprised to see Ji-Man Choi or Meadows come in off the bench late in the game. While we wait for first pitch, let’s see what else is going on around the game…
- 16-year-old Cuban outfielder Luis Pino worked out for scouts this week in the Dominican Republic, and ESPN.com’s Enrique Rojas (Spanish language link) reports that the Athletics and Rays are the favorites to land Pino when the international signing window opens on January 15. The Giants, Cubs, White Sox, Red Sox and Padres have also shown interest in Pino, who seems likely to command a bonus of $1MM or more.
For starters, yes, it’s now officially “The Randy Arozarena Trade.”
Arozarena has been the star of the Rays’ postseason run, hitting an incredible .382/.433/.855 with seven home runs over 60 plate appearances in these playoffs. The 25-year-old outfielder’s performance earned him ALCS MVP honors, making him the first rookie position player in baseball history to ever be named MVP of a league championship series or World Series.
It’s pretty on-brand for the Rays’ style of roster-building that their October hero is someone a lot of fans probably had never heard of as recently as September. For a team that is rightly credited for a strong minor league system, it’s a little surprising that so few members of Tampa Bay’s World Series roster are actually homegrown players — only seven of the 28 players came up entirely through the Rays’ pipeline, with the other 21 all acquired via signings or trades.
Case in point, Arozarena. Back in January, the Rays and Cardinals completed a multi-player deal that, at the time, was best known as “the Jose Martinez trade” or even “the Matthew Liberatore trade.” Tampa Bay sent top pitching prospect Liberatore, catching prospect Edgardo Rodriguez, and their draft pick in Competitive Balance Round B (which ended up 63rd overall) to St. Louis in exchange for Martinez, the Cards’ pick in Competitive Balance Round A (or the 37th overall pick) and a certain future ALCS MVP.
At the time, Martinez was easily the best-known quantity, having hit .298/.363/.458 with 41 homers over 1288 PA for the Cardinals in 2016-19. If you had predicted in January that a player from this trade would help lead the Rays to the AL pennant, the assumption would have been that Martinez continued (or improved upon) the offensive production he delivered in St. Louis. A move to the American League was long seen as a way to possibly fully unlock his potential, as the defensively-challenged Martinez would no longer have to worry about playing the field in a league with a designated hitter position.
As it turned out, Martinez didn’t even finish the season in Tampa. After missing much of Summer Camp due to a positive COVID-19 test, Martinez hit .239/.329/.388 over 76 PA for the Rays and was traded to the Cubs in a deadline deal for two players to be named later. Martinez then didn’t collect a single hit over 22 PA for Chicago, and now looks like he could be a non-tender candidate this winter.
It’s worth noting that Martinez didn’t hit as well in 2019 as he did in 2017-18, leading some Tampa fans to wonder why a 31-year-old DH type was the apparent headliner of a trade package for one of the Rays’ (and baseball’s) top prospects. Liberatore was the 16th overall pick of the 2018 draft and a consensus top-65 prospect, and even accounting for the lost 2020 minor league season, there’s no reason to believe Liberatore couldn’t still become a quality MLB starter. Liberatore could even factor into the Cardinals’ pitching plans for 2021, as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Liberatore impressed the team while working out at the alternate training site this summer.
Arozarena was a well-regarded prospect in his own right, but hardly a top-100 type or even one of the top-tier names in the Cardinals’ system alone; MLB Pipeline ranked Arozarena as the tenth-best St. Louis minor leaguer at the time of the trade. Since the Cards were already overloaded with outfield candidates, it was more than understandable that Mozeliak and company jumped to unload some of that surplus while bringing back a promising minor league arm. Granted, St. Louis fans might not agree with this logic based on immediate returns, as several Cards outfielders (such as Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, and even top prospect Dylan Carlson) badly struggled at the plate in 2020 while Arozarena thrived in Tampa Bay.
As valuable of an asset as Liberatore was and still is, however, the Rays felt okay with moving a piece of their future for the win-now addition of some outfield bats. This is where the Rays’ outstanding player development system really comes into play — Tampa Bay is comfortable in taking the risk in trading such prospects because the front office has confidence they can always draft, acquire, and develop more good players to fill that void.
In a baseball world that holds top-100 prospects in higher regard than ever before, the Rays have dealt three such players (Liberatore, Jesus Sanchez, and Nick Solak) since July 2019, bringing back the likes of Arozarena, Nick Anderson, Peter Fairbanks, and Trevor Richards in return. All are controllable young players in their own right, and all have been able to contribute at the big league level more immediately, with Arozarena, Anderson, and Fairbanks in particular all being major components of Tampa’s push to the World Series.
The Rays/Cardinals trade is also perhaps instructional in considering just how much teams value draft position. The concept of trading draft picks is still unusual in baseball terms (the Competitive Balance Round selections are the only picks that can be traded), though fans of the NFL, NBA, or NHL are very familiar with how much teams in those sports often have to surrender in order to trade up in those respective drafts. A 26-spot jump in the draft was a big leap upwards for the Rays, who used that 37th overall pick on Arizona State shortstop Alika Williams. St. Louis, meanwhile, took Arkansas high school pitcher Tink Hence with the 63rd overall pick.
Perhaps in a decade’s time, we’ll look back on this deal as “The Alika Williams Trade” or “The Tink Hence Trade,” or even “The Edgardo Rodriguez Trade.” Since the swap has already led to at least an AL pennant, the Rays likely won’t be too upset if Hence, Rodriguez, or Liberatore end up being staples of the Cardinals’ roster. While fans take stock of which teams “win” or “lose” trades, most front offices hope all their deals are win-win moves — it won’t help future trade negotiations, naturally, if other teams are too wary of a club who only trades away future underachievers.
The Rays do tend to come out on the better end of trades more often than not, however, which is why the low-payroll franchise is currently playing for a World Series title. Every playoff champion seems to have at least one unheralded acquisition leading the way, and while Arozarena is but one of several such players on Tampa Bay’s roster, his immediate impact and long-term potential make him a particular success story for the Rays’ front office.
The Rays have set their roster for their upcoming World Series showdown with the National League Champion Dodgers. They’ll carry mostly the same group of players that toppled the Astros in a riveting seven-game American League Championship Series, with a few notable changes. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that outfielder Brett Phillips and left-handed reliever Ryan Sherriff have both been added to the roster, taking the spots of right-hander Aaron Slegers and lefty Jose Alvarado.
Here’s how the roster breaks down:
- Randy Arozarena
- Kevin Kiermaier
- Manuel Margot
- Austin Meadows
- Brett Phillips
- Hunter Renfroe
- Yoshi Tsutsugo
Unlike the Division Series and League Championship Series, the World Series has a pair of off-days built into the schedule, which likely contributed heavily to Tampa Bay’s decision to carry an extra position player in the final round of play. In Phillips, they’ll add a rocket-armed and fleet-footed reserve outfielder who can provide some speed off the bench and a defensive upgrade late in games. Phillips tallied just 59 plate appearances in 2020 between the Royals and Rays, hitting .196/.305/.392. He was six-for-seven in stolen bases, however, and has developed a penchant for making highlight-reel throws from the outfield with an arm that regularly drew 70 grades and even a few 80 grades on scouting reports.
The 30-year-old Sherriff returned from a lengthy absence due to Tommy John surgery to give the Rays 9 2/3 shutout frames during the regular season. He has a limited Major League track record, having pitched a bit for the Cardinals previously. Sherriff only struck out two hitters in those 9 2/3 innings, but he also recorded a hefty 56.7 percent ground-ball rate. In all, he has a 2.73 ERA with a 20-to-8 K/BB ratio and a 60.4 percent grounder rate in 29 2/3 Major League innings.
Alvarado was added to the ALCS roster after sitting out the Wild Card and ALDS rounds. He’d been sidelined by a shoulder issue since mid-August prior to that point, and he’ll now be swapped out for Sherriff, it seems. Alvarado tossed 1 2/3 scoreless frames against the Astros but did walk three of the five batters he faced in his second appearance. Slegers has allowed just one run in five innings to this point in the postseason after giving the Rays 26 frames of 3.46 ERA/3.04 FIP ball during the regular season.
- Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier suffered a wrist injury when he was hit by a pitch in Game 3 of the ALCS. He’ll be a full-go for the World Series, he told reporters (including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). That’s not particularly surprising, since the 30-year-old returned to Tampa Bay’s starting lineup for Game 7 against Houston. The three-time Gold Glove winner has been an integral part of the Rays’ superlative team defense this postseason.
Blake Snell will end his streak of starting game ones for the Rays, but he’s not going to wait long to take the hill. Snell will get the ball in game two against the Dodgers, while Tyler Glasnow will toe the rubber in the opening game of the World Series, per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter).
Clayton Kershaw is set to oppose Glasnow in game one for the Dodgers. Los Angeles was able to escape the NLCS despite just one so-so outing from Kershaw, but they’re surely expecting more from the all-time great as the World Series kicks off on Tuesday.
For the Rays, expect similar usage from their pitching staff over the first couple of games, but it will be anyone’s guess from there. With days off after game two and game five, manager Kevin Cash will have more options available to him. The days off mean the Rays will probably drop a pitcher from their 15-man unit in order to bring a position player back into the mix, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The Rays went with a 14-and-14 pitch-to-hitter balance for the first few rounds of the playoffs, only adding the additional arm for the 7-day, 7-game ALCS.
Rays starters don’t tend to pitch far beyond the fifth inning regardless, but the extra rest gives Cash some flexibility for how to deploy his arms. Charlie Morton would be on five days rest for a game three start, assuming Cash decides to keep his regular rotation intact. He could then turn to Ryan Yarbrough for game four, or return to Glasnow on three days’ rest.
Purely speculating, Josh Fleming and Jose Alvarado were the ’last in,’ so to speak, having been added to the roster for the ALCS. Alvarado struggled with his command, while the Rays may not feel the need for a longman like Fleming given the extra days of rest. Shane McClanahan, who made his big league debut during the postseason, could also be an option for removal. On the offensive end, Brett Phillips and Nate Lowe both made the playoff roster for a previous round. Given how much the Rays value outfield defense, Phillips might be the more natural add, especially with Ji-Man Choi healthy and ostensibly filling Lowe’s potential role on the roster.
The Astros are one win away from pulling off one of the greatest postseason comebacks in Major League Baseball history. After dropping the first three games of the American League Championship Series against the Rays, they have won three in a row to force a Game 7 on Saturday. The Astros will use right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. as their starter then, Jake Kaplan of The Athletic tweets. The Rays, hoping to stave off a collapse, will turn to righty Charlie Morton, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
McCullers, who debuted with the Astros in 2015, has been through the postseason wringer with the perennial contenders. He made his first playoff outing as a rookie and has since contributed 43 frames of 2.93 ERA pitching with 9.6 K/9 against 2.9 BB/9 in the postseason, including closing out the Yankees in the Astros’ 2017 ALCS victory in Game 7. As for this fall’s playoffs, the 27-year-old has tossed 11 innings of five-earned run ball, and he last took the mound for the Astros in their Game 2 loss in this series on Monday. McCullers totaled seven innings with four runs (only one earned) on four hits and no walks in that game, and he put up 11 strikeouts.
Morton got the better of McCullers in the pair’s previous matchup, during which he fired five scoreless frames. The 36-year-old Morton helped lead the Astros to a championship in 2017 with his excellent playoff performance, but he could now end their season with his current club. Not only has Morton largely been a tremendous regular-season pitcher since he broke out as an Astro during their title-winning campaign, but he has been as good or better in the fall, evidenced by his lifetime 3.16 ERA with 9.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 51 1/3 playoff innings. Based on the success he has had in the postseason, Morton seems well equipped to handle a do-or-die matchup.
Thanks to the heroics of shortstop Carlos Correa, who hit a walk-off home run Thursday, the Astros forced a Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Rays. Both teams’ starters are set for that affair on Friday. The Astros will use left-hander Framber Valdez, per manager Dusty Baker (via Brian McTaggart of MLB.com), while the Rays will turn to fellow southpaw Blake Snell, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets.
This will be the third straight backs-against-the-wall game for the Astros, who fell behind 3-0 in the series but have refused to go away quietly. They’ve won two consecutive games by a 4-3 score and will now rely on the 26-year-old Valdez to keep their season going. He was an indispensable part of their Justin Verlander-less rotation during the regular season, when he tossed 70 2/3 innings of 3.57 ERA/2.85 FIP ball with 9.68 K/9, 2.04 BB/9 and a 60 percent groundball rate. Valdez has added another 18 frames in the postseason and allowed just four earned runs. The Rays did, however, get the better of him in Game 1 of the ALCS with a 2-1 victory.
Snell was at the helm for the Rays in the series’ first game, and the former AL Cy Young winner gave up one run in five innings. He has generally been excellent in these playoffs, having surrendered five ER in 15 2/3 frames. Before that, Snell had another effective regular season with 50 innings of 3.24 ERA/4.35 FIP pitching with 11.34 K/9, 3.24 BB/9 and a 49.2 percent GB rate. The 27-year-old now has a chance to pitch Tampa Bay into the World Series for the first time since 2008.
The Rays and Astros have set their starters for Thursday’s Game 5 of the ALCS. Tampa Bay will give the start to right-handed reliever John Curtiss in what should be a bullpen game, while Houston is turning to rookie right-hander Luis Garcia with their season on the line. Garcia has yet to pitch in the playoffs and pitched just 12 1/3 regular-season frames — his first career work above the Class-A Advanced level.
The 27-year-old Curtiss proved to be the latest gem unearthed by the Rays, as he gave the club 25 innings of 1.80 ERA ball with a 25-to-3 K/BB ratio during the regular season. The former Twins prospect was greeted rudely in his playoff debut earlier this month when the Yankees clobbered him for five runs in just two thirds of an inning, but he’s bounced back with a trio of scoreless outings. Curtiss didn’t pitch more than 2 2/3 innings in any appearance this season and hasn’t thrown more than 43 pitches in an outing, so it’ll be an all-hands-on-deck approach for the Rays today.
Garcia, 23, hasn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 27 and wasn’t asked to pitch more than two innings at any point after a five-inning effort back on Sept. 9. The Astros won’t be asking for bulk innings from the rookie today, as manager Dusty Baker told reporters his hope is that Garcia can navigate a potent Rays lineup once through the order (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart). It’s a stark contrast from last year’s Astros club, which rode the trio of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke to Game 7 of the World Series, but it’s also a testament to the club’s young pitching that their arms have been able to take them this far in spite of so many key injuries to veteran pitchers.
In other lineup news, Baker revealed that x-rays taken after Michael Brantley fouled a ball into his foot were negative. He’s batting second as the Astros’ DH in today’s elimination game.
The Rays designated Drake for assignment after an injury forced him from their playoff roster. Though he’s obviously done for this season, the Rays could re-sign the much-traveled reliever, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter).
Originally a 43rd-round draft pick of the Orioles back in 2008, Drake made his big-league debut as a 28-year-old with the Orioles in 2015. A trade to the Brewers in April of 2017 kicked off a nomadic period for Drake. The Indians purchased his contract from the Brewers after a season in Milwaukee, but then he’d be waived and claimed by the Angels, Blue Jays, Twins, Rays, and Blue Jays again, all over the course of the 2018 season. He appeared in the majors for five teams that season, the Rays, ironically, not among them.
Tampa would again purchase Drake’s contract in January of 2019 and keep him through the 2020 season. The 33-year-old reliever settled in with the Rays over the past season and a half. He was a significant bullpen piece for them in 2019, using his signature screwball to log a 3.21 ERA/3.87 FIP across 50 games, 56 innings. This season he made 11 appearances with a 5.73 ERA/5.92 FIP. Drake threw one scoreless inning in the ALDS against the Yankees.