- The once far-fetched idea of splitting time between Florida and Montreal now may be the only way the Rays maintain a presence in Tampa Bay, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The timeshare agreement won’t likely take effect until 2028. If an agreement can’t be put in place, principal owner Stuart Sternberg is more likely to find a new location for the Rays or sell the team to someone else who will. A full-time move to Montreal is not in the cards, should Sternberg keep the team, as he thinks there are better full-time markets available. Which markets, exactly, is not yet clear. If this timeshare agreement doesn’t come together, however, the Rays may start the search for a new home in earnest. There are many potential snags to the timeshare plan, one of which is that new stadiums would likely have to be built in both markets. It’s hard to imagine how building two stadiums roughly 1,500 miles apart is the best solution, but that’s the plan for now.
6:17pm: The White Sox are “working hard to land” Mazara, as Jim Bowden of SiriusXM first reported. As for Chirinos, the Astros, Tigers, Rays and Pirates join the Rangers in the market for him, Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweets.
1:04pm: The Rangers have remained busy on the market, with MLB.com’s TR Sullivan reporting that the club is active on multiple fronts (Twitter links). While it stands to reason that the team is still considering moves in the rotation, the attention now is on the position player side after several notable pitching additions.
It has long seemed likely that the Rangers would explore possible swaps involving its existing outfielders. But the team now appears to be engaged in a somewhat dedicated manner. Sullivan says the intention is to “move one of their extra left-handed hitting outfielders,” with Nomar Mazara, Willie Calhoun, and Shin-Soo Choo named as possibilities.
That’s a highly varied group of players. Mazara is a mid-arbitration player that hasn’t turned the corner in the majors but remains quite youthful. Calhoun hasn’t had the same degree of opportunity (and hasn’t logged as much service) but showed well with the bat last year. He’s also still a question mark defensively, as is the aging Choo, who can still hit but isn’t worth the remainder of his big contract.
The Rangers are said to be chatting with the Diamondbacks about some of these players; the clubs were connected last night regarding Mazara. Evidently talks between the Rangers and Marlins didn’t advance. Craig Mish of MLB Network Radio tweets that the Fish were turned off by the asking price for Mazara, a former top prospect.
Meanwhile, there’s “mutual interest” in a new deal with backstop Robinson Chirinos. That’s rather an interesting development, considering the Texas organization surprisingly declined its option over him last fall. The replacement plan fell apart, as MLBTR’s Connor Byrne explored, while Chirinos flourished with the cross-state Astros.
The 35-year-old Chirinos and the Rangers are amply familiar with one another, as he played with the team for six seasons. It seems the sides carry no ill will over the way things ended. The catching market has moved rather swiftly to this point, leaving Chirinos and Jason Castro as the top available options.
The Rays are looking at a variety of possibilities for improving their outfield mix, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via Twitter).
The Tampa Bay organization previously struck a deal that shipped out one outfielder (Tommy Pham) and brought in another (Hunter Renfroe). While there had been some whispers of hiccups in the deal, it is now fully locked up, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter).
While there isn’t exactly a new hole to be filled, then, the Rays are still looking to bolster a unit that is now missing Avisail Garcia and his 530 plate appearances from 2019. Garcia is, as previously rumored, one of the ongoing targets, per Sherman.
In addition to exploring a return for Garcia, the Rays have also turned their gaze to the west. A pair of left-handed-hitting Japanese players, rangy center fielder Shogo Akiyama and slugging corner outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, are each said to carry appeal. While they’re quite different players — from one another and from Garcia — it seems the Rays can conceive of ways that all would fit into their ever-adaptable roster.
The Padres and Rays already announced last week’s trade, one that saw outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Tommy Pham switch homes, but some complications have arisen since then. Specifically, even though 31-year-old Pham “effectively passed a series of physicals this weekend,” per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, there are concerns over his right elbow. The joint kept Pham out of action for some of 2019, and according to Acee, the Padres’ medical staff still hasn’t cleared him. The trade’s currently “in limbo” as a result, writes Acee. However, Padres general manager A.J. Preller suggested Monday that it should still go through. “We’re still working through some final details but hope to have some clarity on that in the next 24 hours,” Preller said. “When we made the trade, we made the trade with the players involved. I don’t expect anything to change between now and the time we move forward. But we just have to finish the process up.”
- The Rays have “expressed interest” in free-agent outfielders Shogo Akiyama and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets. Unlike Akiyama, the 28-year-old Tsutsugo was posted by his Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, so any major league team that signs him would have to pay a release fee determined by the size of his MLB deal. His 30-day posting window ends Dec. 19. Tsutsugo’s coming off a years-long run as one of Japan’s most powerful sluggers, as he eclipsed the 20-home run mark seven straight times and combined for 139 HRs over the past four seasons. Still, he didn’t crack MLBTR’s list of the top 50 free agents before the offseason, whereas Akiyama came in at No. 45 and is projected to earn a two-year, $6MM guarantee. Akiyama showed some power in Japan over the past half-decade in his own right, as he bashed 94 home runs and slashed .320/.398/.497. The 31-year-old also added 78 stolen bases, though he’s currently recovering from a broken foot suffered in October.
- Sticking with the Yankees, they’ve “engaged” with another of their longtime contributors, free-agent reliever Dellin Betances, Jack Curry of the YES Network tweets. But so have one of their division rivals, the Rays. Wherever Betances ends up, it’s “likely” he’ll sign a one-year contract in an effort to rebuild his value, per Curry. Although the 31-year-old Betances is one of the game’s most successful relievers in recent memory, injuries to the right-hander’s shoulder, lat and Achilles prevented him from making any meaningful contributions in 2019. Nevertheless, MLBTR expects Betances to land a $7MM payday over one year (with the Rays).
After missing much of 2018 and all of 2019, outfielder Steven Souza Jr. will be looking for a place to reboot his career in 2020. Souza was recently non-tendered by the Diamondbacks, but he insists he is finally healthy and cleared for game action. One club he wouldn’t mind spending the 2020 season with is the Tampa Bay Rays, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The best seasons of Souza’s career were with Tampa in 2016 and 2017, but outside of a particularly strong 2017 in which he posted a 121 wRC+, Souza has largely performed within arm’s reach of league average – from both above and below. The spotty record combined with the injuries of the past two seasons means Souza will likely have to settle for a prove-yourself type of deal, which could put the Rays among interested teams. That’s all speculation for now, however, as the market for Souza isn’t likely to take shape with any immediacy. While we wait, let’s check out a couple other quick bits of news from around the baseball world…
- The Rays, as Juan Toribio of MLB.com rightly notes, will head into San Diego’s Manchester Hyatt hotel with a laundry list of roster items in need of attention. GM Erik Neander may be looking for a backup catcher, while the offense was already in need of a boost before the departure of Tommy Pham. But Toribio notes that trading from the club’s ample middle infield depth might be the most obvious course of action for the trade-happy Rays. The reporter (smartly) doesn’t mention the likely untouchable Wander Franco in his piece but suggests that Vidal Brujan and Lucius Fox would be “attractive” to other teams. Brujan, this observer notes, is ranked as the 15th-overall prospect in the game by Fangraphs but may be hard-pressed to find an MLB role in a system featuring Brandon Lowe, Willy Adames, Michael Brosseau, Daniel Robertson, Franco, and (now) Xavier Edwards. Still, a Brujan trade can hardly be called a likely outcome–while this winter has provided us with a refreshing amount of activity on the trade and free agent fronts, Edwards’ trade to the Rays marked the first time a “consensus” top-100 prospect has changed hands this offseason.
While Thursday’s Rays/Padres deal headlined by Tommy Pham and Hunter Renfroe likely won’t go down as this winter’s most shocking, the trade had something to say about the respective offseason strategies of both clubs. Tampa Bay, for their part, cut salary, increased controllability, and added yet another prized infield prospect to an already enviable collection. San Diego, true to their stated desire for a near-term return to contention, look to have secured an immediate improvement at the top of their lineup while also shuffling in an interesting two-way player likely capable of providing the big league roster with some extra support.
Hunter Renfroe is the most immediate addition to the Rays’ roster, even if this deal may have been more about the acquisition of infield prospect Xavier Edwards from the viewpoint of Tampa Bay GM Erik Neander. Renfroe has gained his share of detractors over the years for a free-swinging, low-OBP approach at the plate, but 2019 saw him finally realize the defensive potential many scouts foresaw when he was a top-100 prospect. Lining up primarily in the corners with a few starts in center, the former Bulldog recorded 22 Defensive Runs Saved and a 10.1 Ultimate Zone Rating last year, after recording average-or-worse marks in those categories the year prior. His arm is also touted as one of MLB’s most imposing.
Observers noting Renfroe’s underwhelming 98 wRC+ last year might be well-served to remember that the 27-year-old had a .252/.308/.613 line (132 wRC+) with 27 home runs heading into the All-Star break last year, before a variety of injuries were believed to have led to a precipitous second-half decline (Renfroe ended his season with a foot surgery). But even if Renfroe proves to be the roughly average hitter he’s been over the course of his career, Neander will have acquired a defensive standout capable of providing power, if nothing else, to the Rays’ lineup; better yet, he’s projected to make just $3.4MM in his first trip through arb, making him a very affordable source of said power.
As for the second aspect of this deal for the Rays, Edwards is a 20-year-old speedster who reached High-A last season. He’s hit just one home run in over 700 plate appearances since making his minor-league debut in 2018, but the youngster has terrorized pitchers (with a .328/.395/.399 career slash) and scorched the basepaths (56 steals in 168 games). When he was taken with the 38th-overall pick in the 2018 draft, MLB Pipeline relayed that scouts observed “excellent actions and footwork at shortstop” with an arm sufficient for the infield’s left side; he’s mostly split time between short and second so far in the minors, but it stands to reason his speed would play in center, as well. The Rays also acquired a PTBNL in this deal, which is not to be disregarded when said player is coming from a loaded San Diego system.
In Pham, the Padres added a player with a clear leg up on Renfroe for the title of “Best MLB Player” involved in this deal. While, at 31, he may never again reach the vertigo-inducing heights he climbed in 2017 with the Cardinals (149 wRC+ in 530 PAs), he’s still been an excellent player over the last two seasons in Tampa. His 12.1 percent walk rate, .186 isolated slugging mark, and 125 wRC+ since the beginning of 2018 all bear the markings of a standout hitter–and that’s before adding in the 42 homers and 40 steals he’s managed in that time. At an expected arbitration award of $8.6MM in his penultimate trip through the process, Pham rates as an immediate offensive upgrade over Renfroe, while drawing a salary that will possibly be less than half of what Marcell Ozuna figures to command this offseason.
Jake Cronenworth, the second player headed to San Diego in this deal, is a 25-year-old infielder capable of handling mop-up pitching duties in a pinch. Before 2019, the former Wolverine had never recorded a slugging mark north of .400 in his minor league career, but his first prolonged exposure to Triple-A baseball yielded an immediate improvement at the plate last year (surprise!). His .329/.422/.511 line with 10 homers in 419 plate appearances would lead one to believe that he’s ready for at least a part-time role in the bigs, even if those numbers were inflated by context somewhat; of course, hitting environment cuts both ways in prospect evaluation, so Cronenworth should be commended for being able to log 7.1 scoreless innings as a part-time pitcher in 2019, as well.
So, here we have a deal that, like a previous deal swung by Padres GM AJ Preller this offseason, seems to fit clear needs for both clubs. Question is, whose side do you like best?
First, Tampa Bay…
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And San Diego…
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The Rays have explored the possibility of dividing future seasons between Florida and Montreal, Canada, but that no longer appears to be on the table. St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman announced this week that he will not give the Rays permission to seek a Tampa Bay-Montreal split, per Josh Solomon and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. While the Rays had hoped to play games in Montreal by 2024, that’s not happening without the blessing of St. Petersburg.
Rays owner David Sternberg isn’t thrilled with Kriseman’s decision, as he said, “We do not agree that this is the best path forward.”
Sternberg went on to suggest future relocation could be on the table, stating, “We recognize that we must now consider our post-2027 options and all that entails and we remain steadfast in our belief that the sister city concept is deserving of serious consideration.”
Likewise, Rays president Brian Auld isn’t happy.
“It remains clear to us, and we continue to believe that it’s also true for the city, that the worst of possible outcomes here is for the team to be compelled to stay here through the end of the 2027 season,” Auld said, “and forced to pursue other options in a noncooperative engagement with the city of St. Petersburg.”
The Rays will be free to relocate if they and their city don’t establish a new union after the 2027 season. Until then, the Rays are bound to Tropicana Field – which many regard as one of the worst stadiums in baseball. Thanks in part to their unpalatable facility, the Rays posted the second-lowest attendance in baseball in 2019. It looks as if franchise higher-ups have had enough. Auld essentially told the Tampa Bay Times that, barring a true solution to their stadium problems, the Rays stand a good chance of leaving when they’re able.
“We don’t like to say never, but I think as (Sternberg) said on the day of the (June 25 Montreal) announcement at the Dali museum, it’s highly unlikely that a full season baseball team in Tampa Bay is going to be here in 2028,” Auld said.
Meanwhile, Rays president of baseball operations Matthew Silverman admitted that “the clock is ticking” in regards to an answer on the organization’s future. If the Rays do exit Tampa Bay in roughly a decade, Solomon, Topkin and TB Times colleague John Romano list Orlando, Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Portland, Vancouver and even Montreal as possible new homes for the franchise. Orlando’s efforts to land a major league team are already underway.