- Rays right-hander Chris Archer is hopeful he’ll return from forearm tightness in early July, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times relays. Archer reunited with the Rays on a one-year, $6.5MM contract in free agency, but he made just two appearances and combined for 4 1/3 innings before suffering this injury. Archer, previously with the Pirates, missed all of 2020 after undergoing thoracic outlet surgery.
Ben Zobrist’s name surfaced in the news over the last few days, as a tweet from Heritage Auction Sports claimed that Zobrist’s World Series ring from the 2016 Cubs was going to be up for bids in August. However, Zobrist’s agent Scott Pucino told Paul Sullivan of The Chicago Tribune that the ring wasn’t going to be sold, and that Zobrist told him that ” ’Why would I sell this ring? It makes no sense. I’m never going to get rid of this ring — never, never, ever.’ ”
That would seem to put that curious matter to rest, and Pucino also confirmed what has seemed increasingly obvious over the last two years: Zobrist has ended his playing career. Though Zobrist has not officially retired, Pucino said that Zobrist is focusing on taking care of his children while going through a divorce. “He’s a devoted dad and grabbing the bull by the horns and taking hold of the situation,” Pucino said.
Zobrist last played in 2019, his 14th Major League season. He only played in 47 games during that final year, as his divorce led him to spend much of the season on personal leave — the money surrendered by Zobrist for his time on the restricted list allowed the Cubs enough luxury tax wiggle room to sign Craig Kimbrel, so Zobrist’s impact is still being felt on the Cubs to this day.
Of course, Zobrist had already long since made his mark on Chicago baseball history due to his role in the Cubs’ curse-breaking 2016 championship run. Signed to a four-year, $56MM free agent deal in the 2015-16 offseason, Zobrist hit .272/.386/.446 over 631 PA during the regular season, and then won World Series MVP honors by batting .357/.419/.500 over 31 PA during the Fall Classic. That came on the heels of another big performance for Zobrist in the previous year’s World Series, as Zobrist was acquired by the Royals before the trade deadline in 2015 and then helped Kansas City capture the title.
Over 14 MLB seasons, the switch-hitting Zobrist batted .266/.357/.426 over 6836 PA for the Rays, Athletics, Royals, and Cubs. The Astros initially drafted Zobrist in the sixth round in 2004, and after being dealt to Tampa in July 2006, Zobrist went from being mostly a full-time shortstop into the super-utilityman position that defined his career.
Through far from the only “Swiss Army Knife” of a player in history (Jose Oquendo and Tony Phillips stand out for fans of 80’s and 90’s baseball), Zobrist’s name became synonymous with on-field versatility in this generation. He made 794 of his 1503 career starts as a second baseman, but also 363 starts in right field, 196 starts at shortstop, 107 starts in left field, as well as time as a center fielder and at both corner infield slots. Between his multi-position ability and productive switch-hitting bat, Zobrist could be moved around the diamond and utilized in a number of different fashions by Rays manager Joe Maddon and future skippers throughout Zobrist’s career.
While Zobrist ranks third in fWAR (behind Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford) on the Rays’ all-time franchise list, it can be argued that Zobrist might be the “greatest Ray ever” for both on-field value and symbolic reasons, as he exemplifies how the Rays have looked to mold a seemingly endless array of multi-positional players since Zobrist’s time with the franchise. Beyond just Tampa Bay, teams all over baseball in recent years have looked to maximize bench depth by having super-utility types on the roster.
From 2009-16, Zobrist generated 40.5 fWAR, a total surpassed by only eight players in baseball during that eight-season span. These prime years saw him reach three All-Star teams, finish as high as eighth place in AL MVP voting (2009), and capture those two World Series titles with the Royals and Cubs in consecutive years.
MLBTR wishes all the best to Zobrist in his post-playing days, and congratulates him on an outstanding career.
The Mariners announced Friday that they have acquired right-hander Yacksel Rios from the Rays in exchange for cash. He’s not currently on the 40-man roster, having inked a minor league pact with Tampa Bay over the winter.
Of course, that lack of a 40-man roster spot may change quickly. The Mariners have a pair of open spots on their roster, and Rios has been lights-out in Triple-A Durham thus far in 2021. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times tweets that Rios had a June 1 opt-out date in his contract, so this trade quite likely boils down to a matter of the Rays not feeling there’s a spot for him in their current bullpen and helping him land in a situation with a quick and straightforward path to the big leagues.
Rios, who’ll turn 28 later this month, doesn’t have much of a track record in the Majors but has ripped through Triple-A lineups so far in 2021. He’s tossed 13 2/3 innings with Tampa Bay’s top affiliate and yielded just one run on eight hits and two walks with 17 strikeouts, complementing those numbers with a terrific 56.7 percent grounder rate.
Rios has just a 6.36 ERA in 69 1/3 big league innings, so those eye-popping numbers in Triple-A should be taken with a grain of salt. But the hard-throwing righty averages just shy of 96 mph on his heater and has generated a solid 11.9 percent swinging-strike rate during his 66 big league appearances, so it’s certainly possible he has more in the tank. The Mariners entered the season with a fluid bullpen mix in the first place and are currently without Kendall Graveman, Erik Swanson, Casey Sadler, Andres Munoz and Drew Steckenrider, so there should be opportunity for Rios in the near future.
Rays pitching prospect Tyler Zombro was struck in the head by a line drive last night during the eighth inning of Triple-A Durham’s game against Norfolk. Zombro was taken off the field on a stretcher and taken to hospital, as the game was suspended and then later officially halted.
The Rays released a statement on Zombro’s condition earlier today: “As of this morning, Tyler remains under the care of the nurses and doctors at Duke University Hospital. The updates from overnight have been positive, and he remains in stable condition. We are overwhelmed by the support for Tyler and the wishes for his full and speedy recovery from fans and the baseball community alike. We will provide additional updates as he progresses.”
- Ji-Man Choi has been battling left groin tightness and might require a trip to the injured list. Choi missed Thursday’s game with the Yankees due to the issue, and Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters (including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times) that “I don’t think that he necessarily felt that great today” even after Choi received treatment throughout the game. Arthroscopic knee surgery in March delayed Choi’s season debut until May 16, and he has been making up for lost time with a scorching .304/.448/.522 slash line in his first 58 plate appearances. [UPDATE: the Rays have placed Choi on the 10-day IL with a left groin strain.]
Rays left-hander Cody Reed underwent surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome today, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). He will miss the rest of the 2021 season but is expected to be ready by the outset of next year’s Spring Training.
Tampa Bay acquired the former Reds top prospect from Cincinnati last August. He only made two appearances down the stretch because of a finger issue. Reed returned to pitch twelve times this season before numbness in his thumb sent him to the 60-day injured list and eventually led to today’s procedure. He allowed five runs (four earned) in 9 2/3 innings this year, only striking out seven while walking six.
Losing Reed is yet another blow to a Rays bullpen that has been without a few key contributors over the season’s first two months. None of Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, Jalen Beeks or Colin Poche have pitched this year, while Chaz Roe has been out since April 3 with a shoulder issue. Roe is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham tomorrow, Topkin reports (Twitter link).
It’s good to hear the 28-year-old Reed is expected back at full strength in 2022, although it’s not clear he’ll survive the winter on Tampa Bay’s roster. Reed will accrue a full year of MLB service this year as he recovers, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason. Given the injury-wrecked platform year and his career 5.22 ERA, Reed’s projected arbitration cost surely won’t be exorbitant. Still, he’s never really found consistent success at the major league level and is out of minor league option years. Players have to be reinstated from the 60-day IL at the beginning of the offseason, so the Rays will have to carry him on the 40-man roster all winter or risk losing him to another club.
Five minority owners of the Rays filed a lawsuit against majority owner Stuart Sternberg in the Pinellas County Circuit Court over the weekend (full complaint available here). The action alleges that Sternberg has worked to “squeeze out” minority owners and increase his personal ownership stake in the franchise.
Sternberg, as managing partner of the organization, has a fiduciary duty to prioritize the interests of the partnership over his own. The minority shareholders allege he’s instead used his authority to decline to acquire potentially advantageous interests for the partnership as a whole, only to then personally acquire those interests and increase his own stake in the partnership. The suit alleges Sternberg has increased his personal share in the franchise from 49% in 2004 to 85% by 2020. The complainants additionally claim that Sternberg has placed himself and others on partnership payroll without explanation, among other allegations.
Of most interest to Rays fans is likely their assertion that Sternberg “has been secretly negotiating to sell an interest in the Franchise and Club to a Canadian businessman named Stephen Bronfman and his Montreal Baseball Group.” The complaint alleges that Sternberg has been in clandestine discussions with Bronfman since the “Spring of 2014.”
The Rays announced in June 2019 they were planning to explore an arrangement that would see the organization potentially split its home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal. Unsurprisingly, the City of St. Petersburg stated a few months later they would not grant the organization permission to embark on that concept. With the Rays contractually tied to St. Petersburg through the end of the 2027 season, the organization needed the city’s permission to pursue a split-city arrangement within the next few years. In the immediate aftermath of St. Petersburg’s announcement, a few Rays executives hinted that a post-2027 permanent relocation of the franchise could be a possibility.
The minority shareholders’ allegation that Sternberg was in discussions with a Montreal group five years before the organization’s first announcement about the potential split-city situation has raised eyebrows. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that city officials have expressed concerns those alleged conversations violate the organization’s lease agreement with the city, which bars the team from negotiating to play elsewhere during the term of the contract. (Sternberg, Topkin notes, has previously told reporters discussions with Bronfman began in 2017, but whether those discussions ever got specific enough to violate the lease terms is unclear.)
St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman now suggests (via Topkin) that Sternberg “consider relinquishing control” of the franchise in light of the allegations in the complaint. Kriseman went on to further suggest that he cannot negotiate a deal for a new stadium with Sternberg while the suit is pending (via Josh Solomon of the Tampa Bay Times).
It’s worth remembering the filing of a complaint marks one of the earliest stages in litigation. The suit has not yet proceeded to the point of discovery, where more facts would figure to come to light to either support or refute the minority shareholders’ allegations.
The Rays, for their part, have issued a statement on the matter: “We are disappointed that a handful of our limited partners have filed suit. The suit is deceptive and inflammatory and is fraught with error and falsehood. We have abided by the partnership agreement and the Tropicana Field use agreement.“
Michael Wacha will return from the 10-day injured list to start the Rays’ game against the Blue Jays today. As noted by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the plan is for Wacha and Josh Fleming to essentially work in a piggyback capacity today, with Wacha handling the first couple of innings before Fleming takes over for a longer stint. Brent Honeywell Jr. was already optioned to Triple-A yesterday to create roster room for Wacha’s return.
Wacha has been out of action since May 4 due to right hamstring tightness. After signing a one-year, $3MM free agent deal with Tampa this winter, Wacha’s first 28 1/3 innings with the Rays has resulted in a 4.76 ERA/4.06 SIERA. An above-average 6.9% walk rate is just about the only good news for Wacha advanced metric-wise, as his Statcast numbers have been quite underwhelming.
This is one of multiple transactions for the Rays, as Tampa also claimed catcher Deivy Grullon off waivers from the Mets, then optioned Grullon and the newly-acquired Drew Rasmussen to Triple-A. Right-hander Chris Mazza was also sent to Triple-A after being activated off the 10-day injured list. Left-hander Cody Reed was moved to the 60-day injured list to open up a 40-man roster spot.
With Willy Adames off to Milwaukee, the Rays addressed their shortstop vacancy not by calling up uber-prospect Wander Franco, but rather yet another well-regarded Tampa Bay farmhand in Walls. Defensively, Walls has long been big league-ready, as he is considered a plus defender at shortstop and “widely considered the best defensive player at any position in the Rays’ Minor League system,” as per MLB Pipeline’s scouting report. Walls has also stolen 66 bases (though in 99 attempts) during his minor league career and hit .327/.468/.490 over 62 Triple-A plate appearances this season.
This is the fifth time Grullon has been claimed off waivers since September 2020, and the second time Tampa Bay has claimed him in as many months. After initially taking Grullon from the Reds in early April, the catcher was again DFA’ed later in the month and claimed by the Mets. Through it all, Grullon has yet to appear in any Major League games in 2021, but he’ll now head to Triple-A as a depth option.
Shoulder inflammation cost Mazza just under a month of action. The righty posted an 8.49 ERA over his first 11 2/3 innings with the Rays, after being acquired from the Red Sox in the February trade that also brought Jeffrey Springs to Tampa.
Reed only went to the 10-day IL on Wednesday, marking the second time this season that Reed has been sidelined by a numbness/weakness issue in his left thumb. Manager Kevin Cash told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times and other reporters that Reed has yet to see a specialist about the problem, though it’s probably safe to assume that next step is coming soon. The left-hander has a 3.72 ERA over 9 2/3 relief innings for the Rays this season.
In a rare May swap of significance, the Rays have traded shortstop Willy Adames and righty Trevor Richards to the Brewers in exchange for right-handed relievers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen. Both clubs have announced the move.
The immediate speculation in the aftermath of the news naturally surrounded Wander Franco, the sport’s top overall prospect and current shortstop for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate. The trade of Adames clearly opens a spot for Franco in the long term, but Rays general manager Erik Neander announced to reporters that it’ll be top shortstop prospect Taylor Walls who gets the call to replace Adames for now (Twitter link via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times).
For the Brewers, Adames provides a sound defensive option that they’ve lacked all season. Milwaukee cut bait on Orlando Arcia earlier this season after giving the former top prospect myriad chances in recent years. The trade of Arcia to the Braves was intended to create everyday opportunities for Luis Urias at shortstop, but the 23-year-old wasn’t able to handle the position from a defensive standpoint. Urias has already made nine errors in just 310 innings at shortstop and unsurprisingly has negative ratings in just about every defensive metric. Were Urias hitting up to his capability, perhaps the Brewers could’ve stomached the errors, but he’s managed only a .205/.317/.359 slash in 140 plate appearances.
Adames isn’t hitting much himself in 2021, but he had a huge 2020 season and a strong year in 2018 as well. He’s also a very sound defender at his position, evidenced by above-average marks in Defensive Runs Saved (12), Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (1.6) and Outs Above Average (3) over the past three seasons.
So far in 2021, Adames is hitting just .197/.254/.371 through 142 plate appearances, but he entered the season as a career .262/.329/.426 hitter. He also put together a hefty .259/.332/.481 slash with eight home runs last summer and slugged a career-best 20 round-trippers a year prior, in 2019. Adames is far too strikeout-prone, punching out at a 36 percent clip across the past two seasons, but he’s making hard contact and barreling the ball at career-best rates in 2021. He’ll likely continue to hit for a low average if he can’t curb those strikeout tendencies, but the uptick in high-quality contact does suggest that his offensive numbers are still likely in line to improve.
Adames entered the season with two-plus years of big league service time, so he’s a potential piece for the Brewers not just in 2021 but for several years beyond. The Brewers can control Adames all the way through the 2024 season via the arbitration process, should they see fit. He’ll be installed as their starter immediately, and if he takes well to his new settings, it’s possible the Brewers have found an answer at the position for the foreseeable future. Urias will be downgraded to a utility role, but perhaps playing more familiar positions at second base and third base will help him get his bat back on track.
Milwaukee will also add the 28-year-old Richards as part of the deal. The righty has pitched for both the Marlins and the Rays to this point in his career, working to a 4.42 ERA over the life of 305 2/3 innings. Richards looked to be in the midst of a breakout in 2019 after the Marlins traded him to Tampa Bay alongside Nick Anderson, as he logged a 1.93 ERA with a 24-to-5 K/BB ratio in 23 1/3 frames down the stretch. He’s posted a 5.52 ERA in 44 innings since that time, however.
To his credit, Richards has an immaculate minor league track record that gives continual hope of improved performance at the MLB level. Unsigned out of Drury University, Richards began his professional career with the Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League. He caught the Marlins’ attention, landing a deal with them in 2016 and going on to excel at every minor league stop. Richards has a career 2.35 ERA in 252 minor league frames, and the highest ERA he’s posted at any individual level is his 2.87 mark in Double-A. He’s worked as both a starter and reliever along the way.
Richards is in his final minor league option year, so the Rays can shuttle him back and forth between Triple-A and Milwaukee as much as they like for the duration of the season. He’ll need to stick on the MLB roster next spring, however, when he’ll have exhausted all of his minor league options.
It was surely a difficult trade for the Rays to make. Manager Kevin Cash told Topkin and others that the trade will be felt in the clubhouse, where Adames was beloved and had emerged as a leader. The GM called it a “tear-jerking” move to make, but with the looming presence of Franco, Walls and top middle-infield prospect Vidal Brujan, an eventual trade involving Adames has felt nearly inevitable.
Fans were surely hoping the trade would push Franco to the big leagues, but Walls is a highly touted farmhand in his own right, ranking as the game’s No. 107 prospect over at FanGraphs. He’s considered one of the better defensive prospects in the game at his position, and he’s posted strong offensive numbers at every stop since 2018. His bat has exploded to new heights so far in 2021, as he’s come out of the gates with a blistering .327/.468/.490 slash with a pair of homers and a couple steals through his first 62 plate appearances. Franco understandably gets more attention, but Walls and Brujan have the potential to be vital cogs in the Tampa Bay infield themselves.
Turning to the Rays’ return in this trade, they’ll add a pair of arms to help a banged-up relief corps. Feyereisen is headed straight to the MLB bullpen, Neander revealed, while Rasmussen is ticketed for Triple-A Durham.
There was no way the Rays were going to send the 28-year-old Feyereisen to the minors after the start he’s had in 2021. Through 19 1/3 innings, the righty has pitched to a 3.26 ERA with a 26 percent strikeout rate and a 47.7 percent ground-ball rate.
Walks have been an issue, as Feyereisen has yielded a free pass to 14.3 percent of opponents so far, but his 16.9 percent swinging-strike rate is among the best in the game. Feyereisen’s 59.6 percent opponents’ contact rate is the third-lowest in MLB, trailing only his now-former teammate Josh Hader and surprising Pirates setup man Sam Howard.
Feyereisen sits 93.7 mph with his heater and throws the pitch at a 41 percent clip, pairing that heater with a slider (38 percent) and changeup (21 percent). It’s been an effective mix for the 28-year-old rookie, whom the Rays can now control through at least the 2026 campaign. This marks the second notable trade of Feyereisen’s career, as he was traded from the Indians (alongside Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and Ben Heller) to the Yankees in 2016’s Andrew Miller deal. New York eventually traded him to Milwaukee for additional international bonus pool space. Feyereisen has a pair of minor league options remaining.
Rasmussen, 25, has pitched 32 1/3 innings for the Brewers since Opening Day 2020, posting a sizable 31.1 percent strikeout rate but a troubling 14.2 percent walk rate that nearly mirrors Feyereisen’s mark. A sixth-round pick by the Brewers in 2018, he ranked as their No. 6 prospect at FanGraphs and No. 14 at Baseball America. He’s already had two Tommy John surgeries, despite his relative youth, but Rasmussen boasts a 97 mph heater and was excellent in the minors when healthy in 2019.
While Feyereisen has two minor league options left, Rasmussen has all three, making him a particularly flexible piece for the Rays in the coming years. Of course, the hope is that he’ll pitch his way into a role where he needn’t be returned to the minors at all. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen notes that Rasmussen has just that type of ceiling — the potential to become a high-leverage option late in games. The pair of surgeries naturally raises injury concern levels, but Rasmussen has the makings of a quality reliever if he can avoid further elbow troubles.
Overall, it’s a notable swap on many levels. It’s rare not only to see a trade of this magnitude in May, but also to see a trade in which two contending clubs are dealing big leaguers from positions of depth to help the other address an immediate, pressing need. The Brewers, after middling results from both Arcia and Urias, surely hope to have found a shortstop for years to come. The Rays, meanwhile, have seen several key relievers go down with injuries, leaving them with a relief corps that has been solid but not as dominant as hoped. The trade clears a path for the Rays to take a look at Walls now, and it puts an even more defined clock on the countdown to Franco’s MLB emergence.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman first reported that an Adames trade was in the works (Twitter links). MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand first reported that Adames had been traded to Milwaukee. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported the other three players in the deal (Twitter links).
- Rays right-hander Michael Wacha is expected to return soon from the 10-day injured list, likely during the club’s four-game series with the Blue Jays that begins tonight. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash told MLB.com’s Adam Berry and other reporters that Wacha looked good during a simulated game on Wednesday. Right hamstring tightness sent Wacha to the IL on May 4, after he’d posted a 4.76 ERA in his first 28 1/3 innings of the season. Despite a 4.06 SIERA, advanced metrics aren’t friendly overall to Wacha, who is allowing a ton of hard contact and has a .400 xwOBA that soars above his .317 wOBA.