- Correcting one of his own reports from the offseason, Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News (Twitter link) notes that the Twins “were very much in on” Charlie Morton before the veteran righty signed a two-year, $30MM deal with the Rays. Since Morton was only looking for a short-term deal as he nears the end of his career, he fit the model of what the Twins were looking for this past winter, as the club inked the likes of Nelson Cruz, Martin Perez, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez to contracts consisting of no more than one or two guaranteed years. It isn’t known how close Morton and the Twins might have come to an agreement, though the Rays did have a geographical ace up their sleeve, as Morton has stated that the Rays’ close proximity to his family’s home in Florida was a factor in his decision. Given that the Twins have already posted the best record in baseball, it’s hard to imagine how much better things could have been for the club with Morton in the rotation.
The Rays have been without injured catcher Mike Zunino for three weeks, but he could return as early as Friday, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Zunino went to the 10-day IL on May 9 with a left quad strain.
Injuries, not just to Zunino, have victimized Rays catchers this year. Zunino headed to the shelf just four days after an oblique strain sent fellow backstop Michael Perez to the IL. When the club lost Zunino, it promoted Anthony Bemboom as his replacement, but the latter wound up on the IL on May 15 with a knee sprain.
With only struggling minor league Nick Ciuffo to turn to as a healthy 40-man option, the banged-up Rays had to scour the trade market for help earlier this month. They acquired former Mets starter Travis d’Arnaud from the Dodgers on the 10th and landed journeyman Erik Kratz in a deal with the Giants on the 16th. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, those two haven’t offered much help so far. D’Arnaud and Kratz have combined for seven hits (five singles, two doubles), 17 strikes and three walks in 52 plate appearances, essentially making them automatic outs.
Aside from Perez – who’s still dealing with “discomfort,” per Topkin – no Rays backstop has done much at the plate this season. That includes Zunino, though the ex-Mariner’s .220/.260/.407 line in 96 PA would be welcome for the Rays compared to what they’ve gotten from d’Arnaud and Kratz.
It seems likely the return of Zunino will lead to the end of Kratz’s time on the Rays’ 40-man roster. The 38-year-old’s out of minor league options and has been behind d’Arnaud in Tampa Bay’s pecking order.
10:10am: The Rays have transferred righty Tyler Glasnow from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day IL to make room for Drake, per Topkin. Glasnow has not suffered a setback to his injured forearm, manager Kevin Cash announced. However, the burgeoning ace, 25, now won’t return until sometime in July (the 12th at the earliest). When Glasnow went to the IL on May 11, he was only supposed to sit out four to six weeks, making Sunday’s news an unfortunate blow for a Tampa Bay club that is firmly in the AL playoff hunt.
8:51am: The Rays have selected right-hander Oliver Drake’s contract from Triple-A Durham, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. In a corresponding 25-man move, the team optioned righty Casey Sadler. Drake’s not on the Rays’ 40-man roster, which is full, so they’ll need to create a spot for him.
Drake’s in his first year with the Rays, who acquired him from the Blue Jays in January. Tampa Bay designated Drake for assignment two weeks later to make room for the signing of outfielder Avisail Garcia, but the hurler remained in the organization. Since then, the 32-year-old has only managed a 4.94 ERA in 23 2/3 Triple-A innings, though he has paired eye-opening strikeout and walk rates (15.21 K/9, 2.66 BB/9) with a 50 percent groundball mark.
For the most part, Drake has toyed with his competition at the minors’ highest level, where he owns a 2.36 ERA with 13.1 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 133 2/3 innings. Drake’s success at Triple-A has led a slew of organizations to take chances on him, including five last year alone. However, Drake wasn’t able to hold down a major league spot with any of the Angels, Indians, Brewers, Twins or Blue Jays in 2018, nor could he distinguish himself with the Orioles or Brew Crew from 2015-17. In his MLB stints with those franchises, Drake pitched to a 4.59 ERA in 137 1/3 innings, but he did post a 3.48 FIP with 9.9 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a 47.3 percent grounder rate.
Free agent hurlers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are both expected to sign somewhere shortly after midnight EST on June 2 when they will no longer be tied to draft pick compensation, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Josh Tolentino. Craig Edwards from Fangraphs recently put together a valuation of the compensation cost every team would face were they to sign either Keuchel or Kimbrel before the June 2nd expiration date. At this stage, however, even if there were a team willing to stomach the loss of a draft pick, it behooves these free agents to wait out this final week and see if their “lightened load” helps spark a bidding war – “war” being a relative term here.
Where these two end up will continue to be one of the stories of the season. Despite their well-catalogued need for a starting pitcher, the Padres do not appear ready to buy on Keuchel. The Rays, meanwhile, remain in touch with both pitchers, per Rosenthal and Tolentino. Common assumptions about “need” would point to Keuchel as the natural fit for the Rays, but Kimbrel may actually be the more likely of the two. The Rays certainly know how to use a good reliever, though Kimbrel would likely have to open his mind to a less-than-traditional closer’s role.
On the other hand, the Rays have to be intrigued by the possibility of rolling into the second half of the season sporting a top-four of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Keuchel and Tyler Glasnow. Health and contract negotiations aside, such a traditional powerhouse rotation would be a fun twist for the revolutionizing Rays. Even if they are still Facebook friends with Keuchel and Kimbrel, however, they’ll need to outbid the Yankees at the very least to snag Keuchel. For Kimbrel, if you can name a contender, you can find a potential landing spot.
Of course, this conversation would make a whole lot of sense were this December. Since it’s now late-May, and neither pitcher seems likely to sign before June 3rd at the earliest, conjecture about widespread interest (on my part) in Kimbrel is a tad comical, even if bullpens are languishing left and right throughout the league. Still, there’s widespread interest in winning, even if evidence often points to the contrary. Point being, though they’ve gone unsigned up til now, the Rays will not be alone in courting the services of Kimbrel (or Keuchel) come early June.
- While on a minor league rehab assignment, Rays infielder Matt Duffy re-aggravated the hamstring injury that has kept him on the IL all season. (Eduardo A. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times was among those to report the news.) Duffy will be re-evaluated tomorrow. The infielder has been solid (.292/.354/.364 over 640 PA) since joining the Rays in August 2016, though he has appeared in just 153 games since that time, largely due to an Achilles injury that cost him the entire 2017 season.
- In more positive news for the Rays, Joey Wendle told reporters (including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times) that is no longer wearing a cast on his fractured right wrist. Wendle said he is “free to move forward as I can tolerate” any discomfort while beginning baseball activities, though he said he will be cautious in his process to try and avoid any setbacks. One can’t fault Wendle for wanting to be entirely ready in the wake of two lost months for the utilityman, as Wendle has played in only eight games this season due to his wrist fracture and an earlier hamstring injury.
- Rays catcher Mike Zunino feels he’s making good progress on his return from a quad strain, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Zunino, who was given a four- to six-week recovery timeline is optimistic that he can return toward the front end of that projection. That’s welcome news for a Rays organization that has cycled through various combinations of Nick Ciuffo, Anthony Bemboom, Travis d’Arnaud and Erik Kratz since seeing both Zunino and Michael Perez land on the injured list. Both d’Arnaud and Kratz were trade acquisitions prompted by the loss of the organization’s top two catchers. Once Zunino and/or Perez is ready to return, there’ll likely be further roster juggling.
The Rays announced Tuesday that right-hander Aaron Slegers cleared waivers after being designated for assignment and has been assigned outright to Triple-A Durham. He’ll remain with the organization but won’t occupy a spot on the club’s 40-man roster.
Slegers, 26, went from the Twins to the Pirates to the Rays in the offseason via a series of DFAs and has started the year slowly in Triple-A. Through seven starts and a total of 33 2/3 innings, the towering 6’10” righty has a 6.15 ERA with 5.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.87 HR/9 and a 31.6 percent ground-ball rate. Slegers appeared in eight games with the 2017-18 Twins but, despite a previously strong track record in Triple-A (prior to 2019), he limped to a 5.90 ERA in 29 frames with Minnesota. He entered the year with a career 3.54 ERA at that Triple-A level, so there’s still some hope for a rebound that puts him back on the Rays’ radar for a promotion later in the year.
Seelinger, 24, was the Pirates’ 28th-round pick back in the 2017 draft, but he landed with the Rays as part of last summer’s trade that sent Adeiny Hechavarria from Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh. This season, Seelinger opened the 2019 campaign at Class-A Advanced Charlotte, where he’s allowed 10 runs in nine innings of work.
Inauspicious start to the current campaign aside, Seelinger enjoyed a very strong year in 2018 when he posted a combined 2.80 ERA with 13.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9 and a 33 percent ground-ball rate in 45 innings of relief. He’s been a pure reliever who’s typically been older than the average competition he’s faced, but he does have 111 career strikeouts against 29 walks in 84 innings as a professional. Given that the trade in question sent a veteran backup catcher who’d already been designated for assignment to Tampa Bay, a relief prospect with a history of missing some bats and decent results against younger competition is a fairly reasonable return.
Kratz has seen just four plate appearances since being acquired by the Rays, but he should be in line for a fair bit of playing time with each of Mike Zunino, Michael Perez and Anthony Bemboom on the injured list. For now, Kratz will team with fellow trade acquisition Travis d’Arnaud to handle the bulk of the Rays’ catching duties.
- The Rays will deploy minor-league infielder Jake Cronenworth as a two-way player moving forward, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Cronenworth was used as the “opener” yesterday for Triple-A Durham, reportedly flashing a fastball at 94-96 miles per hour. The 25-year-old, a 7th-round selection of the Rays in 2015, pitched at the University of Michigan. It bears mentioning that Cronenworth has been plenty successful with the bat in 2019, slashing a cool .367/.460/.511 in 37 Triple-A games this season. This, of course, marks latest experiment for the innovative Rays, who also feature high-profile two-way player Brendan McKay in their farm system.
The Tampa Bay Rays activated righty Hunter Wood from the injured list, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). In a corresponding move, Austin Pruitt was optioned back to Triple-A Durham.
Wood gives the Rays another long option to soak up the innings left behind in the wake of Tyler Glasnow’s injury. Before hitting the injured list with shoulder soreness, Wood had yet to surrender a run in 6 1/3 innings, including a two-inning “start” as an opener. He threw three innings in his first appearance of the season, earning the save in a 5-1 win against the White Sox. Wood’s fastball clocked in at 94.3 mph in 41 innings last season, and the Rays hope to see some of that velocity return after averaging only 92.3 mph over his first four appearances, effective as he was over that span. Wood joins Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks, Casey Sadler, and Ryne Stanek in the long man/opener mix for Tampa.
Pruitt had a rough go of it in a short stint with the big league club this year: 6 earned runs in only 7 1/3 innings with 8 hits and 2 home runs to only 4 strikeouts. Results haven’t been a whole lot better for the 29-year-old in in Triple-A this season either, where he sports a 6.23 ERA in seven appearances. Like Wood, Pruitt has the ability to throw multiple innings in a single go, and his FIP and xFIP numbers have been good the last two seasons, but the results have yet to show in the more public-facing ERA column. Wood provides more upside at this stage, but Pruitt is sure to return to Tampa at some point this season if he can stay healthy.
Meanwhile, the Rays had yet another catcher hit the deck. Rookie Anthony Bemboom will avoid surgery, but not the injured list, per Topkin (via Twitter). Manager Kevin Cash suggests Bemboom will miss 4-6 weeks with a sprained ligament after only 5 plate appearances with Tampa. In his stead, Erik Kratz will become Blake Snell’s fourth different receiver in his last five starts, along with Bemboom, Mike Zunino, and Michael Perez, who is the closest of the three to returning from his oblique injury. Still, it’ll be Kratz and Travis d’Arnaud behind the dish for the next couple of weeks at the least.