The Rays find themselves in a tricky position with regards to Tyler Glasnow. The 6’8″ right-hander is probably the team’s most talented pitcher. Last season, he looked on the way towards solidifying himself among the best in the sport. Through his first 14 starts and 88 innings, Glasnow posted a 2.66 ERA with a fantastic 36.2% strikeout rate and a solid 7.9% walk percentage.
Glasnow has always had the raw stuff to miss bats in droves, but as he entered his mid-20s, he’d seemingly found the control to match. He has the ability to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. Unfortunately, his health hasn’t yet allowed him reach that upside. Glasnow missed a good chunk of the 2019 season due to a forearm strain. He stayed healthy during the abbreviated 2020 campaign, but he didn’t make it through 2021 unscathed.
Last June, Glasnow suffered a partial tear of the UCL in his throwing arm. After unsuccessfully attempting to rehab the injury, the California native underwent Tommy John surgery two months later. That obviously brought his 2021 season to a close, and it’ll likely cost him all of 2022 as well. The timing of that procedure leaves the Tampa Bay front office with a decision to make regarding his long-term future in the organization.
Glasnow is arbitration eligible for the third of four times this offseason. He’s on track to hit free agency after the 2023 season. With next season likely a wash, Glasnow’s club is looking at one year (2023) of production before he can test the open market. He’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $5.8MM salary this year, and he’d likely earn the same amount the following season.
So that’s around $12MM over two years for one season of Glasnow’s services. Given the caliber of pitcher he is, that could be a bargain if he returns to form in 2023. Yet as Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin of the Athletic wrote last summer, it’s not clear how heavy a workload a team could reasonably anticipate Glasnow to work that year even if his recovery goes as planned. While he shouldn’t have much issue being ready for the start of 2023 — barring unexpected setbacks in his rehab process — he might not be equipped to shoulder a 180-inning workload. Between injuries and the pandemic, Glasnow will have tossed just 241 2/3 MLB innings between 2019-22, including the postseason (assuming he misses all of next year).
As is typically the case with the Rays, there’s also their team spending limitations to consider. Tampa Bay entered last season with a player payroll a bit south of $67MM, in the estimation of Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Including arbitration projections, Jason Martinez of Roster Resource pegs their 2022 commitments in the $84MM range. That’s not much compared to the rest of the league, but it’d be a franchise-record sum for Tampa Bay. Is ownership willing to support that kind of expenditure entering the season? Even if so, would the front office prefer to reallocate Glasnow’s projected money as they attempt to make a run at their fifth consecutive 90-win showing?
The Rays aren’t going to move Glasnow solely to shed salary. Were that the case, they’d have simply non-tendered him before November’s deadline. But they seem likely to consider trade offers, particularly if they can get help for 2022 in return. Rosenthal and Lin reported Tampa Bay and the Cubs kicked around trade formulations involving Glasnow and Kris Bryant and/or Craig Kimbrel before last summer’s deadline. Those obviously didn’t come to fruition, but the Rays will probably look into similar possibilities after the lockout.
Any team with designs on contending in 2023 could be a plausible trade partner. A retooling organization like the Cubs or Nationals could take on a few million dollars during a non-competitive season with an eye towards a quick rebound after selling off pieces last summer. An immediate contender with more near-term financial flexibility than the Rays have could see this as a buy-low opportunity. Trades of players this talented between contenders are uncommon, but given the Rays’ financial situation and the timing of Glasnow’s surgery, a deal during the expected post-lockout transactions frenzy wouldn’t be surprising.