Roster Revamp: Tampa Bay Rays
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a new series. In each article, BTV Associate Editor Joshua Iversen will be completing a team’s offseason by compiling different user-submitted proposals from the site’s trade boards into a single plan. Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.
The Tampa Bay Rays are baseball’s unlikeliest powerhouse. Despite perennially coming in among the league’s lowest spenders, they’ve made the playoffs each of the last three years thanks to a creative front office helmed by Erik Neander. But entering their franchise’s 25th season, they’ve yet to win a championship. In 2022 they once again face a tall task to even reach the playoffs, competing with two of the wealthiest teams in the league in the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox as well as the threatening young core of the Toronto Blue Jays. What will it take to push the Rays over the edge?
Where they stand
One could argue that Tampa Bay is better positioned for both short- and long-term success than any other team. They are stacked with young talent at every position at both the MLB level and the minor leagues, and their $84 million payroll projection (via Roster Resource) ranks 25th in the league.
But that number is still $13 million above their final 2021 figure, and they still have a few areas of weakness on the big league roster, especially if they’re going to keep pace with the Blue Jays, which have been aggressive so far, and Yankees and Red Sox, both of which likely have big additions coming after the lockout. Luckily, Tampa has more than enough minor league talent to move, as well as a front office that excels at identifying talent and making the most with the resources they have.
What they’ve done
The Rays’ biggest move of the offseason will have no real impact on the 2022 season, but should have massive ramifications down the line. By inking phenom infielder Wander Franco to a record-shattering 11-year, $182 million extension (with a club option and incentives), the Rays guaranteed that they will have a star anchoring their infield for years to come.
But they also made a few moves with more immediate impact in mind. Most notably, the team signed veteran starter Corey Kluber to a one-year, $8 million contract. The 36-year-old can’t be counted on for a full 200-plus innings like he once could be, but he was solid in 16 starts for the Yankees last season and should provide stability to a young rotation. Manager Kevin Cash can also get creative and utilize the team’s deep pitching staff to skip a few starts here and there to keep Kluber fresh.
Also joining the staff is left-handed reliever Brooks Raley, signed to a two-year, $10 million contract with a club option. Our model has that as a bit of an overpay, but Raley’s underlying stats were pretty good last season and we would be fools to doubt the Rays’ ability to identify relief talent.
As usual, the Rays made some trades to clear up their 40-man roster. Tampa Bay’s ability to identify and acquire talent means it faces a perpetual roster crunch in which, every offseason, fringe major leaguers and Rule 5 Draft eligible players must be flipped, usually for lower-minors talent, so the team will have room to protect other prospects.
This year, 2021 trade deadline acquisition Jordan Luplow ($1.1M median trade value) was flipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks for infielder Ronny Simon ($0.2M); versatile infielder Joey Wendle ($4.4M) went to the Miami Marlins for outfield prospect Kameron Misner ($7.0M), as did right-handed reliever Louis Head ($2.1M) in a separate deal, in exchange for cash considerations; former top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell Jr. ($0.7M) headed to the Oakland Athletics, also for cash; infielder Mike Brosseau ($1.6M) was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for RHP Evan Reifert ($0.5M); and pitching prospect Tobias Myers ($0.8M) was swapped for a younger infielder in Junior Caminero ($0.3M).
Nothing earth-shattering – just the usual Tampa Bay shuffle.
What they still need
As mentioned, the Rays don’t necessarily have any glaring needs at the moment, but the area they’ll likely most want to address is pitching. They lost veteran arms Michael Wacha, Chris Archer, David Robertson and Collin McHugh to free agency. And while only McHugh was a major contributor to the 2021 team (he was excellent), that’s still a handful of innings that need to be covered. Injuries in the majors and upper minors also leave their starting pitching depth a bit thin. Plus, only two members of their 2022 projected starting rotation even reached 100 major league innings in 2021, and one of them might be on his way out the door (more on that soon).
The Rays could also use some right-handed thump. Deadline addition Nelson Cruz disappointed in the last two months of the season, and he’s a free agent anyway; the 41-year-old designated hitter likely isn’t the best use of the team’s limited funds. As it stands, Tampa Bay’s biggest right-handed threats are Randy Arozarena and veteran catcher Mike Zunino, the latter coming off a career year that he will be unlikely to fully repeat. After that, it’s a steep drop-off to Yandy Diaz, who boasts massive muscles and just a .136 isolated slugging to show for them.
Finally, the team will likely look to cut payroll. There are two obvious players who might be on the outs: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (-$2.8M) and left-handed pitcher Ryan Yarbrough ($4.5M). Kiermaier is still a great defensive center fielder, but he’s a league average hitter at best and has trouble staying on the field. He’ll make $12 million in 2022 and has a $13 million club option for 2023, but that’s likely to be declined, resulting in a $2.5 million buyout. He can still help a team, but at that cost, doesn’t make much sense for the Rays – especially since they have two similar (but cheaper) players on the roster already in Manuel Margot and Brett Phillips, plus top center field prospect Josh Lowe likely to debut this year.
Yarbrough helped the Rays revolutionize pitching, often working as the “follower” after an opener and having much success in that role. But he struggled in 2021, pitching to a 5.51 ERA (4.45 FIP). Yarbrough’s past success and durability keep his trade value positive. But now that he’s 30 and projected to earn $4.6 million in his first year of arbitration, the Rays will likely turn to one of their younger arms to fill his role.
What they have to offer
Luckily, the Rays have more than enough young talent to make a few deals without jeopardizing their long-term success. In fact, they seemingly have multiple exciting young players at each position, giving them the flexibility to meet any other team’s needs without taking too much of a hit themselves.
They are especially deep in the middle infield. Franco and Brandon Lowe are guaranteed spots somewhere on the diamond, and their flexibility give the Rays plenty of options. Vidal Brujan ($26.9M) and Taylor Walls ($16.9M) each made their MLB debut last year, and Xavier Edwards ($11.9M) likely isn’t too far behind. Greg Jones ($20.6M) might be another year off, while 18-year-old Carlos Colmenarez ($10.8M) is a longer-term project. Other lower-ranked middle infield options include Willy Vasquez ($9.3M), Alika Williams ($7.6M), Cooper Kinney ($5.4M) and Alejandro Pie ($4.6M).
There is also plenty of pitching depth. Shane Baz and Shane McClanahan likely aren’t going anywhere, and the Rays probably like Drew Rasmussen and Luis Patino too much to move them either. But there are a handful of interesting players after that bunch who might be available in the right deal. One name to watch is Josh Fleming ($6.0M), a weak-contact lefty who fits the Yarbrough mold but should also have plenty of appeal to other teams. Additionally, Yonny Chirinos ($4.4M) and Brendan McKay ($1.1M) are two interesting major league options, but with both coming off significant arm injuries, the Rays probably won’t sell low.
They could, however, entertain offers for Tyler Glasnow ($27.8M). After undergoing Tommy John surgery in August, Glasnow will likely miss the entire 2022 season. He’s projected to earn $6 million this year as he rehabs, and barring significant changes to the system, he will likely make somewhere in the $7-8 million range in 2023, his final year of arbitration. For most teams, that price for a pitcher of Glasnow’s caliber is a steal; for the Rays, it’s not a cheap gamble. Rehab complications, another injury or even just diminished success after his return could leave the team with nothing to show for its ~$13 million investment. Instead, they could flip him elsewhere to guaranteed help now, as they discussed with the Cubs at the 2021 deadline. But it’s a risky move for either team.
Another name that has been speculated upon is outfielder Austin Meadows ($9.6M). After a rough 2020, his 2021 was solid, but still a step back from his great 2019. His defense isn’t great, leaving him as Tampa Bay’s DH for almost half of his games last season. He’s expected to earn $4 million in his first year of arbitration. The Rays have traded quality players in similar situations before, but it doesn’t make as much sense here. After Lowe and Misner, the team is relatively shallow in outfield prospects, and a Meadows trade would just create another hole for the team to fill without saving them very much money. Plus, like Chirinos and McKay, it would be selling low.
What they could do
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rays add a free agent reliever or two. But with their success at pulling valuable relievers out of seemingly nowhere, it doesn’t make much sense to speculate there. If they are going to make significant upgrades to the rest of the roster, it’ll have to be via trade. Here are three user-submitted proposals that could form a complete Rays offseason.
Adding an arm
Tampa Bay SS Carlos Colmenarez ($10.8M), SP Josh Fleming ($6.0M) and RHP Michael Mercado ($1.0M) ($17.8M total) to Oakland for LHP Sean Manaea ($18.5M)
This deal was proposed by grover, a longtime A’s fan and BTV user. If the Rays are going to add an arm, a rental probably makes the most sense, both in terms of finances and roster fit. As mentioned, there are plenty of talented young arms in the system, and blocking them with a sizeable financial commitment to an aging Sonny Gray doesn’t make too much sense, nor does giving up an entire slew of prospects for two years of Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle or Frankie Montas.
That leaves Oakland’s Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea as the best fits. But which one? Manaea is three years younger, but is projected to earn $1.4 million more in arbitration. He also underwent shoulder surgery in late 2018 and has seen his velocity fluctuate since. His healthy 2021 was a massive innings jump from his 2019 and 2020 seasons, so durability could be a question.
But his profile makes him a better fit for Tampa Bay’s pitching management style. For his career, Manaea has shown fairly typical times through the order (TTO) splits, showing a significant decline in effectiveness his third time through the lineup. The Rays have been more aggressive in managing the TTO effect than any other team, somewhat infamously pulling a dealing Blake Snell early in 2020 World Series Game 6. Their pitching staff is built to handle earlier exits and they would likely maximize Manaea’s value by keeping his starts shorter than Oakland did.
Bassitt, on the other hand, has very minimal TTO splits, likely due to his deep pitch arsenal. For his career, Bassitt has allowed a .297 wOBA his first time facing a lineup, compared to .304 his third time through, just a seven-point drop. Manaea, on the other hand, goes from .284 to .338, a 54-point difference. Bassitt’s ability to go deep into games is a significant part of his appeal, and while he would certainly still be a valuable player for the Rays, he probably makes more sense for a team that would utilize him more traditionally.
What about Oakland’s return? There are plenty of possible permutations here, but grover identifies a framework that makes a lot of sense. The A’s have never gone full teardown, so adding an MLB-ready arm to help keep the team afloat makes sense. Fleming comes with five years of control and could be more successful in the vast Coliseum than in most other stadiums.
Colmenarez is the real prize, and he also fits Oakland’s mold of buying low on younger prospects with big upside before they break out (Jesus Luzardo, Franklin Barreto). He debuted last year in the DSL, and while his numbers weren’t that great, he was battling a hamate injury (which is known to impact offensive performance) and prospect evaluators are still high on him. It’ll take him a while to make it to the big league team, but if all goes well, that could even coincide with the first few years of a new ballpark.
Michael Mercado was left unprotected from the Rule 5 Draft, but the A’s have plenty of 40-man room. The right-handed pitcher spent the 2022 season in High-A and has a chance to start long-term. He’s a good fit in this deal, but there are plenty of other options if Oakland prefers another lottery ticket type to fill out this deal.
Xavier Edwards is another popular name here (slotted in for Colmenarez as the headliner), and he makes sense if the A’s want to prioritize upper minors talent. But he’s a contact/speed second baseman, and with a similar player soon to be taking over shortstop in Nick Allen, that would leave the A’s planning for a long-term middle infield with little to no pop.
Manaea’s $10.2 million arbitration projection is also a bit steep for Tampa Bay. While finances aren’t great in Oakland either (partially prompting the incoming sell-off), they could probably cover a few million dollars in exchange for upgrading Mercado to a more valuable player.
Plus, the Rays will be making another significant deal to address their budget…
Tampa Bay OF Kevin Kiermaier (-$2.8M) and SP Ryan Yarbrough ($4.5M) ($1.7M total) to Philadelphia for LHP Erik Miller ($2.8M)
This proposal comes from a nameless user (perhaps their account was deleted). The Philadelphia Phillies make a lot of sense as a landing spot for Kiermaier. Right now, their outfield is Bryce Harper and a bunch of question marks. If they’re going to capitalize on having Harper, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in their primes, they’ll need to do better.
Defense was also a major issue for Philadelphia in 2021, and Kiermaier obviously helps considerably. The Phillies also have deep enough pockets to take on Kiermaier’s $12 million without requiring a kicker from the Rays, which would be very appealing to them.
But Yarbrough isn’t quite as perfect of a fit, at least not right now. Adding a back-end arm to bump Hans Crouse out of the Opening Day rotation makes a ton of sense. But contact pitchers Nola and Kyle Gibson both struggled last year in large part due to the rough defense. Kiermaier helps, but the Phillies will also need a real third baseman (maybe Matt Chapman?), another outfielder and perhaps a shortstop upgrade over Didi Gregorius.
Philadelphia also isn’t known for having a particularly strong bullpen, leading one to wonder how effectively they could utilize Yarbrough. But that will definitely be another area given attention after the lockout ends, so that picture could change drastically between now and Opening Day.
A similar deal proposed by Jetwolf90 had the Kiermaier/Yarbrough pair headed to the Texas Rangers for infielder Sherten Apostel ($2.4M). At first glance, that looks like it makes more sense – Texas has money, needs an outfielder and is even more desperate for starting pitching, though it does present the same bullpen issue as Philly. But Apostel, as an underwhelming corner infielder already on the 40-man, doesn’t fit the Rays as well as their return here, left-handed pitcher Erik Miller.
Miller has a good fastball, but little control of it, and he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. If he makes it as a starter, it’ll likely take a while, but he won’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until next winter. Plus, Tampa Bay could opt to transition him into an effective multi-inning reliever to move him through the system quicker. The Phillies are surprisingly deep in pitching prospects, so their cost – both in terms of cash and prospect return – shouldn’t be prohibitive.
Making a splash
Tampa Bay SP Tyler Glasnow ($27.8M) and RHRP Matt Wisler ($1.9M) ($29.7M total) to Houston for C Korey Lee ($22.5M), OF Chas McCormick ($8.9M) and RHRP Enoli Paredes ($0.0M) ($31.4M total)
Proposed by user ColeMitch22, this isn’t a move the Rays need to make. Glasnow’s $6 million salary isn’t breaking the bank, even for the low-budget Rays, and he could make a serious impact in 2023. With Tampa Bay unable to shop at the top of the free agent market, true aces are tough to come by. And the timing of Glasnow’s injury might make him a candidate for a shorter-term contract extension: perhaps something covering his rehab in 2022, his return year of 2023 and another year or two to fully re-establish himself.
But even if the money isn’t huge, it’s still significant for the Rays. And Glasnow’s injury history makes his 2023 return even less certain; he hasn’t pitched more than 100 innings in a season since 2018, and hasn’t made more than 15 starts since 2017. If he’s only making 15-20 starts in 2023 – and some of those might be of lower quality, given the tendency for some bumps in the road in a pitcher’s first year back from TJS – it might not make sense for the Rays to pay what amounts to nearly $1 million for each of those.
Enter the Houston Astros. Glasnow fits their archetype perfectly as a high-velocity, high-spin power pitcher with a dominant secondary offering in his curveball. And they can do without him in 2022 as their current rotation is already six or seven arms deep. But 2023 is less certain. That’ll be Justin Verlander’s age-40 season, and while he’s been remarkably durable throughout his career, Father Time always wins out at some point. They could take their time with Glasnow, potentially using him out of the bullpen or piggybacked with a younger arm like Cristian Javier, saving as many bullets as possible for the postseason.
They’d also add Matt Wisler, who – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – found a new level of success after joining the Rays in a midseason trade. His inclusion also saves another projected $2 million for Tampa Bay.
The real question here is whether the cost is too high for Houston. McCormick is currently slotted as their starting center fielder, with Jake Meyers unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. It seems like the Astros believe McCormick can handle the position, as indicated by their 2021 trade of Myles Straw (as well as McCormick’s stellar Statcast defensive metrics). But perhaps they’d be OK with using Jose Siri or a free agent stopgap in center until Meyers is healthy; or, even trading Meyers ($5.7M) and another small piece instead, compensating for the injury risk they’re taking on by sending some Tampa Bay’s way. Or maybe one of Phillips ($2.0M) or Margot ($3.5M) heads over from the Rays. There are plenty of options.
The tougher sell is probably Korey Lee, Houston’s top prospect. He’s a great fit for the Rays, who don’t have an obvious long-term solution at catcher (unless you believe in Francisco Mejia’s defense), but neither do the Astros. But maybe they’re comfortable running it back with Martin Maldonado or a similar glove-first veteran, and maybe they’re particularly high on Yainer Diaz, whom they acquired from Cleveland in the Straw deal.
At the very least, Paredes’ inclusion likely won’t be too contentious. He’s a high-stuff, low-control reliever with little MLB success and two options remaining. Sounds like a typical Rays project.
Neither team absolutely needs to make this deal. It doesn’t fill any glaring holes for either side. But it feels like the kind of aggressive deal these two forward-thinking clubs would consider.
In total, these moves save the Rays $14.4 million in 2022 salary. They improve the current roster with Manaea and McCormick (as well as opening payroll room for a couple free agent relievers, if so desired) and swap a pair of higher-risk future assets in Glasnow and Colmenarez for more of a sure thing in Lee (and two fliers in Miller and Paredes). Even if they can’t pull off all three of these moves exactly, something in their framework should be possible and would set the Rays up for continued current success without damaging their long-term plans.
What do you think about this plan? What moves would you make instead? Which teams would you like to see revamped next? As always, feedback is more than welcome. And keep on submitting trade proposals – they just might end up featured in a later installment of this series.