Though they remained open to a possible reunion with C.J. Cron after designating the slugger for assignment last week, the Rays knew such a scenario was unlikely. For that to unfold, Cron, 28, would need to pass through waivers unclaimed following a career-best season. Internally, the Rays prepared for their
Though they remained open to a possible reunion with C.J. Cron after designating the slugger for assignment last week, the Rays knew such a scenario was unlikely. For that to unfold, Cron, 28, would need to pass through waivers unclaimed following a career-best season. Internally, the Rays prepared for their 2018 home run leader to be snatched up by another team.
That came to pass Monday, nearly a week after the Rays DFA'd Cron in a flurry of roster moves meant to protect prospects prior to the Rule 5 Draft. Cron was claimed off waivers by the Twins, with whom he's expected to split time with Christopher Austin at first base. The move ends Cron's one-year stint in Tampa Bay and opens a significant hole in the Rays' depth chart.
In other roster news, left-hander Hoby Milner cleared waivers and will be outrighted to the Minors. Milner, who posted a 7.36 ERA in 14 games for the Rays and Phillies last season, was designated along with Cron and right-hander Oliver Drake last week. Milner is expected to accept the assignment and be invited to Spring Training. Drake was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays on Monday.
The moves cleared roster space for five prospects, including 21-year-old outfielder Jesus Sanchez, the No. 33 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline. The club also protected outfielder Joe McCarthy (Tampa Bay's No. 17 prospect), who could be looked at to offset some of Cron's lost production in the short-term.
Cron paced Tampa Bay in nearly every major offensive category in 2018, including runs (68), home runs (30), RBIs (74), total bases (247), slugging (.493) and OPS (.816). The 30 home runs were a career high for Cron, who came to Tampa Bay in February via a trade with the Angels. No other Rays hitter hit more than 14 homers last season.
"With as many deserving players on our club that need playing time, it didn't make sense for us to commit to him right now," Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said last week. "That's what made this tough. I don't think you can take lightly what he produced this past year and assume you're going to be able to snap your fingers and replace it."
So how do they? Internally, the absence of Cron opens playing time for Ji-Man Choi, a journeyman who broke out with a career-best 135 OPS+ in 221 plate appearances last season. The Rays could also bet on improvement from former top prospect Jake Bauers (94 OPS+) in his sophomore campaign.
But coming off a 90-win season, there may be incentive for the Rays to explore the free-agent market, which is crowded with first basemen and designated hitters. That could mean a possible reunion with Lucas Duda, who earned $3.5 million in free agency last winter and is coming off a down year. Jose Bautista, Matthew Holliday and Matt Adams also appear to be possible short-term fits. Nelson Cruz and Daniel Murphy represent the top of that market, with both likely seeking multi-year deals.
Cron earned $2.3 million last season. He is second-year arbitration-eligible and due for a significant raise. Tampa's projected Opening Day payroll is around $36 million.
Four inked to Minor League deals
The Rays also announced a quartet of signings Monday after agreeing to terms on Minor League contracts with catcher Anthony Bemboom, outfielder Jake Smolinski and left-handers Ryan Merritt and Ryan Sherriff.
Known for making his second big league start in Game 5 of the 2016 ALCS, Merritt went 3-0 over nine games (five starts) for the Indians from 2016-17. He spent all of 2018 at Triple-A Columbus.
Smolinski spent the past four seasons in the A's organization, hitting .227 with 12 home runs in 175 games.
A career Minor Leaguer, Bemboom spent the past two seasons with the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque.
Merritt, Smolinksi and Bemboom's contracts came with invitations to Spring Training.
Sherriff, 28, appeared in 18 games for the Cardinals over the past two seasons. He underwent Tommy John surgery in June and is expected to miss at least a part of the 2019 season.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.