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With Morton gone, what will Rays do instead?

@juanctoribio
November 24, 2020

The Rays were just two wins away from securing their first World Series title, but the American League champions will have a different look when the club takes the field for Spring Training in February. Over the last month, the Rays have parted ways with Hunter Renfroe -- who was

The Rays were just two wins away from securing their first World Series title, but the American League champions will have a different look when the club takes the field for Spring Training in February.

Over the last month, the Rays have parted ways with Hunter Renfroe -- who was designated for assignment on Friday -- as well as catchers Mike Zunino and Michael Perez and right-handers Chaz Roe and Andrew Kittredge.

On Tuesday, the Rays lost the bidding on Charlie Morton, their top free-agent target, who signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Braves. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported that it came down to the Rays and Braves for the right-hander. The $15 million Morton ended up getting from the Braves was the same amount the Rays would’ve paid the right-hander had they picked up his club option earlier this month. The Rays, however, were trying to bring back Morton at a cheaper price.

In two seasons with the Rays, Morton exceeded expectations. He went 18-8 with a 3.33 ERA in 42 starts, earning a third place finish in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 2019. Morton saved his best work for the postseason, going 5-1 with a 2.10 ERA in six starts.

Now that Morton is gone, what’s next for the Rays?
Well, the first order of business for the Rays is to figure out what they want to do with Blake Snell. As MLB.com reported on Monday, the Rays are not actively looking to trade Snell this offseason, but would be open to the idea if another team has an attractive offer. The Angels, Braves and Mariners are among the teams that have already expressed interest in the left-hander, and they’re not expected to be the only ones as the offseason market develops.

Hot Stove Tracker

If the Rays hold onto Snell, which is still the most likely outcome, Tampa Bay will still be in the market to acquire one or two starting pitchers. With Morton now with the Braves and Yonny Chirinos out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Rays have two open spots in their rotation.

The Rays will obviously not be in the market for the top-tier free agent pitchers, but arms like Martín Pérez, Mike Minor and Garrett Richards could make some sense for Tampa Bay, though there has been no communication between the Rays and any of those pitchers.

What about in-house options?
The Rays will be active in the free-agent and trade markets, but Tampa Bay also feels confident about the young in-house options on the roster. Shane McClanahan, who made his Major League debut in the postseason, will likely get a chance to earn a rotation spot during Spring Training.

Josh Fleming will also get added opportunities after going 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA in an impressive rookie season. Ryan Yarbrough will also likely become a full-time starter if the Rays decide to not add multiple pitchers to the roster.

Then there’s Joe Ryan, Brent Honeywell Jr. and Brendan McKay, who all are expected to make an impact in the 2021 season.

Ryan, the team’s No. 9-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, was the organization’s Pitcher of the Year in 2019 but didn’t pitch in any games in ‘20, spending the entire season at the team’s alternate training site. Honeywell has missed two full seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery in ‘18 and experiencing complications in each of the last two seasons.

McKay, the team’s No. 2 overall prospect, was expected to make a big impact with the Rays in 2020, but the left-hander missed the entire season with a shoulder injury after going 2-4 with a 5.14 ERA as a rookie in ‘19.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.