ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays know it takes a deep, flexible team to be successful, and they proved it by using 61 players during their 100-win American League East championship campaign. Now, they must reload and reconstruct another roster that can contend in the AL East next season.
Here's the outlook for most of the players who spent significant time with the Rays in 2021 -- or played a meaningful role in limited time -- and what next year could have in store for them.
Note that this list does not include players who missed most/all of this year due to injuries (like Chaz Roe, Jalen Beeks, Oliver Drake, Colin Poche and Yonny Chirinos) or potential contributors who only briefly appeared with the club (like prospects Vidal Bruján, Josh Lowe and Brent Honeywell Jr.).
Mike Zunino (club option for 2022)
The Rays are expected to pick up Zunino’s option, which increased to $7 million based on the All-Star’s playing time. Considering his reliable presence behind the plate and his 33-homer outburst, he’s likely to reestablish himself as Tampa Bay’s primary catcher.
Francisco Mejía (first-year arbitration eligible)
The switch-hitter slashed .260/.322/.416 with 35 RBIs in 84 games. He has some room to grow defensively, but he was hardly the liability some worried about when the Padres moved him around the diamond. Mejía, projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $1.5 million, looks like the perfect partner for Zunino again.
1B Ji-Man Choi (second-year arbitration eligible)
Choi played quality defense, worked tough at-bats and provided some pop, with a 116 OPS+ and 11 homers, although he dealt with a few lower-body injuries that limited his playing time. Choi still has a role as the strong side of a first-base platoon, but with his salary climbing and an increasingly crowded infield, it’s fair to wonder if the Rays might soon move on.
1B/3B Yandy Díaz (first-year arbitration eligible)
Díaz led the team in walks, didn’t strike out much, found some power in the second half, drove in 64 runs and played solid corner-infield defense. He’ll get a raise in arbitration, but he’s still a valuable part of the infield given his defensive versatility, right-handed bat and plate discipline.
2B Brandon Lowe (signed through 2024, club options through ’26)
The second baseman was again the Rays’ most valuable player in the regular season, slashing .247/.340/.523 with 39 homers, 99 RBIs and a team-leading 4.8 bWAR. With young middle infielders like Wander Franco, Taylor Walls and Vidal Bruján arriving, might the Rays consider moving him around the infield and outfield more often?
SS Wander Franco (pre-arbitration)
The 20-year-old lived up to the hype, coming as advertised at the plate and improving at shortstop as the second half went on. He finished fifth on the team with 3.5 bWAR in only 70 games and might already be “the most impactful player on any team in baseball,” manager Kevin Cash said. He could very well be one of the game’s brightest stars by this time next year.
3B/SS/2B Joey Wendle (second-year arbitration eligible)
Wendle was one of the Rays’ most valuable players and a deserving first-time All-Star due to his strong start at the plate and his consistently excellent defense at multiple positions. He’ll earn another raise next season and should continue to play an important role given his ability to man shortstop, second and third base.
1B/OF Jordan Luplow (first-year arbitration eligible)
Luplow will be ready for Spring Training after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle. The Rays will count on the first baseman/outfielder to hit against left-handed pitchers. It’s a role previously held by versatile infielder Mike Brosseau, who struggled early and never recovered as he appeared in only two games after July 7.
SS Taylor Walls (pre-arbitration)
The 25-year-old switch-hitter slashed .211/.314/.296 in 54 games, a far cry from his career Minor League line of .272/.368/.418, but ranked among the team leaders with nine defensive runs saved. It’s unclear where he’ll fit to start next season, but the Rays believe the slick-fielding shortstop will be better than his debut showed.
Randy Arozarena (pre-arbitration)
The 2020 postseason hero was a productive and valuable player, an AL Rookie of the Year frontrunner who slashed .274/.356/.459 with 20 homers, 20 steals and 4.2 bWAR in 141 games. He was at his best in the second half, an encouraging sign as the Rays move forward with him as a key part of their lineup in a corner outfield spot.
Kevin Kiermaier (signed through 2022, club option for ’23)
Kiermaier was once again one of the Majors’ best defensive center fielders (13 DRS, 12 outs above average) and a vital clubhouse presence, and a simplified approach helped him bat .286/.370/.455 in the second half. Next season is the last guaranteed year of his contract, in which he’ll earn $12 million before a $13 million option year. With his rising salary and an outfield logjam, will the Rays look to trade their veteran leader?
Manuel Margot (third-year arbitration eligible)
Among the Majors’ best defensive outfielders (13 DRS, MLB-leading 17 OAA) and a roughly league-average right-handed bat, Margot was valuable overall with 2.8 bWAR. If the Rays trade Kiermaier, Margot could be part of the solution in center field. Or might they consider moving Margot, who’s projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $5 million next year?
Austin Meadows (first-year arbitration eligible)
Meadows’ timely hitting -- as Kiermaier put it, “Death, taxes and Austin Meadows with runners in scoring position” -- led to a 106-RBI season. He’s entering his arb-eligible years, but it’s hard to imagine the Rays moving one of their run-producing bats now. Meadows can play the corner outfield spots and work in a DH rotation if Nelson Cruz doesn’t return.
Brett Phillips (first-year arbitration eligible)
Arguably Tampa Bay’s most popular Ray, Phillips earned the adoration by pairing highlight-reel plays in the outfield (10 DRS, 10 OAA) with 13 home runs and a flair for the dramatic at the plate. The out-of-options native of Seminole, Fla., posted a solid 101 OPS+, totaled 2.1 bWAR and should be back in a similar role next year.
Nelson Cruz (pending free agent)
Cruz wasn’t quite the hitter the Rays expected, batting .226 with a .725 OPS in 55 games, but he was every bit the positive clubhouse presence they desired. Both sides are aligned in their pursuit of a championship, but will that lead to a reunion? Tampa Bay surely won’t be the 41-year-old slugger’s only suitor.
LHP Ryan Yarbrough (second-year arbitration eligible)
The lefty led the team with 155 innings, but had a 5.11 ERA in an inconsistent season that ended with him off the ALDS roster. There’s value in his durability, versatility and ability to induce weak contact, but with Yarbrough into his arbitration years, how much longer does he have left in the Rays’ rotation?
RHP Michael Wacha (pending free agent)
Wacha provided the outings and innings the Rays wanted and made some brilliant starts despite his 5.05 ERA. Perhaps Tampa Bay will consider a reunion with the veteran starter, who struggled out of the bullpen in the ALDS, but they have other options on the way.
LHP Shane McClanahan (pre-arbitration)
McClanahan’s season ended on a sour note, with a rough relief appearance in ALDS Game 4, but this season revealed a bright future for the hard-throwing rookie. The lefty reinvented himself last offseason and should only get better after posting a 3.43 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 25 starts. Could their ALDS Game 1 starter also be their Opening Day starter next year?
LHP Josh Fleming (pre-arbitration)
Fleming had some quality outings, pitched 104 1/3 innings in the Majors and tied with McClanahan for the team lead in wins (10) despite his 5.09 ERA. He moved to the bullpen at the end of the season, but the sinkerball lefty’s immediate future is pitching bulk innings.
RHP Tyler Glasnow (second-year arbitration eligible)
He’ll miss next year following Tommy John surgery, setting him up to return in 2023 -- his final season before free agency. Glasnow is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $5.8 million, which would also be his salary in ‘23. For the Rays, is one year of Glasnow’s ace-level production worth it? We’ll learn this winter.
RHP Luis Patiño (pre-arbitration)
Patiño moved to the bullpen down the stretch, but his electric stuff belongs in the rotation. He was shuttled up and down throughout the first half, then stuck as a starter from late July to late September. Two areas of focus: Better handling left-handed hitters (.830 OPS against) and working deeper into games.
RHP Drew Rasmussen (pre-arbitration)
The Rays planned to move Rasmussen from the bullpen to the rotation next season, but Glasnow’s injury accelerated their plans. Limited to five innings each outing, Rasmussen recorded a 1.46 ERA after joining the rotation on Aug. 12. His innings might be monitored -- he’s had Tommy John surgery twice -- but the Rays would gladly take those results again.
RHP Chris Archer (pending free agent)
After returning on a $6.5 million deal, Archer was derailed by injuries that limited him to 19 1/3 innings. It’s hard to imagine the Rays rolling the dice, unless it’s on a low-guarantee/Minor League-type deal, given the injuries Archer has dealt with since 2019.
RHP Shane Baz (pre-arbitration)
Baz’s stock skyrocketed with his improved command and performance in the Minors, then the top prospect’s three regular-season starts displayed his electric stuff and high-end ability. His ALDS start was a reminder, too: He’s still young. Count on the Rays to bet on talent over experience with him in their rotation.
LHP Dietrich Enns (pre-arbitration)
In a year, Enns went from independent ball to picking up two wins and two saves for the Rays. The 30-year-old lefty had a 2.82 ERA in nine outings for Tampa Bay and dominated for Durham (2.64 ERA), seemingly pitching his way into next year’s mix in one role or another.
RHP Andrew Kittredge (first-year arbitration eligible)
From rehabbing to avoid Tommy John surgery to coming to camp as a non-roster invitee to being the Rays’ most valuable reliever, Kittredge earned his first All-Star nod and more. He showed his ability and flexibility, posting a 1.88 ERA over 71 2/3 innings while working every inning from the first to the 11th. The righty will be back as a key high-leverage arm.
RHP Collin McHugh (pending free agent)
McHugh was an invaluable addition, recording a 1.55 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 64 innings over 37 outings. The righty was a perfect fit in Cash’s bullpen as an adaptable multi-inning option, but he can now choose his next destination coming off a great season.
RHP Pete Fairbanks (pre-arbitration)
Fairbanks was sidelined twice by shoulder issues and had a couple tough stretches -- one in late June, one in early September -- but still showed encouraging signs and put up solid numbers in 42 2/3 innings as a hard-throwing, high-leverage reliever.
RHP J.P. Feyereisen (pre-arbitration)
Acquired alongside Rasmussen in the Willy Adames trade with the Brewers, Feyereisen produced a 2.45 ERA in 36 2/3 innings over 34 outings for the Rays. The rookie righty, who was on the mound for the end of the Rays’ season in Boston, should be back in an important relief role.
RHP Matt Wisler (third-year arbitration eligible)
Wisler thrived after being traded by the Giants in June, but right middle finger inflammation limited him to three outings after Aug. 15 and may have been an issue when he gave up two pivotal runs in the Rays’ ALDS Game 2 defeat. If his finger is fine, his devastating slider makes him an intriguing bullpen option.
RHP JT Chargois (pre-arbitration)
Chargois walked 14 batters with the Rays and struck out 24 while logging a 1.90 ERA in 25 outings. The Rays parted with high-leverage reliever Diego Castillo to get Chargois and prospect Austin Shenton before the Trade Deadline, so it’s fair to assume he’ll be back as a key reliever.
RHP David Robertson (pending free agent)
A late-season acquisition to add experienced bullpen depth, Robertson struck out 16 and allowed runs in four of his 12 appearances. The righty might be interested in returning to a contender like Tampa Bay, or he could pursue a deal elsewhere now that he’s proven his health and effectiveness.
RHP Nick Anderson (first-year arbitration eligible)
The righty spent most of the season recovering from a serious elbow injury, featured diminished velocity when he came back and was left off the ALDS roster. Anderson was arguably the game’s best late-inning reliever from July 2019-October 2020, so perhaps an offseason of rest and good health is all he needs to return to form.
LHP Jeffrey Springs (first-year arbitration eligible)
A low-profile pickup, Springs was a big part of the bullpen before undergoing surgery to reconstruct a torn ACL in his right knee on Aug. 16. Tampa Bay doesn’t have many proven lefty relief options, so he could serve in a similar role assuming he’s back at full strength.
RHP Ryan Thompson (pre-arbitration)
The right-hander was excellent when healthy, producing a 2.38 ERA with 37 strikeouts and nine walks in 34 innings. But Thompson didn’t pitch after June 27 and eventually required thoracic outlet syndrome decompression surgery on Sept. 30. He’s expected to return to full health by Spring Training.
LHP Adam Conley (third-year arbitration eligible)
Conley hadn’t pitched in the Majors since 2019, joined Triple-A Durham in mid-May and pitched well down the stretch (2.29 ERA in 17 outings) but didn’t crack Tampa Bay’s ALDS roster after testing positive for COVID-19. He’s projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $900,000 in arbitration next season, a reasonable cost if he’s that effective.
LHP Ryan Sherriff (pre-arbitration)
Sherriff struggled to carve out a consistent role this year. He made the Opening Day bullpen, stepped away to focus on his mental health, returned in short stints, put together a 5.52 ERA and only made one appearance after Aug. 15 despite a 2.81 ERA in Durham.
LHP Cody Reed (first-year arbitration eligible)
Three instances of weakness/numbness in Reed’s throwing hand during his first full season with the Rays led to thoracic outlet syndrome decompression surgery on June 2. The lefty recovered remarkably quickly, pitched in Triple-A games in September, will be ready for Spring Training and should have a shot to crack the Opening Day bullpen.
RHP Louis Head (pre-arbitration)
Head shuttled between the Majors and Triple-A nearly a dozen times after his long-awaited debut on his 31st birthday. Yet his performance was steady, with a 2.31 ERA for the Rays and a 2.20 ERA for Durham. The righty established himself as a big leaguer, even if he keeps bouncing between levels.
RHP Chris Mazza (pre-arbitration)
Mazza was up and down a lot, pitching 14 times for the Rays and 26 times for Durham. He helped Tampa Bay by handling multiple innings whenever needed, a useful role given pitchers’ workload concerns, but could become expendable in a roster crunch.