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Non-tender decisions loom for Rays

Hechavarria, Miller, Sucre among those under consideration before Friday's deadline
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- With Major League Baseball's non-tender deadline looming, the Rays must make several critical decisions.

By Friday at 8 p.m. ET, teams need to tender contracts to all arbitration-eligible players or allow those players to become free agents. By tendering a contract, they agree to hammer out a deal with the player for the 2018 season, even if it results in an arbitration hearing to decide how much that contract will be worth.

ST. PETERSBURG -- With Major League Baseball's non-tender deadline looming, the Rays must make several critical decisions.

By Friday at 8 p.m. ET, teams need to tender contracts to all arbitration-eligible players or allow those players to become free agents. By tendering a contract, they agree to hammer out a deal with the player for the 2018 season, even if it results in an arbitration hearing to decide how much that contract will be worth.

Hot Stove Tracker

Players of note whom the Rays might consider non-tendering include: Adeiny Hechavarria, Brad Miller and Jesus Sucre.

Hechavarria brought a different look to shortstop after Tampa Bay acquired him from Miami on June 26 for a pair of Minor Leaguers. With his range and sure hands, he cleaned up a lot of possible problems during his 77 games with the Rays.

While Hechavarria is a quality Major League shortstop, the Rays must ask themselves if agreeing to go to arbitration with him makes sense, particularly when they have Matt Duffy ready to return after missing the 2017 season and No. 2 prospect Willy Adames ready to make the jump to the Major Leagues.

But Tampa Bay is likely to bite the bullet and tender Hechavarria a contract. Under such a scenario, it could start the season with him at shortstop, and if the team remains in contention, he'd finish the season with the Rays. If Tampa Bay finds itself out of contention, plenty of teams would likely be interested in acquiring a shortstop of Hechavarria's talents for a stretch run.

Miller has been an enigma for the Rays in his two years with the team. He had a plus season at the plate in 2016, when he hit a career-high 30 home runs. After injuries limited him to 110 games in '17, he finished with just nine homers. Miller has struggled on defense, but he has positional flexibility with the ability to play shortstop, second base, first base and the outfield. On top of that, he's one of the best guys the Rays have in the clubhouse.

Video: BAL@TB: Miller crushes a three-run homer to right

Miller made $3.575 million in 2017. Do the Rays spend the money, banking on a rebound, or do they cut ties with Miller? Again, the smart money would favor the Rays keeping the player. Miller still has value, and 2017 appears to be an outlier based on his career production numbers.

Finally, there is Sucre. He is identified as Tampa Bay's backup catcher, but he played in 63 games in 2017, making 51 starts at catcher and swooping in from the bullpen for a memorable one-inning appearance.

Video: TB@HOU: Sucre tosses an inning of relief

Sucre made $630,000 in 2017. Wilson Ramos should get the bulk of the catching starts next season, but do the Rays feel comfortable enough with Ramos' health to not bring back Sucre as his backup?

There are no other catchers on the 40-man roster and Rays pitchers like pitching to Sucre, so chances are Tampa Bay will tender him a contract as well.

The hard reality is this: The Rays' payroll in 2017 was $70 million, and owner Stu Sternberg has said it will not increase and will likely decrease in 2018.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays