ST. PETERSBURG -- With a full 40-man roster, an overflowing group of position players and a massive class of arbitration-eligible players, the Rays faced a handful of tough decisions prior to Tuesday night’s non-tender deadline.
The Rays attempted to alleviate all three issues in one move Tuesday evening, trading All-Star infielder Joey Wendle to the Marlins for outfield prospect Kameron Misner. It was a hard call, president of baseball operations Erik Neander said, crediting Wendle for his role in the Rays’ recent success and the example he set throughout his four seasons with Tampa Bay.
“These last four years have been really successful for us, and Joey has been front and center in all the games that we’ve found a way to win -- and we’ve won a lot of them,” Neander said Tuesday night. “The on-field contributions have been evident … but that’s just a small part of what Joey’s meant to this organization. The consummate professional, the best teammate you could ask for … and we’re going to miss that.”
Rays get: OF Kameron Misner (Marlins' No. 21 prospect, per MLB Pipeline)
Marlins get: IF Joey Wendle
But moving Wendle created an open spot on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster, which the club will need to officially sign veteran starter Corey Kluber on Wednesday, and made a little more room in the infield for versatile youngsters Taylor Walls and Vidal Bruján. And the Rays are excited about Misner, an athletic outfielder who fits well in their system and should be in the mix to start next season in Double-A.
Trading Wendle also reduced the club’s arbitration-eligible class to 14 players, and the Rays further cut that number to 13 on Tuesday by agreeing to a one-year, $3.2 million deal with first baseman Ji-Man Choi.
“What he’s done against righties and what he brings to the team in his own unique way, just felt it was worthwhile to go ahead and get that done,” Neander said. “There was some openness to getting it done. One fewer item on the to-do list through the arbitration process when we’ve got a pretty good group.”
Tampa Bay tendered contracts to the rest of its arbitration-eligible players before Tuesday’s deadline: Nick Anderson, Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos, Yandy Díaz, Tyler Glasnow, Andrew Kittredge, Manuel Margot, Austin Meadows, Francisco Mejía, Brett Phillips, Jeffrey Springs, Matt Wisler and Ryan Yarbrough.
The Rays didn’t have any obvious non-tender candidates on their roster, so none of those decisions came as a surprise. The most interesting case might be Glasnow, who is projected to earn between $5 million and $6 million while sitting out most or all of next season following Tommy John surgery then earn the same salary in 2023, his final year of club control.
“That was an easy one for us,” Neander said. “The lost year is certainly unfortunate, but the ability level and our optimism about him getting on the other side of this surgery and getting back to who he was made this an easy call to tender him and to continue moving that forward.”
The Rays will undoubtedly miss Wendle, the 31-year-old who traded joking jabs with manager Kevin Cash and made his first All-Star team this past season. Playing a part for each of the Rays’ winning teams the past four years, Wendle was in many ways the quintessential Tampa Bay player: versatile on defense, spectacular in the field, a steady contributor at the plate, unheralded but unfailingly productive.
“He will leave a lasting impact on this organization by the way he carried himself and hope our younger players that have been around him carry that on,” Neander said. “Wish him nothing but the best, but hard conversations, hard calls to make for all the right reasons. He was sad. I was sad.”
This year, Wendle hit .265/.319/.422 with a career-high 11 homers and 54 RBIs in 501 plate appearances over 136 games. He produced 3.8 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference, making him the 100-win Rays’ third-most-valuable player behind only second baseman Brandon Lowe and American League Rookie of the Year Randy Arozarena.
But the Rays have plenty of internal options to assume Wendle’s spot on the roster. They’re expected to commit more playing time to the switch-hitting Walls and Bruján. Walls is a dynamic defensive shortstop who can play anywhere in the infield, which -- combined with his Major League experience this year -- likely puts him first in line to assume Wendle’s role. Bruján, the Rays’ No. 2 prospect, can play just about anywhere in the infield or outfield.
“Felt it was probably the right time to open up a little space and see what some of those guys can do,” Neander said. “If there’s other ways to improve our club with players that are more established, we’re going to make sure we’re opportunistic. Certainly, we believe some of the players we have in-house here are ready for a greater challenge, and hopefully they come into camp and prove us right.”
And the Rays received a solid return for Wendle, who is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $4 million through the arbitration process this season, in Misner. The 23-year-old outfielder was the Marlins’ No. 21 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, after hitting .253/.355/.433 with 12 homers, 29 doubles and 26 stolen bases in 102 games for High-A Beloit and Double-A Pensacola this year.
Misner also played 23 games in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted an .885 OPS with seven homers in only 102 plate appearances. Some scouts have projected the athletic Misner, the 35th overall pick in the 2019 Draft out of Missouri, as a potential 30-homer/30-steal talent if he can make consistent enough contact. He has played all three outfield positions and a little bit of first base, but most of his professional experience has come in center field.
“The more that we saw the tools and the skills that we’ve thought highly of for a while really start to solidify themselves … I think it was more just further validation of the skills and the potential for them and how our group projects them into the future,” Neander said.