Rays add INF Amed Rosario on 1-year deal

February 21st, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays kept adding infield options on Tuesday, signing  to a one-year Major League contract and bringing back Yu Chang on a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training.

Rosario’s agreement is for $1.5 million, according to a source, with another $500,000 in incentives. The Rays announced the signing on Tuesday night and made room for Rosario on their 40-man roster by placing rehabbing right-hander Drew Rasmussen on the 60-day injured list.

While Chang gives the Rays more sure-handed depth at shortstop behind expected Opening Day starter José Caballero and the rehabbing Taylor Walls, Rosario could play a variety of roles. President of baseball operations Erik Neander said Rosario’s ability to play shortstop, second base and the outfield will help him fit on their roster.

Neander also cited Rosario’s character, reputation as a teammate, athleticism and career-long track record of success against left-handed pitching as reasons behind the somewhat surprising signing.

“We’ve got some competitions in camp,” Neander said. “Depending on how those all get sorted out, the ability to help us at both positions up the middle as well as the outfield gives us a lot of different ways to put this together and come away with a better club than had he not been here.”

The Rays have been facing a tremendous amount of uncertainty at shortstop, as Wander Franco is not in camp while being investigated by MLB and officials in the Dominican Republic, and Walls is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day after undergoing offseason surgery on his right hip.

Tampa Bay acquired Caballero from the Mariners during the offseason and entered camp with the expectation that he would be their regular shortstop to begin the season. That appears to still be the Rays’ plan, although Rosario gives them a more experienced alternative and could play there some as part of a super-utility role against left-handed pitchers.

“If he was kind of pegged for one spot and one spot only, I don't know if this would hold the same appeal,” Neander said. “We appreciate what he brings to the table, but the chance for him to settle in a few different ways to our club … allows him to seize the most possible opportunity.

“And for us, as we're evaluating younger players, less experienced players, many of whom we like, it just allows us to get to the end of camp and just have a lot of maneuverability in terms of how they best come together.”

The Rays are going to let a handful of position battles play out during Spring Training, including some bench spots in the infield and outfield that seem likely to be affected by the addition of Rosario. They also may not be done making moves, as Harold Ramírez has been a rumored trade candidate all offseason.

Still, it’s hard to ignore that the Rays now have an even more crowded infield competition.

Yandy Díaz and Isaac Paredes are set to return at the corner spots, with Brandon Lowe and Caballero up the middle. Tampa Bay has been looking for ways to get more at-bats for young infielders Jonathan Aranda and Curtis Mead, to the point that Mead has been working some at shortstop early in camp. They also have younger options like top prospect Junior Caminero, utility infielder Osleivis Basabe and corner-infield prospect Austin Shenton.

Now, they can add Rosario -- a Tampa-area resident -- to the mix.

The 28-year-old is only a season removed from an impressive 2022 campaign with Cleveland, during which he totaled 4.2 Wins Above Replacement while batting .283/.312/.403 with 11 homers, nine triples and 18 steals in 153 games as the Guardians’ starting shortstop. He has remained a highly effective hitter against left-handed pitchers, posting a career .806 OPS against lefties compared to a .670 mark against right-handers.

Rosario’s strengths are putting the ball in play and using his wheels, as he ranked in the 74th percentile in strikeout rate and the 95th percentile in sprint speed in 2023. But there are some defensive questions. Rosario has -60 career Outs Above Average at shortstop, the second-lowest total at that position since 2017. That includes -14 in 2023 alone, even as the Dodgers used Rosario more at second base after the trade.

The Rays added another potential backup plan at shortstop on Tuesday morning by signing Chang, who spent time with Tampa Bay in 2022 and had expressed interest in returning to the club. Chang, who hit .260/.305/.385 with three homers and played solid defense at shortstop over 36 games for the Rays, said he had been weighing Minor League offers from about 10 teams before choosing to rejoin Tampa Bay.

Rosario might further reduce Chang’s chances of cracking the Opening Day roster, but Neander referred to Chang as an “exceptional defensive player” who’s going to get a “really good look” in camp.

“I feel like people make me comfortable here -- not only like coaches; teammates and everybody here,” Chang said through interpreter Patrick Chu. “Overall, compared to other teams, here they make me feel super comfortable.”