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Cron DFA'd as Rays shuffle 40-man roster

No. 4 prospect Sanchez among those protected from Rule 5 Draft
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

For the second time in the last calendar year, a roster crunch has forced the Rays to cut ties with an impact bat. On Tuesday, the team parted ways with first baseman/DH C.J. Cron, who was designated for assignment amid a flurry of moves prior to the 8 p.m. ET deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft by putting them on the 40-man roster.

The Rays' home run leader in 2018 with 30, Cron slashed .253/.323/.493 in 140 games. No other Tampa Bay player hit more than 14 homers.

For the second time in the last calendar year, a roster crunch has forced the Rays to cut ties with an impact bat. On Tuesday, the team parted ways with first baseman/DH C.J. Cron, who was designated for assignment amid a flurry of moves prior to the 8 p.m. ET deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft by putting them on the 40-man roster.

The Rays' home run leader in 2018 with 30, Cron slashed .253/.323/.493 in 140 games. No other Tampa Bay player hit more than 14 homers.

"This was a tough call, given what C.J. did for us last year and what he meant for our group," Rays GM Chaim Bloom said. "We certainly haven't closed off the possibly of a return, but with as many deserving players on our club that need playing time, it didn't make sense for us to commit to him right now. That's what made this tough. I don't think you can take lightly what he produced this past year, and assume you're going to be able to snap your fingers and replace it."

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The Rays also DFA'd right-hander Oliver Drake and left-hander Hody Milner and outrighted righty Jose Mujica to the Minor Leagues. Mujica, 22, is expected to miss the 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The moves were made to clear space on the 40-man roster for five blue-chippers, a group headlined by 21-year-old outfielder Jesus Sanchez. Sanchez is ranked by MLB Pipeline as No. 4 on the Rays' Top 30 Prospects list and No. 33 on the Top 100 Prospects overall. Outfielder Joe McCarthy (Tampa Bay's No. 17 prospect), right-hander Ian Gibaut (No. 29), and left-handers Brock Burke and Kyle Bird were also added to the roster and thereby protected from being selected by another club in next month's Rule 5 Draft.

Bloom identified Bird and Burke, the organization's 2018 Pitcher of the Year, as candidates to help the big league club next season. The same likely applies to Gibaut, who posted a 2.09 ERA at Triple-A Durham, and McCarthy, who hit .269/.377/.513 with eight homers in 47 games at Durham.

Bloom was less optimistic about a reunion with Cron, whom the club was unable to trade before Tuesday's deadline. That's what the Rays did earlier this year with Corey Dickerson, who was traded to the Pirates five days after the Rays acquired Cron from the Angels. Coming off an All-Star 2017 in which he hit 27 home runs, Dickerson earned roughly $6 million last season.

Cron's salary was approximately $2.3 million in 2018 and he is due for a raise in his second year of arbitration. Howeer, if he passes through waivers, he'll likely become a free agent, joining a crowded market for first base/DH types that includes Daniel Murphy, Nelson Cruz, Lucas Duda, Matt Holliday, Evan Gattis, Jose Bautista and Matt Adams. Cron's departure slides Ji-Man Choi to the top of the Rays' depth chart at DH, at least for the time being.

"We're optimistic and hopeful we'll put an offense together that will make up for [Cron's] contributions," Bloom said. "It'll be a tall task to replace what he produced."

Tampa Bay's 40-man roster is now full.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

Tampa Bay Rays, C.J. Cron