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Inbox: Who will catch for the Rays in 2020?

Beat reporter Juan Toribio answers questions from fans
@juanctoribio
October 21, 2019

Chances Rays bring back d’Arnaud? I’m sure he’ll have many suitors this offseason[.] --- @DharmaGator, via Twitter

Chances Rays bring back d’Arnaud? I’m sure he’ll have many suitors this offseason[.]
--- @DharmaGator, via Twitter

Like with most free agents, the market will dictate what the Rays do over the winter. Travis d'Arnaud certainly made a huge impact in the clubhouse and at the plate this season, but like you said, he’ll likely have a couple of suitors. His relationship with hitting coach Chad Mottola is definitely something that could sway d’Arnaud into returning to Tampa Bay, but he’s also in the back end of his career, so nobody can fault him for trying to secure one more reasonable payday.

Rays general manager Erik Neander has said that he doesn’t want to close the door on any of the three impending free agents, but as of right now, it’s not likely that d’Arnaud returns to Tampa Bay next season. But they’ll definitely keep tabs on how his free agent process develops over the next couple of months.

Assuming the Rays are unable to bring back [d’Arnaud], will the Rays be satisfied going into next season with Zunino and Perez as their 2 catchers?
--- @buccaneerant, via Twitter

Mike Zunino struggled all season at the plate, but he was still an upgrade defensively over d’Arnaud. The Rays are going to decide if they want to pay Zunino approximately $4.9 million in arbitration or non-tender the veteran catcher. If Tampa Bay decides to bring him back -- especially if d’Arnaud walks in free agency -- the Rays could go into the 2020 season with Zunino and Michael Perez, which was the plan going into the ‘19 season.

If the Rays decide to non-tender Zunino to make him a free agent, expect the team to be very active in the catcher market this winter. Adding depth at the position will be a priority.

What does the future of Aguilar look like? Do you see him more of a trade bait?
--- @missymetz, via Twitter

It’ll be interesting to see what the Rays do with Jesús Aguilar this winter. They acquired the first baseman at the Trade Deadline because they believe there are underlying numbers that indicate that he performed better at the plate than his stats say. With Ji-Man Choi establishing himself as a key piece in the lineup, Aguilar didn’t get many opportunities and was left off the American League Division Series roster against the Astros.

Like with Zunino, the Rays could decide to non-tender Aguilar and make him a free agent. With Nate Lowe also in the mix, this seems like a very possible scenario for Tampa Bay. If they keep Aguilar on the roster, expect him to at least break camp with the Rays, as they would be banking that he would have a bounce-back 2020 season.

Not sure when this will come up, but what happens to Willy when Wander Franco arrives at the Trop? Does one move over to third (guessing Franco here?) or is Willy gone? I feel like they extend him this year but Wander is coming soon so they must have an idea.
--- @happyraysfan, via Twitter

What a good problem to have, right? Willy Adames made a huge jump defensively in 2019, and if he improves more in '20, it’ll be difficult to move him to another position. That would leave Wander Franco -- the game’s No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline -- to potentially play another position. It’s also important to remember that Adames played second base when he was called up in 2018, and he was later moved to shortstop after the Rays released Adeiny Hechavarria. That could be a possibility here.

Franco could start out at second or third base, but he’ll ultimately make the switch to shortstop. Adames could then move to third base, whenever the phenom is ready to take over the position. It’ll be interesting how it all plays out, but having Adames and Franco on your roster is a good problem to have.

With Shane Baz and Josh Lowe currently in the Arizona Fall League for the #Rays, do you foresee them making an impact on the big league squad in 2020?
--- @XRaysSpex, via Twitter

Of the two, Josh Lowe (the Rays' No. 11 prospect) is more likely to make the jump to the big league level next season. He finished the season at Double-A Montgomery and he’ll continue to move up the system next year. With the Rays trading away Jesus Sanchez at the Deadline and losing Avisaíl García to free agency, Lowe can help out in the outfield late in the season, if needed.

Rays' No. 6 prospect Shane Baz has one of the most electric arms in the organization, but he finished the year at Low Class A Bowling Green and still needs a couple of years before he makes an impact.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.