The Rays have spent the last couple of seasons building depth throughout the organization, which will create tough 40-man roster decisions throughout the winter. That was evident on Wednesday when the Rays designated for assignment third baseman Matt Duffy and traded right-handed pitcher José De León to the Reds in
The Rays have spent the last couple of seasons building depth throughout the organization, which will create tough 40-man roster decisions throughout the winter. That was evident on Wednesday when the Rays designated for assignment third baseman Matt Duffy and traded right-handed pitcher José De León to the Reds in order to clear room on the roster.
Duffy spent 3 1/2 seasons with the Rays but was limited by injuries during his tenure. His best season with Tampa Bay came in 2018, when he hit .294 in 132 games. Duffy, however, battled hamstring issues during 2019 and was limited to 46 games.
Duffy, who finished the ’19 season hitting .252 with one home run, was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $2.9 million in salary arbitration. With Duffy scheduled to receive a slight raise and with depth on the infield, the Rays decided to DFA Duffy before the Dec. 2 non-tender deadline.
“[Duffy’s] a special player,” said Rays general manager Erik Neander. “I think his intangibles, his leadership and his influence on a younger and personable clubhouse like we have is worth a lot. And that especially made this a very difficult decision, and we will certainly miss him in that regard.”
Neander said the club explored trade options for Duffy, just like they do with other players, and there’s still a possibility to deal the third baseman if a trade partner appears, but that appears unlikely.
When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster and 25-man roster, if he was on that. Within seven days of the transaction, the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
With Duffy out of the mix, the Rays move forward with Yandy Díaz, Michael Brosseau, Joey Wendle and Daniel Robertson as options at third base.
“Not an easy decision, and we think the world of Duffy and what kind of influence and teammate he is,” Neander said. “I think, just looking at our roster and projecting into next year, we liked our right-handed-hitting infield possibilities.”
De León was traded to Cincinnati for a player to be named later and cash considerations. The 27-year-old returned from Tommy John surgery and went 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four innings with the Rays last season.
By designating Duffy and trading De León, the Rays opened up two additional spots on the 40-man roster, which allowed the club to protect five top prospects from the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 12: Vidal Brujan, Ronaldo Hernandez, Jake Cronenworth, Kevin Padlo and Lucius Fox.
With the addition of those five players, the Rays’ 40-man roster is now at 40.
Of the group, Brujan is the highest-touted prospect. The 21-year-old infielder is the No. 3 prospect in the Rays’ system and No. 39 overall, according to MLB Pipeline, and his elite speed plays a large role in that ranking.
Brujan recorded 48 stolen bases in 61 attempts between Class A Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. Brujan also has some deceptive pop at the plate despite his 155-pound frame. In 207 at-bats with Montgomery, Brujan hit nine doubles, four triples and three home runs, finishing with a .728 OPS.
Brujan should see action in Triple-A Durham in 2020. If the Rays need a speedy option late in the season, he could be an option off the bench, similar to the role Johnny Davis played last season as a September callup.
Hernandez is the top catching prospect in the organization and the team’s No. 7 prospect. The 22-year old has the ability to be a very good hitting catcher and has shown his power over the last couple of seasons in the Minors. Hernandez hit 21 home runs with Class A Bowling Green in ’18 but got off to a slow start with Class A Advanced Charlotte and finished with nine homers in ’19 in the pitching-friendly Florida State League.
Despite the home run totals declining, Hernandez still produced 60 RBIs in 103 games. He represented the Rays in the Futures Game during the All-Star break and made the All-Star team during the Arizona Fall League. In addition to playing in the AFL, Hernandez has played winter ball in Colombia for over three weeks in order to get added at-bats.
Cronenworth, 25, hit 10 home runs and had a .949 OPS in 88 games with Durham. The infielder also pitched 7 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run, giving the Rays another two-way candidate moving forward.
Cronenworth, a right-hander, featured a mid-90s fastball. Despite his success on the mound, Cronenworth’s value is at the plate, and he will look to build off a successful ’19 season, in hopes to make his Major League debut in ’20.
Padlo, 23, battled some injuries and inconsistencies earlier in his career, but the third baseman had a career-high 21 home runs and a .927 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A.
With Padlo’s revival at the plate, the Rays felt confident enough to add him to the 40-man roster, giving the club another quality right-handed-hitting option in the infield. Padlo likely will begin the season in Durham but could be an option, depending on injuries.
The addition of Fox to the roster came as a bit of a surprise. Fox struggled at the plate in ’19, hitting .230 in 104 games in Double-A. The shortstop does, however, give the Rays another player who can make an impact with his legs. Fox, who was acquired from the Giants in the same deal that brought Duffy to Tampa Bay in 2016, had 39 stolen bases this year.
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.