Maton signs one-year deal, reinforcing Rays' bullpen

February 14th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays officially added a new arm to their bullpen as pitchers and catchers took the field for their first Spring Training workout on Wednesday morning.

Tampa Bay announced the signing of reliever to a one-year deal with a club option for 2025. The contract is for $6.25 million this season, according to a source, with a $7.75 million option (or $250,000 buyout) next year.’s Mark Feinsand first reported earlier this month that the two sides were nearing a deal, and it became official Wednesday after the 30-year-old right-hander passed his physical.

“You play long enough, you hear a lot of good things about organizations. This is one that really stands out, especially for pitchers,” Maton said in front of his locker at Charlotte Sports Park. “I’ll be 31 this year and ideally coming out of this contract as a 33-year-old. I’d like to continue to improve as a pitcher, and in my mind, this was going to be the place where I was going to be able to do that.”

To make room on their 40-man roster, the Rays transferred rehabbing ace Shane McClanahan to the 60-day injured list. McClanahan is expected to miss the entire season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Maton said his foray into free agency was initially “very quiet,” with plenty of interest but no offers. When the Rays entered the fray, though, Maton said he quickly came to the decision that they were the right team for him. He’d heard plenty of good things about Tampa Bay from former teammates, and one of them from his time in Cleveland now owns the locker next to Maton: Aaron Civale.

Maton is coming off a strong season with the Astros, as he posted a 3.00 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, racking up 74 strikeouts in 66 innings over 68 appearances last year. And he could be poised to take another step forward with the Rays, as so many talented pitchers have, given some of the underlying numbers he produced.

“Happy to have Phil. Veteran guy. He’s been there, done that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s had a pretty healthy workload over the last three years. He’s pitched for a very good team, very good organization, and I think he’s going to slide into what we consider a pretty strong bullpen.”

Maton’s average exit velocity (84.5 mph) and hard-hit rate (23.5%) and expected numbers (including a 3.14 xERA) were all elite last season. It’s not a stretch to think he could repeat that performance, or perhaps improve on it, based on his pitch arsenal and the way he uses it.

His high-spin curveball became his primary pitch, as he threw it 40.4% of the time, and generated a .169 opponents’ batting average and 36.4% whiff rate. His fastball averaged just 89 mph, but opponents hit just .226 against it and whiffed on 32.3% of their swings. He transformed his slider into a sweeper, which produced a 29.9% whiff rate.

“Just stuff that they thought was going to help me improve, and I can’t say enough good things about the organization, just awesome people,” Maton said of his time with the Astros. “I would not be here if it wasn’t for them.”

The Rays lost three key relievers from the bullpen that turned into one of baseball’s best in the second half of last season: setup man Robert Stephenson, veteran lefty Jake Diekman and 2021 All-Star Andrew Kittredge. But Maton is joining a strong returning relief corps that should once again be a strength.

Pete Fairbanks is back to close out games. Jason Adam and Colin Poche could function as his top setup men again, with Maton potentially joining that group. Left-hander Garrett Cleavinger is fully healthy again. Versatile righty Shawn Armstrong and side-arming Kevin Kelly are back. Right-hander Chris Devenski and lefty Tyler Alexander will be built up like starters early on this spring, but both could work as openers or multi-inning options out of the bullpen.

Considering some of the questions about the Rays’ starting rotation, which includes a handful of pitchers likely to face workload concerns this year, having a deep and flexible bullpen capable of covering innings and locking down leads would once again go a long way.

“We've been fortunate to have some good units over the last several years, and it's been a critical part of our success,” president of baseball operations Erik Neander said Tuesday. “This one certainly has a chance to be at the front of the list when we look back with the benefit of hindsight. … It's probably deeper than we have opportunity for, if everyone's healthy.”