ST. PETERSBURG -- Though they came up short against the Dodgers, reaching the World Series was a big accomplishment for the Rays. It was the second Fall Classic appearance in franchise history, which helps excitement continue to build in the Tampa Bay area.
But with added expectations, reaching the World Series in 2021 won’t be enough for the Rays. There will be a championship-or-bust mentality inside the clubhouse -- just ask Blake Snell.
“Getting to this point and losing should be the worst feeling in the world,” Snell said after the Game 6 loss on Tuesday. “For the guys in the clubhouse, I just hope they understand: Rest a couple of weeks if that’s what they want to do, and then get ready for a championship season next year. We have to win it all. This losing stuff isn’t fun.”
It’s going to be a busy offseason for general manager Erik Neander and company. Here’s everything you need to know about what lies ahead this winter:
What happened with Morton and Zunino?
The Rays declined to pick up the team options of both Charlie Morton and Mike Zunino, but are not yet ruling out reuniting with either player. Morton’s third-year option was for $15 million and Tampa Bay may look to work out a free-agent deal with the right-hander. Morton said he will contemplate retirement, but he has also expressed his desire to play one more season with the Rays.
As for Zunino, Tampa Bay had a $4.5 million option on the catcher. Zunino’s value behind the plate and his higher-than-expected contribution in the postseason are reasons the club will likely attempt to re-sign the catcher.
What about the 45- and 60-day injured list guys?
The Rays finished with six players on the 45- and 60-day injured list this season, which is significant because Tampa Bay will have to reinstate them onto the 40-man roster or designate them for assignment by Sunday’s deadline.
Those players include: Chirinos, LHP Cody Reed, LHP Jalen Beeks, RHP Andrew Kittredge and LHP Colin Poche. Of those, Chirinos, Reed, Beeks and Poche are almost certain to be back with the Rays, so the club will have to clear at least four spots on its 40-man roster. RHP Chaz Roe is now a free agent after clearing waivers.
Smith, Kittredge and left-hander Ryan Sherriff are also possible DFA options in order to clear room for injured players.
Are there any non-tender candidates? When is the deadline?
Roe was the most likely option, but even after clearing waivers it wouldn’t be surprising if the Rays look to sign him back on a cheaper deal, as the veteran righty is coming off an injury-plagued season. Renfroe could also be a non-tender candidate after a disappointing 2020 season, but Tampa Bay could choose to give him a more traditional season to prove himself.
Teams must decide by Dec. 2 whether to tender a contract to any unsigned players on the 40-man roster. Arbitration-eligible players will then exchange proposed salary figures at a later date.
Which prospects do the Rays need to protect before the Rule 5 Draft?
Because of the Rays’ deep farm system, this is always an interesting question. They will need to make a decision on a few prospects by Nov. 20. Tampa Bay already faces a lot of hard 40-man roster decisions, so don’t expect many prospects to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason.
Outfielder Josh Lowe, the organization’s No. 10 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is the most likely addition to the 40-man roster. Shortstop Taylor Walls, the club’s No. 17 prospect, could also be an option. Others such as top prospect Wander Franco do not yet need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.
Will the Rays be aggressive in trades and/or free agency this offseason?
As expected, the Rays likely will not be one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, especially in an offseason with so much uncertainty. However, Tampa Bay, as usual, will look to be opportunistic with trades this winter.
The Rays’ loaded farm system could help the club gain some more assets at the big league level. A lot of the decisions will depend on what happens over the next few weeks with their current roster, but starting pitching depth and another right-handed bat in the lineup would appear to be some of the team’s biggest needs.