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Projecting Rays' 2020 Opening Day roster

@juanctoribio
January 14, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- When the Rays take the field on Opening Day against the Pirates, the roster will have a significantly different look than the 2019 team that won 96 games and reached the postseason. Travis d’Arnaud, Eric Sogard and Avisaíl García all found new homes via free agency. Tommy

ST. PETERSBURG -- When the Rays take the field on Opening Day against the Pirates, the roster will have a significantly different look than the 2019 team that won 96 games and reached the postseason.

Travis d’Arnaud, Eric Sogard and Avisaíl García all found new homes via free agency. Tommy Pham was traded to San Diego. Jesús Aguilar and Matt Duffy were designated for assignment, and Guillermo Heredia became a free agent after being non-tendered by the club.

On the flip side, the Rays acquired Hunter Renfroe from the Padres, came to terms on a new contract with Mike Zunino, signed Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, completed a trade with the Reds for Brian O'Grady and capped off the offseason by acquiring José Martínez and Randy Arozarena in a key trade with the Cardinals.

After a busy offseason for general manager Erik Neander, let’s predict how the Rays’ roster could look on Opening Day.

Catcher
Lock: Zunino
Possibilities:
Michael Perez, Kevan Smith, Chris Herrmann

The Rays entered the offseason with a lot of uncertainty at catcher. Zunino’s future with the team was a big unknown, and d’Arnaud was getting ready to test the free-agent market.

Now that Tampa Bay knows Zunino will return in 2020, the catching situation is a bit clearer, but there is still some work left to do. Over the next month, the Rays will have to determine whether they feel confident with Zunino and Perez as their two catchers. That was the plan heading into the ‘19 season, but a disappointing campaign from Zunino and an injury-riddled year for Perez forced Tampa Bay to look at other options. The Rays came to terms with Herrmann and Smith on Minor League deals with invites to big league camp in order to add more depth. Both Smith and Herrmann have Major League experience and could win the backup role with a strong spring. If not, both players will add valuable depth at a position of need.

First base
Locks: Ji-Man Choi, Martínez
Possibilities:
Nate Lowe, O’Grady

What a difference a year makes. Just last season, there were questions about Choi and his ability to play first base. But after a solid 2019, Choi will likely be the Opening Day first baseman. Lowe and O’Grady give the Rays some more left-handed-hitting depth, but they’ll need productive springs in order to make the 26-man roster. Depending on the matchup, Martínez could get some playing time at first base, but most of his impact will come from the designated-hitter spot against left-handed pitching.

Second base
Locks: Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle
Possibilities: Daniel Robertson, Michael Brosseau

The Rays will rely on Brandon Lowe and Wendle at second base after they both dealt with injuries last year. Lowe will look to improve on a solid rookie season, while Wendle will seek to stay healthy after multiple stints on the injured list in 2019.

Robertson and Brosseau also have a chance to make the roster because of their ability to hit left-handed pitching and play multiple positions.

Shortstop
Lock: Willy Adames
Possibilities: None

Adames will look to build on a strong postseason performance, and the Rays will give him every opportunity to do so. Adames played 152 games at shortstop during the regular season last year. We should expect more of the same in 2020.

Third base
Lock: Yandy Díaz
Possibilities: Acquisition

This is a spot where Tampa Bay could choose to add a right-handed bat. Díaz had a breakout season in 2019, hitting a career-high 14 home runs, but he also battled multiple injuries throughout the year. If the Rays stay with their in-house options, Wendle, Robertson, Brosseau and Tsutsugo could also see time at the hot corner.

Outfield
Locks: Kevin Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, Renfroe, Tsutsugo
Possibility: Arozarena

The outfield group will have a different look in ‘20. Renfroe will get most of his starts in left field, replacing Pham. Tsutsugo projects as a designated hitter, but he is capable of playing left field against right-handed pitching. With García now with the Brewers, Meadows is expected to get more playing time in right field. Kiermaier will continue to be the team’s everyday center fielder. Arozarena isn’t a lock to make the Opening Day roster, but he has a good chance at making the it even with a decent spring. The 24-year-old outfielder gives the Rays a very solid backup center fielder behind Kiermaier and a capable baserunner off the bench.

Starting pitchers
Locks: Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton, Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos
Possibilities: Brendan McKay, Trevor Richards, Jalen Beeks, Anthony Banda, acquisition

Starting pitching is probably the deepest position on the roster entering the 2020 season. Morton, Snell, Glasnow, Chirinos and Yarbrough will enter Spring Training as the five favorites, but the Rays could opt to go with a six-man rotation early in the season. If that’s the case, they could stay in-house and start McKay or Richards, or they could dive into the free-agent market and look to sign a veteran starting pitcher. Either way, Tampa Bay will head into Spring Training with strong pitching depth.

Relievers
Locks: Emilio Pagán, Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, José Alvarado, Oliver Drake, Colin Poche, Chaz Roe
Possibilities: Peter Fairbanks, Andrew Kittredge, acquisition

Pagán, Anderson, Castillo and Poche will be key pieces of the bullpen next season, and the Rays are hoping to get a bounce-back season from Alvarado. Backed by power arms and depth, Tampa Bay is primed to have one of the best bullpens in the American League next season.

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