ST. PETERSBURG -- With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, the next few weeks are bound to be busy for the Rays (and every other team in the Majors).
The offseason activity that’s been on hold since Dec. 2 is about to resume. There will be a flurry of moves: signings and trades, arbitration agreements and non-roster invitations. Tampa Bay took care of its most pressing concerns leading up to the expiration of the previous CBA, but there is still much to do.
Here’s a comprehensive look at where the Rays stand coming out of the lockout.
What deals were already done?
The Rays crossed the three most important items off their to-do list. First, they signed shortstop Wander Franco to a blockbuster contract extension that could keep the budding star in a Rays uniform for 12 years while paying him up to $223 million. If they had just accomplished that and nothing else, it would’ve been a good start to the offseason.
But the Rays also acquired two pitchers described by president of baseball operations Erik Neander as “priority” targets, signing veteran starter Corey Kluber to a one-year deal after locking up lefty reliever Brooks Raley on a two-year deal. Kluber brings a veteran arm to support a talented but young rotation, and the Rays are high on Raley’s potential in their bullpen.
Tampa Bay also traded popular infielder Joey Wendle to Miami for outfield prospect Kameron Misner. Wendle was a key part of the Rays’ position player group, but the move resolved a roster logjam and cleared up playing time for younger players like Taylor Walls and Vidal Bruján.
And Tampa Bay handled some deadline-oriented business: avoiding arbitration with first baseman Ji-Man Choi (one year, $3.2 million), tendering contracts to their arbitration-eligible players and adding prospects Jonathan Aranda, Ford Proctor, Calvin Faucher and Tommy Romero to their 40-man roster.
Adding those players and those who ended the season on the 60-day injured list required further shuffling of the 40-man roster. Among the most notable moves in that department: trading Mike Brosseau to the Brewers, sending Louis Head to the Marlins for a player to be named later, releasing lefty Dietrich Enns to play in Japan, trading former top prospect Brent Honeywell Jr. to the A’s for cash, acquiring infield prospect Junior Caminero for Rule 5-eligible righty Tobias Myers and swapping Jordan Luplow for Arizona infielder Ronny Simon.
What else did they get done during the lockout?
The Rays reorganized their front office with a series of promotions, filled out their coaching staff and made their Minor League staffing assignments. Those matters, along with some prospect camps at their Spring Training site, commanded a lot of the front office’s attention during the lockout.
Additionally, team executives were thrown a curveball when MLB’s executive council rejected their controversial “Sister City” plan. Now, the big-picture issue of finding a new home for the 2028 season and beyond feels even more urgent, so expect that to be a major storyline throughout the year.
What are their biggest remaining needs?
The Rays don’t often state what they’re looking for, so it’s notable that before the lockout Neander acknowledged the team would “continue to be on the lookout” for a “right-handed-hitting bat-first” player. It’s an understandable admission considering Nelson Cruz became a free agent and Tampa Bay moved on from right-handed-hitting specialists Brosseau and Luplow, and it would make sense if that player can platoon with Choi at first base with Yandy Díaz presumably set to play more at third.
They will also pursue more pitching depth, either through MLB transactions or non-roster Minor League deals. They did the latter during the lockout by re-signing righties David Hess and Chris Mazza, picking up lefty Zack Erwin and adding right-handers Dusten Knight and David McKay. As manager Kevin Cash noted on Dec. 1, “We’ve seen it time and time again that we’re going to continue to have as many pitching options, because we know it’s a long season, and our track record has shown that we dive into our depth pretty hard on a yearly basis.”
Who might they target to fill their needs?
Regarding that “bat-first” right-handed hitter, Neander noted before the lockout that the Rays could pursue someone established or “someone we think can continue to grow with the group that we have.” So it could be someone less experienced and more under-the-radar -- think Díaz, before they got him.
If Tampa Bay goes the more experienced route, an interesting right-handed target would be veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen. He’s no longer playing at his former MVP level, but the 35-year-old is the sort of positive-example veteran the Rays tend to pursue -- and he’s dominated left-handed pitchers throughout his career, most recently with a 1.027 OPS against southpaws last season.
What might they do on the trade market now?
The most pressing question: Is this the time to trade veteran center fielder Kevin Kiermaier? The Rays discussed Kiermaier in trade talks before the lockout, so it’s a big story to follow.
The clubhouse leader and three-time Gold Glove winner is such an important defender in the Rays’ eyes that they haven’t lined up on a deal the last few years. Simply put, Tampa Bay has valued its longest-tenured player’s contributions so much that other teams’ offers were never enough.
But will that change entering the final guaranteed season of Kiermaier’s contract? He’s due $12 million, plus a $13 million club option (or $2.5 million buyout) for next season. There should be interest from teams like the Phillies and Cubs. And the Rays have a ready-made platoon in center, Brett Phillips and Manuel Margot, with prospects Josh Lowe and Bruján also set to be options in center at some point this year. Alternatively, the Rays could trade another outfielder -- perhaps arbitration-eligible Austin Meadows, who got a lot of at-bats as a DH last year -- and keep Kiermaier in center for another year.
Beyond that, the Rays still have a massive class of arbitration-eligible players to deal with, which could lead to more trades. The most interesting case is injured ace Tyler Glasnow. Will the Rays, knowing his immense upside and his ability to contribute next year, consider dealing him as he recovers from Tommy John surgery? Or will they carry him into 2023, understanding he’ll reach free agency after that?
Which of their free agents already have signed elsewhere?
Seven Rays became free agents the day after the World Series ended: Cruz, Collin McHugh, Michael Wacha and David Robertson, plus the injured Chris Archer, Chaz Roe and Tommy Hunter, who didn’t pitch for Tampa Bay. Of that group, only Wacha (Red Sox) has signed elsewhere.
Could there be a reunion with any of their remaining free agents?
There aren’t any obvious fits. Cruz didn’t produce like Tampa Bay expected, even though his presence was invaluable, but he should still receive plenty of interest. McHugh seems likely to earn a bigger contract than the Rays will hand out. Robertson seemed to enjoy his stint in the bullpen, but he’ll be 37 in April. Archer and Roe ended the season on the injured list, although they’ve both returned to the Rays before.
Do they still have arbitration-eligible players to deal with?
They avoided arbitration with Choi but tendered contracts to the following arbitration-eligible players before the lockout: Nick Anderson, Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos, Díaz, Glasnow, Andrew Kittredge, Margot, Meadows, Francisco Mejía, Phillips, Jeffrey Springs, Matt Wisler and Ryan Yarbrough.
How many open spots are there on the 40-man roster?
Tampa Bay’s roster is full. The club could create space by making trades and, at some point, transferring injured players (Anderson and Glasnow, maybe Brendan McKay and/or Chirinos) to the 60-day IL.