ST. PETERSBURG -- With so much mystery surrounding Shohei Ohtani’s free agency, the demand for starting pitching has dominated the offseason so far. The Cardinals have already swooped in to sign three veteran free agents. Back-end starters are earning north of $10 million on the open market. Everybody needs pitching.
And the Rays just so happen to have one of the most intriguing arms available in Tyler Glasnow, putting them right in the middle of the pitching frenzy heading into the Winter Meetings next week in Nashville, Tenn.
Glasnow is in high demand and a prime candidate to be traded, as he’s a year away from free agency and due $25 million next season. His back-loaded extension is a big reason the Rays’ payroll is currently projected to blow past $120 million, but he’s just one of several veterans who could be dealt this winter.
Yet the Rays have reached the postseason five years in a row, are coming off a 99-win campaign and could bring back nearly their entire roster next season. They expect to win. Where does that leave president of baseball operations Erik Neander and Tampa Bay’s front office after a mostly quiet November?
“We have really good players. We expect to be very competitive next year,” Neander said. “I think if history is any guide, it'll probably look a little different, but the expectations will be similar. … We haven't done anything yet, so we'll wait and see.
“When you have good players, there's plenty of interest, without getting into any of the specifics there. Just a lot of different paths we could potentially go down. Just trying to determine which ones are best to maintain our competitiveness for this year and certainly beyond.”
Mostly, the Rays need to figure out what they’re going to do on the trade market and how that will impact their roster. If they move Glasnow, as expected, that would intensify their existing need for rotation depth and likely open up options on the free-agent front.
Their most glaring need is behind the plate. The Rays would be comfortable with René Pinto as their primary catcher, but they would currently have no other choice. (He’s the only catcher on their 40-man roster.) They like Alex Jackson, the Trade Deadline acquisition who rejoined the club on a Minor League deal, and he could very well compete to secure the backup job. But this is an obvious area to address in some way this offseason.
There is some uncertainty in the infield, as shortstop Wander Franco remains under MLB investigation with no further clarity regarding his availability. But the Rays are confident in Taylor Walls as an everyday shortstop option. If Walls’ recovery from right hip surgery has him sidelined on Opening Day, they could turn to Osleivis Basabe or top prospect Junior Caminero.
Potential trade candidates
Glasnow will get the most attention as one of the top available starters. Whenever the market turns toward position players, the Rays will have some interesting decisions to make.
Veteran outfielder Manuel Margot, due $10 million next season, has already popped up in trade rumors. Arbitration-eligible DH Harold Ramírez is another name to watch. With a logjam in the infield, could the Rays move an established hitter like Brandon Lowe or Isaac Paredes and turn to younger players like Curtis Mead and Jonathan Aranda?
Prospects to know
Mead and Caminero debuted last season and cracked the Wild Card Series roster, but Caminero (MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 overall prospect) only played seven games while Mead (No. 34 overall) had fewer than 100 plate appearances. They could continue developing in Triple-A, as Mead has only played 85 games for Durham while Caminero bypassed Triple-A entirely after only 81 games with Double-A Montgomery.
But both are obviously talented, and the Rays tend to clear a path to playing time for prospects of their caliber. Could that come sooner than later for Mead? It likely depends on what the Rays decide to do with their infield/DH mix this offseason. Either way, Caminero may not be far behind.
Rule 5 Draft
Teams could try to stash Wilcox or Seymour in the bullpen, although neither has much of a Minor League track record. Hernandez and Misner hold some appeal -- Hernandez hits the ball hard, and Misner has the raw tools to hold his own as a fourth or fifth outfielder -- but both have been held back by staggering strikeout rates and could struggle against MLB pitching.
How much will they reshape their roster? The Rays could very well bring back most of last year’s team, as Neander has indicated, even if it would run their payroll far past franchise-record territory and leave little room (financially or on the roster) for further additions. But is it the right time to push in that direction, considering they’ll be without ace Shane McClanahan all season and still don’t know Franco’s status?
“If this [roster] more or less stays intact as it is, like, that's a perfectly fine outcome,” Neander said. “If there's ways that a couple of teams can help one another that involves trades, great. And there's certainly some players in free agency that I would think would be nice fits for our club as well. But the extent to which [that can happen], in some ways, it's connected to what happens on the trade side of things.”