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After positive season, Rays' focus shifts to 2020

@juanctoribio
November 1, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- After a positive season that ended with a Game 5 loss in the American League Division series against the Astros, the Rays' attention now shifts to what should be an interesting offseason for the club. The Rays will have to make some key decisions this winter, so

ST. PETERSBURG -- After a positive season that ended with a Game 5 loss in the American League Division series against the Astros, the Rays' attention now shifts to what should be an interesting offseason for the club. The Rays will have to make some key decisions this winter, so here's everything you need to know about the offseason ahead.

Who's a free agent?

The Rays have only three free agents this offseason: Avisaíl García, Eric Sogard and Travis d'Arnaud. Of the three, d'Arnaud appears to have the best chance at returning, but he'll likely see an uptick in interest after hitting 16 home runs in a bounce-back season.

Who's eligible for arbitration?

The Rays have nine players eligible for arbitration this offseason: Tommy Pham, Mike Zunino, Matt Duffy, Jesús Aguilar, Chaz Roe, Tyler Glasnow, Guillermo Heredia, Daniel Robertson and Oliver Drake.

According to MLB Trade Rumors, Pham is projected to get $8.6 million in arbitration, which leads the group. Glasnow projects at $1.9 million.

Six questions facing the Rays this offseason

Of the group of arbitration-eligible players, who could get non-tendered? When do those decisions need to be made?

One of the more interesting decisions of the offseason will be what the Rays do with some of their arbitration-eligible players. Of the nine, Duffy and Zunino are the two most likely to be non-tendered. Zunino is projected to get $4.9 million in the process and Duffy is projected to receive $2.9 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Zunino had a disappointing campaign in 2018, his first season with the Rays. The decision surrounding him will boil down to whether Tampa Bay believes he can rebound in 2020. There's also the possibility they non-tender Zunino and sign him on a cheaper deal in free agency. The same could happen with Duffy.

Those decisions will need to be made before Dec. 2.

Which prospects need to be added to the 40-man roster?

The Rays will need to add infielder Vidal Brujan, catcher Ronaldo Hernandez, infielder/pitcher Jake Cronenworth, infielder Lucius Fox and infielder Kevin Padlo to the 40-man roster in order to shield them from the Rule 5 Draft in December.

Brujan, Hernandez, Cronenworth and Fox are four of the Top 30 prospects in the Rays' organization, according to MLB Pipeline.

What 40-man moves do the Rays have to make?

Losing García, Sogard and d'Arnaud will open up three spots on the 40-man roster, with two being filled up by José Alvarado and Hoby Milner, who need to be activated from the 60-day injured list.

The Rays will have to add the four or five prospects they want to protect, and that's where decisions get tricky. Tampa Bay was helped by its depth last season, which makes the offseason that much more interesting and challenging.

Once those decisions are made, the Rays will have to continue to create 40-man roster space as they continue to sign players in free agency. Don't be surprised to see a couple of trades that help bring in talented players but also free up room on the 40-man roster.

What will the Rays look for in free agency?

A closer, infield depth, a corner outfielder and catching help are the glaring needs for the Rays. While Emilio Pagán pitched well in the closer role in 2019, added insurance would only strengthen the Rays' bullpen. But if the club decides to let d'Arnaud walk and non-tender Zunino, it will be searching for at least one catcher in free agency, possibly two. Michael Perez could slide back into a backup catching role depending on the moves.

The arbitration decision on Duffy will also help clear up what the Rays want to do with their infield depth. They could decide to bet on Robertson and Michael Brosseau to take a positive step in their development, or they could add a veteran infielder to replace Sogard.

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