The Rays’ 2020 season was a success in so many ways. They won 40 of 60 regular-season games, finished atop the American League East for the first time in a decade and reached the World Series for the second time in franchise history.
But the Rays fell short of their ultimate goal against the Dodgers, and now they’ll face a great deal of uncertainty entering the 2021 season. Can they repeat the successes of last year? Can they get better? As the Blue Jays join the Yankees as serious AL East contenders, how will the Rays work to keep an edge?
Finally, what are the Rays’ needs before the regular season begins? What have they done to address them? Let’s take a look.
The Rays created this need, to a certain extent. Starting-pitching depth was one of their biggest assets last season, and it looks to be an area of strength moving forward as well. But they’re in somewhat of a bind now that they’re without Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, as well as with Yonny Chirinos out for the season following Tommy John surgery. They declined Morton’s $15 million club option before the veteran right-hander signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Braves. Then they shipped out Snell, the former AL Cy Young Award winner, to get back a haul of young players from the Padres.
Tampa Bay will count on Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough and free-agent signees Michael Wacha and Chris Archer to start the season in the rotation. The Rays will be creative, as ever, in how they deploy their pitchers. They like their internal options, like Shane McClanahan, Josh Fleming, Luis Patiño (part of the return for Snell), Joe Ryan and Brent Honeywell Jr. Brendan McKay could be ready at some point this year. But they could clearly use another experienced arm to work as a starter/bulk-innings pitcher.
Colin Poche and Jalen Beeks won’t be available at the start of the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. When you combine that with the fact that Aaron Loup is a free agent and José Alvarado was traded to the Phillies, the Rays will look to find a veteran left-handed reliever to join the bullpen. Cody Reed and Ryan Sherriff are the only lefty relievers on the 40-man roster.
The Rays were in desperate need of catchers at the beginning of the offseason. Teams are always on the lookout for more depth behind the plate, but they seem pretty well set there for now. They started off by bringing back Mike Zunino on a one-year deal with a club option for the 2022 season, giving them a starter who’s plenty familiar with their pitching staff. They brought back third catcher Kevan Smith on a Minor League deal. And they acquired Francisco Mejía in the Snell trade, giving them a young catcher with offensive upside.
Feb. 9: Chris Archer rejoins Rays on one-year, $6.5 million deal
Betting on a bounce-back from a familiar face, the Rays signed Archer and added him to their stable of rotation options. Tampa Bay is confident Archer is in good health after sitting out last season due to thoracic outlet syndrome, and Archer believes he can get back to being his old, successful self after taking a big step back with the Pirates. Now, Archer is reunited with the three players for whom he was famously traded: Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz.
Feb. 8: Aaron Slegers traded for PTBNL or cash
The Rays sent the versatile right-hander Slegers to the Angels for a player to be named or cash considerations, a decision they didn’t make lightly, in order to clear a 40-man roster spot for Archer.
Feb. 1: Wander Franco among six invited to Major League camp
Franco, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, was invited to big league Spring Training for the first time. The Rays invited three more non-roster prospects to big league camp: first baseman/outfielder Dalton Kelly, infielder Esteban Quiroz and catcher/outfielder Brett Sullivan. Tampa Bay also agreed to terms on Minor League contracts with right-handers Adrian De Horta and Yacksel Ríos and invited both to Spring Training.
Jan. 15: International signing period begins
The Rays agreed to deals with Venezuelan shortstop Carlos Colmenarez, No. 4 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 International Prospects List, for $3 million and outfielder Jhonny Piron, No. 17, of the Dominican Republic for $1.825 million. They signed a total of 10 international free agents on the first day of the signing period, with five from the Dominican Republic and five from Venezuela.
Dec. 29: Snell traded to San Diego
The Rays parted ways with their ace to get four young players: Patiño, Mejía and prospects Cole Wilcox and Blake Hunt. This deal undoubtedly hurt Tampa Bay’s roster in the short term, but as the club always works with one eye on the present and the other on the future, it likely set them up quite well moving forward.
Dec. 29: Rays deal Alvarado in three-team trade
The Rays sent Alvarado to the Phillies, acquired first-base prospect Dillon Paulson and a player to be named later from the Dodgers and saw pitcher Garrett Cleavinger go from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in this swap. Moving Alvarado cleared a necessary spot on the 40-man roster to make room for Patiño and Mejía.
Dec. 29: Catching depth bolstered with Smith
Smith returned to Tampa Bay on a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training. The 32-year-old backstop batted .258/.378/.452 with three doubles and a home run in 17 games for the Rays in 2020.
Dec. 18: Rays sign Wacha
The Rays added one starter to the mix by signing Wacha to a one-year, $3 million deal. Pitching coach Kyle Snyder described Wacha as “a proven guy” who’s “not that far removed from being really good, and if you look beneath the surface last year, he was really good.”
Dec. 16: Rays bring back Zunino
The Rays brought back Zunino on a one-year, $2 million deal with a club option for the 2022 season. The option is worth between $4-7 million, depending on Zunino’s playing time, and includes a $1 million buyout.
Oct. 30: Club options
The Rays declined the club options of Charlie Morton and Zunino, making them free agents. Morton’s option was valued at $15 million, while Zunino’s was $4.5 million.