4 questions for Rays ahead of Winter Meetings

November 28th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Hot Stove has started to simmer, as a handful of pitchers have found a new home, while the entire industry awaits a decision from Shohei Ohtani.

Things should get even more interesting next week when the baseball world gathers in Nashville, Tenn., for the Winter Meetings. The annual event often brings about blockbuster transactions, as one might expect with front-office executives and agents all together under one roof.

The Rays won’t partake in the Ohtani sweepstakes or any other big-time free-agent bidding, but even one major move can kick-start the entire offseason. Tampa Bay’s activity thus far has been mostly limited to a few deadline-oriented transactions, and the roster is hardly settled heading into December. There’s more work to be done.

Here are four questions to keep in mind before, during and after the Winter Meetings.

1. What does the Tyler Glasnow trade market look like?
The Rays don’t have to trade Glasnow, but their track record and his salary in 2024 suggest he’s a likely candidate to be dealt away before Opening Day.

MLB.com’s Mike Petriello noted Glasnow is one of the five best starters available on the trade market this offseason. Many teams will surely jump at the opportunity to land Glasnow, who has as much talent as any pitcher in the game, with just one year and $25 million remaining on his back-loaded extension.

He’s a natural fit for higher-payroll teams that can take a financial hit in pursuit of a front-line starter, like the Dodgers, Giants or Cubs. But it’s worth noting that MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reported the Reds also have interest in Glasnow after coming up short in their pursuit of Sonny Gray. Glasnow should have a sizable market.

The question is what it might take to pry Glasnow away from the Rays, who have pitching needs we’ll get to momentarily, and who is willing to pay that price. The Winter Meetings are a great time to figure that out.

Presumably, Glasnow’s market won’t fully take shape until after the top free-agent starters are signed. Clubs willing to spend on high-end pitching can do so to land Blake Snell or Yoshinobu Yamamoto, filling their needs without touching their farm system. The teams that don’t land them but still want an ace could then turn aggressively to the Rays for Glasnow, the Brewers for Corbin Burnes, the White Sox for Dylan Cease, etc.

2. How will the Rays bolster their rotation?
The Rays are in the unusual position of needing to acquire depth for their starting rotation while also likely looking to deal Glasnow, which would create a need for further depth.

Shane McClanahan won’t pitch in 2024. Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen won’t be back until at least midseason. Potentially take away Glasnow, and you’re looking at some combination of Zach Eflin, Aaron Civale, Zack Littell, Taj Bradley, Shane Baz and Jacob Lopez. (Worth noting: Littell threw nearly twice as many innings this season as he did the year before, and Baz will likely be limited in his return from Tommy John surgery.)

Clearly, there’s room for an additional arm or two. The free-agent class is stronger on the pitching side, which is fortunate for the Rays, but the demand is also high. Everyone needs pitching. There are other paths to pursue pitching beyond free agency, however, which brings us to another question.

3. Could they deal an infielder?
The Rays’ short- and long-term future at shortstop seems uncertain as long as Wander Franco remains under investigation, and their immediate needs are further clouded by Taylor Walls recovering from right hip surgery this offseason.

Still, the Rays have more players in the infield/DH mix than they have spots on the roster. Setting aside Franco and Walls, they have Yandy Díaz (first/third), Brandon Lowe (second), Isaac Paredes (first/second/third), Harold Ramírez (first/DH), Luke Raley (first/outfield/DH), Jonathan Aranda (first/second/third), Osleivis Basabe (shortstop/second/third) and Curtis Mead (second/third) as MLB-ready options, with top prospect Junior Caminero (third/shortstop) also on the roster after his late-season debut this year. Tampa Bay also recently added No. 26 prospect Austin Shenton (first/third) to its 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

The Rays could work their way around that logjam in a number of ways. Aranda, Basabe, Mead and Caminero could start in the Minors until there’s a need in the Majors. Ramírez could be traded to free up DH at-bats and cut down their sizable class of arbitration-eligible players. Or might Tampa Bay consider trading a more proven player, like Paredes or Lowe, to bring back a more impactful return, perhaps even a young starting pitcher?

4. Will Manuel Margot be on the move?
Margot has been a solid player with the Rays, someone capable of impressive hot streaks at the plate (especially against left-handed pitchers) and impressive defense all over the outfield. But he has reportedly drawn interest from both New York clubs, with the Yankees’ interest dating back to at least the Trade Deadline, and still figures to be a likely trade candidate.

The veteran is the subject of this speculation due to his salary, no small part of a payroll projected to jump past $120 million, and Tampa Bay’s outfield picture. Jose Siri is set to return in center field, flanked by Randy Arozarena and some combination of Josh Lowe, Raley and Ramírez.