Rays' roster changing this offseason

November 19th, 2022

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 -- A few weeks into the offseason, the Rays have turned over quite a bit of their roster.

Mike Zunino, David Peralta and Corey Kluber became free agents. Out went Ji-Man Choi, Nick Anderson and Kevin Kiermaier. Then, Tuesday’s reserve list deadline spurred more movement, as the Rays traded reliever JT Chargois and cut ties with Ryan Yarbrough, Javy Guerra and others to make room for five top prospects. They officially parted ways with Yarbrough and Guerra prior to Friday’s non-tender deadline.

But that was all activity spurred by deadlines, with the primary goal of paring down the roster to protect the 40 best players they can, while maintaining depth throughout the system. It was the transactional equivalent of the Rays clearing their throat. Now, the real work can begin.

“We're happy about where our roster stands right now and also think there's probably some more work to be done,” GM Peter Bendix said earlier this week. “I think at this point in the offseason, a lot of the focus is on setting your 40-man roster and dealing with your arbitration-eligible players, and I wouldn't be surprised if, now, kind of more teams are more willing to look into larger trades or free agents or just kind of the things that get more headlines.”

Already, we’ve seen some of that activity pick up around the league. The Mets, Padres and Astros paid big money for relievers. The Angels’ endless pursuit of pitching led them to sign starter Tyler Anderson for three years and $39 million. The Yankees re-signed Anthony Rizzo on a two-year deal. And the Mariners traded for a big bat in former Blue Jay Teoscar Hernández.

The Rays will get involved at some point. It might happen before, during or after the Winter Meetings in San Diego in a little more than two weeks, and their work will probably continue well into Spring Training. But they won’t sit idly by.

“We're going to be as active as we can to try to improve the roster and make the team better. I think we're starting from a place that we like -- with the quality of talent that we have, with the depth in certain areas that we have,” Bendix said. “Now, we're going to try to go about what we do every offseason, which is to make next year's team as strong as possible and always keep an eye on the future at the same time.”

The Rays will likely pursue a veteran starter -- the latest version of Charlie Morton, Michael Wacha or Corey Kluber -- although they have less experienced fifth-starter candidates in Luis Patiño, Yonny Chirinos, Josh Fleming and top prospect Taj Bradley. The club still could trade a reliever, likely one of its top four left-handers.

But Tampa Bay’s top priority remains improving an offense that underperformed and underwhelmed last season. Specifically, in light of the decision to trade Choi, Bendix acknowledged the Rays will “continue to be on the lookout for other first basemen, other left-handed hitters, all of that.”

Getting a productive left-handed-hitting first baseman to stick in the middle of the lineup would address both needs. But it’s at least worth noting that the defensive versatility of the Rays’ position player group, including several internal options at first base, should allow them to pursue the best overall upgrades rather than targeting specific positions.

“It's definitely something we could do internally,” Bendix said. “I don't think there's any area right now where I'd say it's a desperate need, just given the versatility, given the flexibility that we have with our roster.

“It allows us to kind of be opportunistic, especially as we're looking to add maybe more offense or whatever it might be that we're able to add.”