Check out Nathan Eccles’ 2022 Season Review of the Rays here.
Image: Scott Audette / Associated Press
The Rays’ roster should always be one of interest to baseball fans. Their farm system is constantly producing impact players while their front office’s ability to identify under-utilized talent on other teams is unmatched.
This offseason for the Rays will not be flashy. There will be no big deals signed in Tampa. But there will be movement and lots of it which should supply a bolstered roster for the 2023 season.
The front office voiced their discontent with the outcome of last season so this offseason should be full of transactions that will get the roster to the best it can be.
The Rays have three main contracts likely coming off the books this winter: Corey Kluber, David Peralta, and Mike Zunino. None of these have a major impact on the Rays financially (who really does on this team, anyway?).
Kluber was an experiment for the Rays. Could they return the two-time Cy Young winner to his former glory and prove once again that their developmental process is that of the gods? The short answer is no and with a surplus of pitchers returning to the squad from injury the preservation of Kluber doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given his 4.34 ERA last year.
Long-time Diamondback David Peralta served as an okay addition to the Rays, slashing .255/.317/.335 in his stint with the team. That being said, Tampa likely looks to upgrade their left-handed bat presence this offseason and with many on the market, a future with the Rays seems unlikely for Peralta.
Zunino is one of many catchers this team has to consider for a roster spot moving into next season. However, his fate seems to be the same as other FA veterans of this team: not enough reason to justify their presence over the young guys. He does provide a powerful bat that the lineup and catching core lacked this year.
However, Francisco Mejia, Christian Bethancourt, and Rene Pinto all proved better options than Zunino and even they are fighting for a spot. The Rays have been kind to the 31-year-old in the past in terms of roster space, but his time might finally be done in Tampa.
Injured List Moves
Seven players currently reside on the Rays’ IL and fans should expect most of them to return to the roster. Pitchers Shane Baz, Andrew Kittredge, and J.P. Feyereisen likely all make it back despite unavailability due to said injuries along with second baseman Brandon Lowe.
Nick Anderson found his way onto the injured list back in September. He hasn’t pitched for the club since 2021 and even in that season, he entered just six games posting a 4.50 ERA. With the pitching depth coming up from the farm and back from injury it would make no sense to extend a spot to Anderson (he was recently waived as of writing).
Brendan McKay is on the IL but hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since 2019. Expect him to be left off of the roster for all the same reasons as Anderson.
Options to be Executed
With a club option for the upcoming year, the Rays have found outfield success in other players much more worthy of a spot than Kevin Kiermaier. The now 32-year-old played only 63 games last season and was lackluster. His redeeming qualities in recent years have been his elite defense with some decent offense, but Tampa seems to have found his replacement in Jose Siri. Combine this with the goal of signing an outfield bat this offseason and the case for picking up Kiermaier’s option becomes even less compelling.
Arbitration Eligible Players
The Rays have a whopping 19 players who are arbitration eligible which leads the majors. Each player is a unique case but for this article, we’ll be looking at three categories: absolutely, gray area, and hell no. With a team like the Rays, the motto is usually “who’s next up” but some of these contracts will be hard to pass up. We’ll start with some obvious choices.
The easiest name on this list is Yandy Diaz. He definitely locked up the hot corner with his performance last season. He may not be good defensively, but he hits like an absolute truck, and has insane plate discipline. At an estimate of $5.4 million, this feels like a no-brainer.
Relievers make up a huge chunk of the desirable arb-eligible players in Tampa and the team will likely want to preserve the group that earned them the 7th lowest bullpen ERA.
You couldn’t have really asked for more out of Pete Fairbanks this past year. Despite taking some time due to injury he posted a 1.13 ERA in his 24 games played so this decision speaks for itself.
JT Chargois had continued success this season and even started some games for the Rays. As will be the trend for these pitchers, proven ability through low ERAs and WHIPs make these guys prime candidates to bring back. To say Jason Adam was stellar in 2022 is somehow an understatement. He was untouchable in his 67 games and by far the most impactful reliever on this list.
Andrew Kittredge and Colin Poche are of a similar ilk to these other guys. They’ve helped you win already and there’s no reason to think they won’t keep doing it so they’ll be back too. The total estimate for these five guys is only $8.1 million, a steal considering their upside.
Jeffrey Springs found himself a solid place in this rotation starting 25 games with a 1.071 WHIP. His performance warrants a return in 2023 with Tampa looking at a $3 million price tag for him. He’ll have some bigger shoes to fill as the Rays likely await the return of some starters to begin the year but all signs point toward another good year for the 30-year-old.
The last for-sure guy has to be Christian Bethancourt. The catching situation is going to get sticky in Tampa Bay but one thing will be for sure, Bethancourt will have a spot. He’s nothing too special behind the plate but he does have the second-fastest pop time in the league. A $1.6 million tag is a fine price to pay considering he was the team’s best-hitting catcher last year.
Now let’s get to some borderline guys. It’s tough to make a case for Ji-Man Choi. He’s continued to regress in recent years and just doesn’t seem to fit the model Tampa’s going for (traded to Pittsburgh as of writing). They seem to like Jonathan Aranda at first base but he struggled to start his career and backup options like Isaac Paredes aren’t anything to write home about either. An estimated $4.5 million deal would put Choi as MLB’s 23rd highest-paid first baseman which is more than fair. This decision will depend on how inter-organizational feelings are for the situation at first base.
As stated earlier, the catching situation is one for debate with the Rays. Bethancourt will take a higher role but who will get that second spot? Mejia seemed to be a younger player of interest when he first got to Tampa but a regression last year left the now 27-year-old looking quite average on both sides of the ball.
He wouldn’t be a bad second option but the looming existence of Mike Zunino should be enough to make any prospective Rays catcher tremble. If the Rays can muster up the courage to finally pull the plug on Zunino then he may be safe, but even with Mejia having just a $2.2 million estimated tag he still may find his future in Tampa compromised.
Harold Ramirez is another guy whose future is uncertain. He had a really solid season slashing .300/.343/.404 but the numbers suggest he won’t replicate that next year. He also plays the two positions the Rays are trying to cut down at, corner infield and outfield. Ramirez could draw trade interest so he’s not a complete write-off and at an estimated $2.1 million deal he wouldn’t be breaking the bank. But the Rays simply can’t extend an offer to every fringe player they have so the decision on Ramirez could go either way.
Ryan Thompson had a good year of relief pitching in 2022 but found it hard to shine with the rest of the stellar bullpen stealing the spotlight. Expect the Rays to bring him back if and only if they for some reason there are complications with the rest of the relievers in arb. Otherwise, Thompson doesn’t really warrant his $1.1 million estimated price.
You might think I’m crazy for putting Randy Arozarena this far down on the list and honestly, I might be. He’s projected to have a similar season to the one he had this year where he slashed .263/.327/.445 but I just don’t see that happening. Combine this now with the improving Rays outfield and Arozarena starts to look even less appealing.
I think the team looks to get him on arbitration and then deal him at some point. There are simply too many righties in Tampa and with a left-handed hitter likely to be signed in free agency, Arozarena might be worth more to the Rays if they can trade him for something.
Jalen Beeks, Shawn Armstrong, and Yonny Chirinos are all in the same situation during this arbitration period. They were good but so was the rest of this team. The group is all fringe guys that you could see signed for depth or trade bait but likely won’t get that main roster spot. I see Armstrong as the most appealing and good 40-man guy, Chirinos as the weakest link, and Beeks somewhere in between. The Rays will have to decide how they want to treat these players but I wouldn’t hold out hope.
Ryan Yarbrough is the first clear option among guys who don’t need to be back for another season. He wasn’t good as a starter or a reliever and has the slowest pitches in the MLB which earned him a 4.50 ERA. He won’t be back.
Roman Quinn was a good defender in his 21-game stint with the Rays but if we’re being honest he was only signed for late-season depth to a team terrified of injuries. For all the same reasons as every other outfielder on this list, he will be gone.
Among this group I see Tampa keeping about half as regular guys with the opportunity to tag and trade a couple more. The team is going to need roster spots for the large prospect group they’ll want to preserve so farewells will have to be made.
Rule V Draft Eligible Players
Taj Bradley is the Rays’ top prospect and is Rule Five eligible which means he will for sure be protected with a 40-man spot. He had a 3.66 ERA in AAA and is expected to make his debut next year so his preservation goes without saying.
The same case is made for Curtis Mead who comes in right under Bradley on the team’s prospect ranking. He’s been tearing up the minors with a .298/.390/.532 slash line last year. Also projected to debut next year this again is an obvious choice.
Colby White was supposed to touch the MLB last year before having to get Tommy John in April. I actually predicted him to be a sleeper pick for 2022 before he went down. His stats are something otherworldly headlined by a 1.86 ERA in AAA and a 13.03 K/9. Once he’s healthy the team is going to want to utilize him so he needs to be saved from Rule V.
I’m assuming the Rays will save 1-2 more guys with a roster spot. Among the huge list of eligible prospects, I see Herbiberto Hernandez and Jose Lopez as the two guys Tampa elects to grant spots to. Hernandez is 22 and still in high A which doesn’t look great but the kid has some crazy Donkey Pop off the bat and hit 24 home runs last year. If the Rays can work their magic and get his strikeout rate down he could be scary. Lopez is one of the rare pitchers from the Rays’ farm who they should grant a spot to. He spent the majority of 2022 in AA and earned a 2.60 ERA with a 38.7 K% there.
Osleivis Basabe is another guy who could see a spot offered but with a guy like Wander Franco currently occupying shortstop there is no rush to promote within. That being said, I imagine his AA slash line of .333/.399/.461 looks mighty appealing to participants of the draft.
Xavier Edwards is a former first-round pick who the Rays traded for in 2019 and unfortunately never panned out. He’s only regressed since entering the minor leagues but is still ranked fourth in the Rays’ pipeline. If he’s awarded a spot you have to imagine it’s so that he can be traded. That being said, I would never bet against Tampa’s prospect development ability.
Kameron Misner was a Marlins first-round pick in 2019 and is Rule V eligible for this upcoming year. While I think he’ll be impactful for Tampa one day he still needs at least another year of development.
Brett Wisely, Greg Jones, Blake Hunt, and Tristan Gray round out the list of Rule V guys for the Rays, none of which are super appealing. A roster spot would surprise me for any of these four players and I imagine they get left off or even traded.
Victims of the Roster Crunch
A decent amount of roster crunching is going to be done through non-tendering but there should also be a few players that get DFAd to free up some more spots.
Josh Fleming should be DFAd. He had an abysmal 6.43 ERA last year and is not who the team wants starting on the bump. Another pitcher I’d expect to be gone is Brendan McKay. As stated before he hasn’t thrown in the majors since 2019 so his fate is self-explanatory. Jimmy Yacabonis is another prime target to get waived. He has an interesting pitch mix that’s just asking to be tapped into but with a career 6.03 ERA, it’s probably not worth it.
The largest package is going to come from Randy Arozarena. Like his aforementioned paragraph says, he has his most value right now and it makes sense for the Rays to capitalize off of it. It will be tough for the team to part with their 2020 postseason all-star if they do decide to deal him.
Most players I recommended for a non-tender could be put into this group as well. It might not make sense to bring guys like Beeks, Ramirez, Yarbrough, and maybe even Mejia back for another season but if the Rays can gauge some interest for any one of them I could see them putting together a trade package.
The Rays need power hitters and Vidal Brujan isn’t one. He had a bad 2022 and there’s no reason to think he can improve moving forward at the plate. I think he gets packaged in some bigger deal to a team that can use a speedy utility guy.
Lineup After In-House Moves
Major League Lineup (11)
C – Christian Bethancourt (R), Francisco Mejia (S)
1B – OPEN
2B – Brandon Lowe (L)
SS – Wander Franco (S)
3B – Yandy Diaz (R)
RF – Manuel Margot (R)
CF – Jose Siri (R)
LF – OPEN
DH – Isaac Paredes (R)
OF – Randy Arozarena (R)
UTL – Taylor Walls (S), Jonathan Aranda (L)
I’ll be the first to admit this lineup is kind of strange. The problem with restricting the Rays to a position-based lineup format is that their third basemen can play first, their DHs can play third, outfielders can go anywhere, etc. But this is how I think it best shakes out. Recognizable Rays names are missing and I think I’m ok with that. I expect a lot of movement from some of the older players.
I know I said Arozarena would be traded and I still think he will be, but because there’s no way he gets non-tendered I’ve left him in the lineup. The only real hole I see is in left field where I think the team turns to free agency to find another lefty bat. Expect some names to be switched by the time opening day comes around but I think the Rays are gonna rock with the ones that brought them in terms of hitters. The goal now becomes “stay healthy.”
Players on the 40-man (7): C Rene Pinto, 3B Curtis Mead, OF Heriberto Hernandez, OF Bligh Madris, SS Osleivis Basabe, INF Xavier Edwards, OF Josh Lowe
Most of these guys are Rule 5 spots that you’re using to keep them in the system but names like Pinto and Madris could see playing time at any time. Mead is sure to be brought up at some point as well. With a team seemingly ready for a postseason push you hope for as few replacement-needing situations as possible but if need be the Rays can fill holes from within.
Potential Lineup Additions
I’ve been talking about it this whole article but the Rays need a left-handed bat and the best place to find it is in the outfield. First on the list I think has to be Andrew Benintendi as they can pick him up relatively cheaply and get the most value out of him. If they want to spend a little more you look at Brandon Nimmo and for a little less you look at Joc Peterson. Michael Conforto is another name to consider but the Rays might be shy about him if they’re trying to make a run. Regardless, a top lefty outfielder is almost certain to be signed
Corner INF (1)
Should the Rays stray away from Jonathan Aranda they’ll need a filler player for the roster. The top free agent at first is Jose Abreu whose expected contract is likely more than what Tampa’s willing to spend. A perfect fit would be Brandon Drury who could play third while the Rays slide someone over to first or just take over the role himself. The all-around player would slot in very nicely to the type of ball played in Tampa.
Pitching Staff After In-House Moves
Major League Pitching Staff (12)
SP1 – Shane McClanahan
SP2 – Tyler Glasnow
SP3 – Drew Rasmussen
SP4 – Jeffrey Springs
SP5 – OPEN
CL – Pete Fairbanks
CL- Jason Adam
SU – Brooks Raley
SU – JP Feyereisen
MR – Colby White
MR – JT Chargois
MR – Garett Cleavinger
LR – Shawn Armstrong
Pitching staff should remain relatively constant given no one gets hurt. The Rays will have depth in their remaining members of the 40-man and the farm if and when people do start to go down but the list above should be the goal for opening day. The starting rotation will have a hole in the place of Shane Baz as he’s expected to miss most of the season if not all of 2023.
Players on the 40-man (7):
Injured(2): RHP Shane Baz, RHP Andrew Kittredge
Active Players on the 40-Man(5): RHP Taj Bradley, RHP Javy Guerra, RHP Calvin Faucher, RHP Luis Patino, LHP Colin Poche
Potential Lineup Additions
Shane Baz will miss a large chunk if not all of 2023 which means the Rays need to sign a starting pitcher if they want to compete. Noah Syndergaard fits the Tampa trend of a “once was” guy who the Rays try to fix but at a valued $14 million AAV he may be out of reach given the team’s aspirations.
Other, cheaper names could include Zack Grienke or Micahel Wacha both valued at $10 million AAV and looking for short deals. Regardless of who it is, the Rays need someone to start games and until they promote one of their prospects it will probably be someone they sign.
What’s Going to Actually Happen?
With the Tampa Bay Rays you quite literally never know what will happen. The team might make a trade that looks questionable at the time only for it to benefit in the long term. Someone will arise within the farm and take over the spotlight just as fast as fan-favorite players will be traded. But if there’s any team you should sit back and trust it’s these guys.
I think the biggest contingency is how the Rays will handle their previously impactful arbitration players. There are a lot of guys who might not make sense on paper but have a close relationship with the team and somehow find their way back (I’m looking at you, Zunino). Not to mention the few guys who weren’t mentioned in this article. I think the Rays could do anything between matching what I’ve laid out exactly and doing the opposite of half the moves I listed and be just fine.
The moves listed here are what I would do if you gave me the reins. But I’m not an MLB general manager, I’m just a kid with a computer who likes baseball.