The MLB off-season has again proven to be unfruitful for many of the league’s top free agents. As teams start spring training this week, big names like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned and lesser-known talents also search for new employers. The inactive market could be the perfect place for the Rays to find a discount, but who should they target? We ask our Roundtable team.
Marc Topkin, Rays beat writer @TBTimes_Rays: First we have to state the obvious, which is that if there was any way to get Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, even on a 1-year, $40-million deal, that would be the answer. But moving from the absurd to the slightly unrealistic, Craig Kimbrel would be a great fit. I’ve heard Rays officials explain several times why they thing they’re better off using their young core of relievers in committee form than bringing in a veteran just for the sake of it. But I still feel there is a huge benefit, especially for a team that fancies itself as a playoff contender, to have someone in the closer’s role who has been there and done it. And Kimbrel is one of the best. If he doesn’t get the long-term offer he’s seeking elsewhere, shouldn’t the Rays at least make a pitch?
Add a Marwin above replacement
Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: It might not be the sexiest pick, but for a team that utilizes every spot on the roster, veteran utility man Marwin Gonzalez seems to fit the Rays well. He can play first base, left field, shortstop or second, so he offers an insurance policy to slot into the lineup when injuries occur. And the switch hitter can give the team another option against left-handed pitching, which is a need. After recording a 2.5 WAR last season, he could probably be had for an economical price tag after his search for a multiyear deal didn’t bear fruit, especially as spring training progresses.
Add an Er-win above replacement
Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter, @tometrics: I’m not sold that the Rays have enough starting pitching depth. It’s not realistic to expect another Cy Young season from Blake Snell. Charlie Morton is 35. Tyler Glasnow has been inconsistent since his callup halfway through the 2016 season. Yes, Glasnow had a terrific first month after the Rays acquired him via a trade with the Pirates last season (11.3 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, .155 batting average against, .545 OPS against and 3.23 ERA in August), but he fizzled down the stretch (9.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, .263 batting average against, .811 OPS against and 5.40 ERA in September). What if something goes wrong, as things so often do during a six-month season? I wonder whether someone like Ervin Santana could be a fit. Santana pitched only 24.2 innings for the Twins last season after undergoing surgery on his right finger (his pitching hand) but was an All-Star in 2017 (211.1 innings, 7.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, .225 batting average against, .678 OPS against, 3.28 ERA, 2.9 WAR). If he’s healthy, he might be the best of the established but low-cost starting pitchers left on the market.
So, Harper is out, right?
Martin Fennelly, columnist @mjfennelly: The Rays have never operated in the upper crust, which is some ways is cleansing. No needless worries about what it would take to land Bryce Harper outside of in exchange for the 25-man roster. I’m going low, and going smart. I’m looking at someone like right-handed pitcher Adam Warren. Like Tom Bassinger said, Rays pitching depth is a question. The Rays thrived with using an “opener” last season and need depth. Warren, a former Yankee, might fit the build, as a starter or out of the bullpen, and the price would be right. Still, does anyone know where Harper likes to hang out? Just asking.
(J) Hay, how about Josh Harrison?
Frank Pastor, digital sports editor, @frankpastor66: Before the Rays invented the opener, they created Zorilla. Okay, they weren’t the first team to take advantage of a player’s versatility by deploying him at different positions around the field. But with Ben Zobrist, they assembled a monster of a mashup who saw time at every position but pitcher and catcher. That, and he could hit from both sides of the plate. Former Pirate Josh Harrison, another player with some pop in his bat who can be utilized throughout the infield and outfield, possesses a similar skill set. While his offensive production has come down from 2014, when he finished second in the National League in batting and ninth in MVP voting, he is, at 31, only one year removed from his second All-Star season, when he finished with a WAR of 3.3. Plus, he comes with his own colorful nickname, J Hay.
A way to match the Yankees, Red Sox
Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: Since Ed took my answer, how about another former Astro? Dallas Keuchel on a one-year deal. As much as I love the opener strategy, once every five days is plenty. Snell, Morton, Glasnow, Keuchel. Now that’s a rotation. Then, flip Keuchel if/when Brent Honeywell and/or Jose De Leon prove they are ready coming off Tommy John surgery.