Rays Tales: So how do they keep this group together?

The Rays celebrate a victory during which  Kevin Kiermaier, middle, has a key hit. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
The Rays celebrate a victory during which Kevin Kiermaier, middle, has a key hit. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Sept. 29, 2018|Updated Sept. 29, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — As incredibly interesting as this Rays season was, the winter is likely to be quite  intriguing as well.

The success in the second half keyed by the transition to the young core went even better than they expected. They not only found out a lot about their players individually, but that they could win collectively.

As they seek to shape and supplement that core, it would seem they couldn't have much more flexibility going forward, especially with the real possibility of having a base payroll for the returning group of around $32-million.

They have only one player previously signed,  center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who gets a raise to $8 million in third of his six-year, $51 million deal plus a 2023 option or buyout.

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Just seven players eligible for the built-in raises afforded by arbitration, with probably only three or four of them likely to return. And only a couple who will be out of options, and thus required to stay in the majors.

But one of the major challenges for the Rays this winter will be managing a significant crunch for 40-man rosters spots.

The downside, if there is one, of having so many good, young, inexpensive, controllable players is the challenge of keeping them while having room to make other necessary moves.

As much as the focus will be on high-profile additions, the real work will be in manipulating that roster, needing to open maybe a dozen spots while minimizing their losses, possibly via trades.

The Rays will need four to reinstate players from the 60-day DL: infielder Daniel Robertson, pitchers Jose De Leon, Wilmer Font and Jose Mujica. And keep using two others on Tommy John recoverees RHP Brent Honeywell, like DeLeon, aiming to return mid-season, and LHP Anthony Banda, likely out all year. (Some of this space can be recouped when the still-sidelined players are put back on the 60-day DL next spring; so the winter plan could include signing veterans to minor-league deals with a promise they'll be added to the roster then.)

And they'll need at least another four-six spots to add the next group of promising prospects to protect them from exposure to the Rule 5 draft, a group seemingly headed by RHP Ian Gibaut, LHPs Brock Burke and Kyle Bird, OFs Joe McCarthy and Jesus Sanchez. (Players have to be protected four or five years after being signed based on age.)

Some of that work started during the season, such as trading OF Justin Williams and LHP Genesis Cabrera in the deal for OF Tommy Pham.

And some decisions won't be that hard.

Neither of their veteran free agents, OF Carlos Gomez and RHP Sergio Romo, seem likely to be back. You could see them moving 1B/DH C.J. Cron and maybe a lefty-hitting outfielder. And clearing out veteran backup types such as LHP Vidal Nuno, Cs Adam Moore and Jesus Sucre, plus a few of the middling swingmen relievers such as Andrew Kittredge, Austin Pruitt, Hoby Milner.

But there will be some tougher decisions, too. Trading young major-leaguers for younger prospects who don't have to go on the roster is one possibility.

Obviously, this is a good problem to have. But a problem nonetheless.
Here is a breakdown of the roster for 2019:

Signed for 2019

CF Kevin Kiermaier, $8M, up $2.5M

Free agents to be (2018 salary)

OF Carlos Gomez ($4M)

RHP Sergio Romo ($2.5M)

Arbitration eligible (2018 salary)

1B/DH C.J. Cron  ($2.3M)

LHP Vidal Nuno ($1M)

INF Matt Duffy ($930,000)

C Jesus Sucre ($925,000)

RHP Chaz Roe ($720,000)

OF Tommy Pham ($570,100)

C Adam Moore ($570,000)

Under team control

Key players not eligible for arbitration, thus making only slightly more than the $555,000 minimum, and for how long:

INF Willy Adames (2024)

LHP Jose Alvarado (2023)

1B Jake Bauers  (2024)

LHP Jalen Beeks  (2024)

RHP Diego Castillo (2024)

RHP Yonny Chirinos  (2024)

DH Ji-Man Choi (2023)

RHP Tyler Glasnow  (2023)

INF Brandon Lowe  (2024)

OF Austin Meadows (2024)

C Michael Perez *  (2024)

INF Daniel Robertson* (2023)

RHP Jaime Schultz (2024)

OF Mallex Smith (2022)

LHP Blake Snell  (2022)

RHP Ryne Stanek (2023)

INF Joey Wendle (2023)

RHP Hunter Wood (2023)

RHP Ryan Yarbrough  (2024)

Others also under control: C Nick Ciuffo  (2024), RHP Jose DeLeon* (2023), RHP Wilmer Font* (2023), RHP Chih-Wei Hu (2023), RHP Andrew Kittredge (2023), LHP Adam Kolarek (2023), LHP Hoby Milner (2023), RHP Jose Mujica* (2024), RHP Austin Pruitt (2023), INF Andrew Velazquez (2024)

* Coming off DL

Out of options

Players potentially competing for 2019 jobs who can't be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers:

DH Ji-Man Choi

RHP Wilmer Font*

C Adam Moore

LHP Vidal Nuno

40-man additions

Among top minor-leaguers who need to be added to the 40-man roster to be protected from being taken in the Rule 5 draft:

LHP Kyle Bird

LHP Brock Burke

RHP Ian Gibaut

OF Joe McCarthy

OF Jesus Sanchez

INF Kean Wong

Rays rumblings

If the Rays are going to sign LHP Blake Snell to a long-term deal, this winter may be the time since he will be eligible for the riches provided by arbitration starting in 2020. … Best wishes in retirement to Sandy Dengler, who spent 20 years as the baseball operations administrator, and 41 overall in MLB, and had the aptly named Twitter handle @RaysOfficeMom. … Reasons were said to be valid, but still notable that the two minor-league award winners with the biggest gripes about not being called up, INF Kean Wong and LHP Colin Poche, were the only two missing from Friday's awards ceremony. … The Athletic's Jayson Stark called Kevin Cash "a magician" in listing him second for AL manager of the year, behind Boston's Alex Cora. He had Joey Wendle fourth for rookie of the year. … Funny stuff at Friday's Clutch Hitters banquet from minor-league player of the year Nate Lowe, straight-facing at the podium there was a serious issue to discuss — the pronunciation of his (and brother Josh, the 2016 first-rounder) last name as LOW as opposed to unrelated big-leaguer Brandon Lowe preference it rhyme with wow. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg also spoke, saying they don't want to create issues in the community by seeking a new stadium and remain committed to the Tampa Bay area.

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays