With offseason business officially starting following the end of the World Series, the Rays have plenty to do as always. But with a bit of a different approach this year, as they have the bulk of their roster set, are looking for specific upgrades to jump from 90 wins to the playoffs, and have financial flexibility to pursue bigger names than they typically do.
An outline of their winter agenda, as they head to this week's GM meetings:
The primary target seems to be a right-handed bat to join Tommy Pham in the middle of the order with presence and power potential.
Yes, C.J. Cron hit 30 homers last year, splitting time between DH and first base, but they seek more of a feared overall hitter, and could use some positional versatility, though could make work around that given their built-in flexibility.
And with a payroll of less than $30 million for the bulk of the team, they'll have some money to spend, open to the $10 million plus a year it'll take to land such a hitter, though cautious on going beyond one or two years.
Also on the want list, a right-handed hitting catcher (Robinson Chirinos?) to at least pair with Michael Perez, an experienced back-end reliever to play the role of Sergio Romo with less drama, possibly a starter to join LHP Blake Snell and RHP Tyler Glasnow in the rotation.
DH Nelson Cruz, who has hit more homers (203) than anyone over the past five seasons, is a popular name, coming off a four-year, $57 million deal in Seattle, though he is 38. Other free agent options include OF Andrew McCutchen, 3B Josh Donaldson and C/DH Wilson Ramos, who they traded July 31.
There are also some intriguing trade options, led by Arizona 1B Paul Goldschmidt and Miami C J.T. Realmuto. While the Rays certainly have the young big-leaguers and prospects to make a deal, it will be interesting to see how deep they'd go into their depth to do a script-flipping deal for a player with limited control.
But a trade could help with the coming 40-man roster crunch, and they do have a surplus of major-league infielders (deal Matt Duffy or Daniel Robertson?) and lefty-hitting outfielders (Mallex Smith, whose value is up, or Kevin Kiermaier, down?).
Dumping LHP Vidal Nuno and Cs Adam Moore and Jesus Sucre cut their list of arbitration eligibles to four: Cron, $5.2 million projected by mlbtraderumors.com; Pham, $4M; Duffy, $2.6M; RHP Chaz Roe, $1.4M. If they are trading Cron, as seems likely, doing so before the Nov. 30 non-tender deadline makes sense. Holding on to Brad Miller didn't work out too well last year.
The Rays saved millions when Smith came up nine days shy of the two-year, 134-day cutoff for Super 2 eligibility which provides an early and extra year of arbitration. Sending him down during the 2017 season paid off in that regard.
Quickly promoting Matt Quatraro from third base to bench coach filled the biggest opening after the departures of Rocco Baldelli (hired as Twins manager) and Charlie Montoyo (Blue Jays manager).
As the Rays sort through names for the two vacancies, the best move probably would be to go outside to hire a Spanish-speaker who can coach third and infielders, allowing more flexibility in filling the field coordinator position. Among the more interesting suggestions I heard from folks with other teams were ex-Ray Miguel Cairo and Alfredo Amézaga, who both have local ties, plus Juan Samuel and Ramon Vazquez. Minor-league managers Jared Sandberg and Brady Williams are internal candidates depending on the fit.
The roster is at 39 after adding RHP Oliver Drake; reinstating Robertson and RHPs Jose De Leon, Wilmer Font, Jose Mujica from the 60-day DL; letting OF Carlos Gomez and Romo become free agents; and dropping RHP Kittredge, Moore, Nuno, and Sucre. But they face more tough decisions with at least six prospects to consider adding in advance of the Nov. 20 deadline for protection from the Rule 5 draft: INF Kean Wong; OFs OF Joe McCarthy, Jesus Sanchez; Ps Kyle Bird, Brock Burke, Ian Gibaut. Obviously trades can help.
Top three vote-getters for each BBWAA award are named Monday night; Snell (Cy Young) and Kevin Cash (manager of the year) are certain finalists; INF Joey Wendle (rookie of the year) on the bubble. … Senior VP Chaim Bloom remains a candidate in the Giants' slow-moving search for a GM. … ESPN.com's self-headlined "way-too-early" 2019 power rankings has the Rays ninth. … It seemed more than coincidental that once Baldelli made clear he wasn't going to the Jays they moved quickly on Montoyo, calling him last Sunday and hiring him by Thursday. … Montoyo, who'd been with the Rays since October 1996, said it was like leaving family. … The Rays, BTW, were the first team to lose two coaches to manager jobs in the same offseason since the 1997 World Series champ Marlins saw Jerry Manuel go to the White Sox and Larry Rothschild to the Devil Rays. … Interesting World Series crossover was Red Sox RHP Nathan Eovaldi thanking Dodgers player health director Ron Porterfield for helping him so much last year when both were with the Rays. Opening odds from the online Bovada site have the Rays 50-1 to win the '19 Series; the Red Sox are 13-2 faves. … Yankees boss Hal Steinbrenner told the New York Post seeing the Red Sox win the Series "certainly pisses me off. I never want a division rival to outdo us", and that he has "no love" for them. Some Rays folks feel the same way.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.