ST. PETERSBURG – Turns out the Rays made a big deal at the winter meetings after all, completing their agreement with Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo early Thursday morning, GM Erik Neander delaying his flight home to get it done.
But they still have more work to do.
In adding Tsutsugo and acquiring Hunter Renfroe in trade for Tommy Pham, the Rays have, they hope, added power to an offense that was seventh in the AL in runs and 11th in homers.
But in parting with Pham, Travis d’Arnaud and potentially but not definitely free agent Avisail Garcia (who is talking to the Brewers, among others), they lost some consistency and on-base percentage, and a large chunk of their right-handed production.
On many days running out a lineup built around lefties Brandon Lowe, Austin Meadows, Ji-Man Choi, Kevin Kiermaier and Tsutsugo would be good, but they look to lean a bit too much that way, and need to add another right-handed bat of some impact.
Who, and where and when he would play, is a little trickier.
It could be an outfielder, like Garcia (or ex-Ray Steven Souza Jr.) to add to the mix. A primary DH/occasional first baseman like Edwin Encarnacion or C.J. Cron might work, but could be a tough fit if Tsutsugo doesn’t look comfortable at third as they’re hoping, and won’t really know until spring training, and ends up having to DH. Maybe more of a third baseman, knowing Yandy Diaz can slide to first vs. a tough lefty starter.
Or, perhaps most ideally, a Rays way type who could play just about anywhere on the field (like, say, a more offensive Daniel Robertson).
All are options, with a long list of free agent and trade possibilities to sort through.
Given the flexibility of having young, and optionable, reserves, the Rays conceivably are looking for two more position players, plus another more offensive-oriented catcher to share time with Mike Zunino.
For the Rays, shopping season is not nearly over.
More on Tsutsugo
In addition to comparisons of Tsutsugo to current big-leaguers such as the Cubs Kyle Schwarber, the MLB Network crew added a most interesting one based on the way the ball comes off his bat: Hall of Famer Jim Thome. … Yokohama fans did a singing cheer for Tsutsugo, ending with “Go, Tsutsugo,” that we can only hope makes its way to the Trop. (Search Tsutsugo song in YouTube to hear it.) … Tsutsugo hit cleanup on Japan’s 2017 World Baseball Classic team and is said to have interest in playing in the Olympics in Tokyo but it’s hard to imagine the Rays would allow him to miss several weeks in late July/early August. … Tsutsugo made headlines in January by criticizing Japanese youth baseball programs for putting too much emphasis on winning rather than educating and supporting the kids playing. … Tsutsugo was the Bay Stars captain. … An introductory press conference is being planned for this week.
The Sternberg sessions
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg provided an interesting peek into the Rays’ budgeting and decision-making process, including how they plan to raise the payroll from last year’s MLB-low $62 million: “We’re very open to spending. We believe we’re going to spend money. But clearly we’re going to fish in a pond we’re used to fishing in.’’ In other words, just because they have money they’re not going to spen it. … He is “more excited” than ever about the Montreal season-sharing plan they want to start by 2028, pushing hard (and with an “overwhelming” success rate) to get baseball and business people to see the “brilliance” in a concept he expects to become common across all sports: “I have never been more certain of something.’’ Also, “Nobody has thought about it as much as I have to this point. It just makes all the sense in the world.’’ … He also remains confident they can make a good pitch to the players union, which would have to approve the seemingly significantly inconvenient arrangements. … Sternberg said the MLB playoff format will soon change, expecting the winner-take-all wild-card game to expand to a best-of-three, or -five, opening round.
The minor-leaguers to be named from deals with the Reds (Jose De Leon) and Padres (Pham) likely won’t be chosen until spring training. ... Missing out on Howie Kendrick had to be tough; the Rays were in the unusual position of offering more money and years than the $4 million on-year deal (with a $6.25 million option or $2.25 million buyout) he took to stay with the Nats. … The Enchant Christmas maze/market has been a huge hit at the Trop, attracting more than 10,000 some nights with tickets $20-33; the Rays had 20 games drawing less. … With Tsutsugo receiving a $5 million salary in 2020 and Renfroe projected to make $3.4 million, the Rays get both for what Pham will make. … Giants manager Gabe Kapler had good reasons for hiring Craig Albernaz, the longtime Rays minor-league player and coach from Eckerd College, as his bullpen coach: “Alby is really thoughtful and a good listener. He prepares, and he’s willing to do the work to learn what he needs to know to tackle any job. He’ll be a leader in the pen and the clubhouse. I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t think Alby is a great teammate.’’ … Shogo Akiyama, the other lefty-hitting Japanese free agent outfielder, remains in consideration. … Former Ray James Loney, who has done some TV work, was at the meetings finalizing a player development job with an NL team. .. Among other ex-Rays seen was Chad Gaudin, the now 36-year-old who debuted in 2003, has pitched in Mexico the last four years and is considering retiring and going into coaching. … Trop suites will now be sold with food and drink included. … The negotiating battle between MLB and St. Pete-based Minor League Baseball over a new working agreement is turning unnecessarily hostile given the obvious need to work together.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.