ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are going to look different next season.
They always make key changes — even coming off good years — balancing budget issues, opportunity for rising players and roster management.
The financial impact of the pandemic-delayed 2020 season and the industry-wide uncertainty about 2021 raises the question of how far those changes could go.
Like trade Kevin Kiermaier or Blake Snell far?
The Rays missed out on massive revenue last year, most obviously from not having fans at stadiums and fewer games for broadcast partners. Further, they lost out on the benefit of hosting 10 games during the postseason, which ended up costing them money to participate in.
Just as significant, they won’t get their annual revenue sharing check from the big-market teams, estimated a few years ago at $45 million and now possibly higher. With a player payroll that has been averaging around $70 million, that’s a significant hit.
The words general manager Erik Neander uses in talking about navigating the offseason — “flexible” and “responsive” — seem to make it clear there are challenges ahead.
“There’s a lot that comes with everything we’ve experienced over the last eight months and our goal is to be as competitive as possible next year,” Neander said. “But given all of that uncertainty, we’re going to need to be flexible in our approach to accomplishing that.”
They’ve already taken some action, declining options on starter Charlie Morton ($15 million) and catcher Mike Zunino ($4.5 million) while saying they would like to have both back for less. For Morton, that could mean a one-year deal in the $8 million to $12 million range, depending on incentives and/or a 2022 option. For Zunino, maybe half the original option?
Further cuts will require trades, which historically the Rays have not been shy about. They have only three players making more than $5 million in 2021. One, outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo ($7 million), would seem pretty much untradeable after a rough 2020 debut season after coming over from Japan.
That leaves Kiermaier, who gets $11.5 million in 2021 (plus $12 million in 2022, with either a $13 million option or $2.5 million buyout in 2023); and Snell, who gets $10.5 million in 2021 (plus $12.5 million in 2022 and $16 million in 2023). Both are really good core players, but could end up being dealt.
There is likely to be some other trimming — either by trades or non-tenders at the Dec. 2 deadline from their hefty list of arbitration-eligible players, starting with outfielder Hunter Renfroe, projected by mlbtraderumors.com to get between $3.6-4.3 million. Others projected above $1.6 million include Yonny Chirinos, Ji-Man Choi, Tyler Glasnow, Manuel Margot, Joey Wendle and Ryan Yarbrough. Plus, the Rays are waiting on the Super 2 cutoff date, which could make Diego Castillo and Yandy Diaz eligible.
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Another issue is 40-man roster space. Until spring training (when there can be injured list moves), the Rays are carrying four pitchers who won’t be ready to start the season: Jalen Beeks, Chirinos, Brendan McKay, Colin Poche.
The Angels asked, and other teams are rumored to have interest, to talk with Neander about taking over their baseball operations. Neander told top Rays officials he is committed to staying and has no interest in pursuing any other opportunities, so they denied the Angels' inquiry and will do so if there are any others. That’s a good situation that the Rays want to keep him and he wants to stay.
With the Marlins — historically — hiring Kim Ng and the Angels Perry Minasian, with the Mets and (maybe) Phillies to soon follow, there could be interest in some Rays staff for other positions. Special assistant Bobby Heck has been mentioned several times in New York.
• Having the American League’s best record with no Gold Glove, Silver Slugger or Players Choice award winners, and only one player (Brandon Lowe) getting votes for BBWAA top rookie, Cy Young or MVP honors says something. Or a couple things.
• Marcus Stroman (Mets) and Kevin Gausman (Giants) taking the $18.9 million qualifying offer sure seems to help Morton’s market, with two fewer starters available and a high ceiling for one-year deals. Per mlb.com’s Mark Feinsand, at least eight-10 teams showed initial interest.
• The MLB-led minor-league consolidation/reorganization is — to put it politely — a mess, especially at the lower levels, where the Rays have had Class A affiliates in Bowling Green (Ky.) and Port Charlotte. It seems possible, though far from set, they could keep their Double-A team in Montgomery, Ala., and Triple-A team in Durham, N.C.
Right-hander Nick Bitsko, the 2020 top draft pick, is likely to soon have surgery to relieve shoulder discomfort; the severity of the repair won’t be known until the procedure. ... Infielder Taylor Walls and outfielder Josh Lowe are likely to be added to the 40-man roster by Friday’s deadline for protection from the Rule 5 draft; outfielder Moises Gomez and pitcher Paul Campbell are among other prospects to be considered. With only one spot open, other moves are needed. … AL Manager of the Year Kevin Cash isn’t the only one still being asked about pulling Snell in World Series Game 6; it came up in news conferences last week for new Mets owner Steve Cohen and new/old Red Sox manager Alex Cora. … The Rays took “cash considerations” from the Cubs instead of a second, lower-level minor-leaguer to complete what is now the Jose Martinez-for-Pedro Martinez deal. …. Ex-Rays manager Joe Maddon is holding a Thanksmas event this week to help Tampa Bay area homeless for the 12th year, with meals delivered to four area shelters. … Cash joined Paul Molitor (Twins, 2017) honored for managing a team they played for and in their hometown. … Rays fans won’t like the ending, but having Dodgers radio legend Vin Scully narrate the official World Series video documentary will make it sound better. … Top prospect Wander Franco will play at least three weeks for Escogido, which starts the Dominican winter league season Sunday. … Outfielder Randy Arozarena capped his eventful couple months with a wedding Nov. 7 wedding in Mexico. ... Former Ray Richie Shaffer has written his first sci-fi book, The Eight of Earth, available via Amazon.com. … Commissioner Rob Manfred said on a Paley Center video panel that MLB will be “more aggressive” in having at least limited fans in stadiums where permitted by local governments next season.