ST. PETERSBURG — From the look of the Rays roster, it seems the offseason has been off to slow start.
They declined options on Charlie Morton and Mike Zunino; cleared some space in ditching Michael Perez, Hunter Renfroe and Brian O’Grady; traded Nate Lowe after acknowledging he didn’t figure much in their 2021 plans; and made a few other small moves but no substantial acquisition. That would include adding at least one catcher ready to play in the majors, which by rule they are required to have.
Thanks to the late start they got after playing in the World Series, some industry-wide uncertainty about 2021 due to the pandemic and the different way various teams are responding to revenue shortfalls, it’s been a challenging process.
“The uncertainty that we speak to about our own situation and how we’re going to put this club together, that’s shared by every club,” general manager Erik Neander said as virtual winter meetings wrapped up. “For us, I think we’re just trying to be as transparent as possible with our thoughts, not holding a lot back in terms of how we’re thinking about things, the questions we’re attempting to answer and just trying to get a better understanding for where other teams are at.
“That process takes time. It takes a lot of conversations and piecing things together.”
Though the Rays, who seem likely to maintain a payroll around the $60 million they’re now carrying, aren’t involved with the top free agents, it’s logical to think the lack of action in that market is trickling down to slow their business as well.
For example, a team needing a top starter that misses out on Trevor Bauer may then turn to the Rays to talk about trading for Blake Snell. For another, it may take movement among the top catchers, J.T. Realmuto and James McCann (who reportedly struck a deal Saturday with the Mets), to spur action for the others down the list, as offers the Rays make tend to be on the low side.
The Rays have lots to talk about between adding catchers and starting pitching depth, the potential of trading Snell and/or Kevin Kiermaier to create financial flexibility, and creative ways to improve their strikeout-heavy offense.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Neander said.
The search for starting/bulk-inning pitching, which the Rays will need more of if they trade Snell, could go different ways.
One veteran they have talked about is ex-Ray Chris Archer, a free agent after sitting out 2020 following thoracic outlet surgery. (And wouldn’t Archer joining Tyler Glasnow in the Rays rotation play well in Pittsburgh?) But with four roster spots tied up until spring training by injured pitchers, they are looking hard for starters willing to take minor-league deals, such as David Hess did.
Though happy with their position player group, Neander said they’d like to “put the ball in play a little bit more, move runners, do those things when those types of situations present themselves.”
While principal owner Stuart Sternberg said there has been “tremendous progress” on the Montreal end of their plan to split future seasons between two sites, the re-developer of the Peel Basin land being considered for a stadium unveiled drawings of a large mixed-use plan that didn’t include a ballpark. Officials said talks with the Stephen Bronfman-led baseball group are ongoing and a stadium could be added before construction starts. … Dave Dombrowski was hired to run the Phillies after working with the group trying to get a team for Nashville, which on Friday he called a “can’t-miss” city for expansion or relocation: “It’s a question of when, not if.” Dombrowski said he decided to take the Phillies job after being told that Major League Baseball’s plans to expand will be pushed back, as the Nashville group that he still will advise hoped to make a presentation in 2021.
Kevin Cash dropped a spot to fifth in Craig Calcaterra’s annual rankings of Most Handsome Managers, now on cupofcoffee.substack.com. Ex-Ray and current Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was No. 1 for the second straight year, followed by Mike Matheny (Royals), newcomer Luis Rojas (Mets) and Gabe Kapler (Giants). … Life with the Rays: When Neander called Nick Anderson and Brandon Lowe to congratulate them for making the all-MLB team, “I made sure they knew right away that I wasn’t calling because we’re trading them.” … The additional minor-leaguer going to the Rangers in the Nate Lowe deal will be named before spring training and is not expected to be a prominent prospect. … For what it’s worth, video highlights on the Rays holiday card emailed last week don’t include Snell or Kiermaier, both subjects of trade speculation. … Sternberg’s tongue-in-cheek but valid social distancing reference that “most” of their games were attended by fewer than 10,000 people wasn’t quite right: Going by 2019 announced totals, 19 were under, six others were between 10,000 and 11,000 as they averaged 14,552. … The Rays made a solid case that switching their Class A affiliation from Port Charlotte to Charleston, S.C., was to improve the player experience, but the uncertainty of the big-league team’s home site (and thus spring training base) beyond 2027 could have made signing a 10-year agreement with the Stone Crabs problematic. … The seven players the Rays had selected in the Rule 5 draft were second most; the Yankees also lost seven and the Dodgers eight. … Pitcher Paul Campbell was taken by the Marlins and is now ranked their No. 25 prospect. ... MLB officials are continuing the fact-finding process regarding outfielder Randy Arozarena’s legal incident in Mexico and whether it falls under their domestic violence policies. …. The Rays will pick 28th in the July draft, then again as soon as 33rd based on the order of the competitive balance rounds set last week, subject to compensation picks being added. … Ex-Ray Matt Moore had a solid first season with Japan’s SoftBank Hawks, going 6-3, 2.65 in 13 games, and may return. … Tampa Bay area products Preston Tucker (Tampa) and Casey Kelly (Sarasota) re-signed with their Korean league teams after solid 2020 seasons.