Much of the attention over the next 3½ weeks leading up to the scheduled start of spring training will be on who the Rays add to bolster their starting pitching staff.
Having narrowly lost out in the bidding for free agent Corey Kluber (who went to the Yankees for $11 million) and having explored some trade options that didn’t work out, they remain in search of an experienced pitcher to provide quality innings.
That’s a bit of an unusual position for the arms-focused Rays to be in, and even more so coming off a successful season that got them to the World Series. But it’s one of their own making, as they let Charlie Morton become a free agent after declining a $15 million option and traded Blake Snell — and his $39 million owed over three years — to the Padres for four young players.
“It’s tough,” manager Kevin Cash said Friday. “None of these decisions are easy. But we work within the parameters we think are best for the organization. Trading Blake Snell was extremely tough. Not having Charlie back is really, really tough. …
“You could make the argument, make the case, that from a starting pitching standpoint we took a step back. You could certainly say that, losing Blake and Charlie. But we’re very excited about the guys we have that are going to come in to compete for the opportunity.”
The Rays look to have three spots claimed by Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough and free-agent signee Michael Wacha. Pending what other addition(s) they make, the competition Cash mentioned looks to come from Josh Fleming (who made five starts in 2020), Luis Patino (the key piece in the Snell deal), Shane McClanahan (who debuted in the playoffs) and Brent Honeywell (whose elbow problems are said to be behind him). Brendan McKay could join them during the season, depending on his recovery from shoulder surgery.
Another question for the Rays is deciding how best to deploy the pitchers they end up with as they are stretched back out for what supposedly will be a full 162-game season after the abbreviated 60-game 2020 slate.
Some teams, such as the Mariners, are planning to use six-man rotations. The Rays seem more likely to use their opener strategy as they work in young arms to fill out the rotation.
“We’re constantly staying on the lookout for pitching and innings and certainly talking through different ways to be creative with workloads,” Cash said. “As much of an unknown as there was last year with the start of spring training 2.0 and then us getting going, I think there are some unknowns this year. What kind of workload can we expect guys to carry? Is it fair to say a guy who was a 180-inning pitcher two years ago can just pick up that workload again? I don’t think any of us know.”
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With the WWE using Tropicana Field for wrestling shows through April 2, the Rays shifted a scheduled March 30 exhibition against the Tigers to Lakeland. That also means they likely won’t get to work out at the Trop during the final week of spring, as usual, instead going from Port Charlotte to Miami for their April 1 opener. … Among options that will be explored in camp: Trying Brandon Lowe at third base, with Joey Wendle at second. … Former Rays outfielder Denard Span, a Tampa Catholic product, joined the front office as a special assistant in baseball operations. … Additional spring camp invitations are being finalized, pending potential roster caps by Major League Baseball as part of the COVID-19 protocols. Top prospect Wander Franco is expected to be on the list. … Fleming, impressive in his 2020 debut, told MLB Network he is determined to win a starting spot this spring: “I want to force them to put me in that rotation.” … “Only” five Rays made Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list, down from eight in 2020, but three others were among 10 who “just missed:” infielder Xavier Edwards and pitchers Shane Baz, Brendan McKay. All three were ranked last year. … Something to wonder: Had the Rays known they were going to trade Snell, would they have been able to bring back Morton? ... Former Padres All-Star reliever Kirby Yates said he signed with the Blue Jays in part because of his past relationship with manager Charlie Montoyo and bullpen coach Matt Buschmann from their days in the Rays minor-league system. “Very, very excited,” he said. … Fleming, Honeywell, McClanahan, Josh Lowe, Kevin Padlo, Drew Strotman and Taylor Walls took part in the MLB/union rookie-development program, run virtually this year. … There’s been no word from MLB on potential disciplinary action against outfielder Randy Arozarena from his November legal incident in Mexico, which seems like a good thing for the Rays. … Snell is listed as wearing No. 22 for the Padres; his preferred No. 4 is currently taken — by ex-Ray Wil Myers. …. If the Jays do open the regular season playing at their spring base in Dunedin, the Rays would have quite the convenient May 21-24 “roadtrip.” ... Infielder Daniel Robertson, designated for assignment by the Rays last August, signed with the Brewers, confident he can “break out” and win a starting job: “I’m kind of looking at it as if this is my big-league debut. I’m 26 and I think I have a lot of career ahead of me.’’ … Other former Rays relievers signing elsewhere included minor-league deals for Hunter Wood, Rangers; and Wade Davis, Royals.