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Real offseason work just starting for Rays

Rays Tales | Picking up Mike Zunino’s option and adding Rene Pinto to the 40-man roster were the easy moves. Plus, rumblings.
Rene Pinto, recently added to the 40-man roster likely will be the Rays' third catcher next season.
Rene Pinto, recently added to the 40-man roster likely will be the Rays' third catcher next season. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 13, 2021|Updated Nov. 13, 2021

The Rays made two of their easiest decisions of the offseason, picking up catcher Mike Zunino’s $7 million option and adding catching prospect Rene Pinto to the 40-man roster.

Now comes the hard stuff.

As they explore which (relatively) higher-salaried player to trade (Kevin Kiermaier? Austin Meadows? Ji-Man Choi? Joey Wendle?), consider how best to resolve the status of Tyler Glasnow (who will make around $6 million for not pitching in 2022) and consider the best options for adding a bat and veteran starter, they have to address their 40-man roster crunch.

By Friday, in fact.

Rays officials have to decide which of their promising prospects who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft (college players drafted in 2018, high school and amateurs signed in 2017 or earlier) will be added to the 40-man roster and, more problematic, how to make room for them.

Baseball operations president Erik Neander acknowledged last week they “probably have more we’d like to add than what we will be able to add.”

Pitcher Tommy Romero and infielder Jonathan Aranda seem likely to be near the top of that list. Others to be considered include pitchers Calvin Faucher and Phoenix Sanders, catchers Blake Hunt and Ford Proctor, outfielder Ruben Cardenas, and more.

The Rays’ preferred way to create space is to deal players who are on the 40-man roster for younger players, which they did Saturday afternoon, sending infielder Mike Brosseau to the Brewers for minor-league reliever Evan Reifert, who was 3-3, 2.10 with 103 strikeouts in 60 innings over 37 games at Class A. Brosseau had several big moments for Rays, topped by his 2020 ALDS homer off the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman. Pitcher Brent Honeywell could be another trade option.

Or they could get aggressive early and try to deal one of the bigger names mentioned above.

Another option, which they also have done previously, is to cut ties with some of their arbitration-eligible players they are considering non-tendering at the Dec. 2 deadline. That could be a lower-end or returning-from-injury player, or a bigger name who isn’t attracting much trade interest, such as Hunter Renfroe last year. (Could Choi fit into that category?)

Yet another course of action is to trade some of the prospects they are considering adding.

With Zunino back (and no plans to trade him), Francisco Mejia arbitration-eligible and Pinto retained (as he was eligible for minor-league free agency), the Rays appear to be in extremely good shape with their catching corps.

Pinto, 25, had an impressive 2021 season with Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, hitting .274 with 20 homers, 60 RBIs and an .825 OPS, and made improvements behind the plate, specifically in receiving. “At present (we) feel really good about the chances of him being our third catcher next year,” Neander said.

Awards and honorarium

Neander was second in peer voting for the Executive of the Year award, behind the Giants’ Farhan Zaidi. … Outfielder Randy Arozarena was named the top AL rookie by Baseball Digest. The official Rookie of the Year award, presented by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, will be announced Monday, with Arozarena and Wander Franco two of the three finalists. The Manager of the Year award, with Kevin Cash a finalist to win a second straight, will be announced Tuesday. … Five Rays are candidates for spots on the all-MLB team, with voting on mlb.com through Friday: Arozarena, designated hitter Nelson Cruz, reliever Andrew Kittredge, second baseman Brandon Lowe, Zunino. … In the Minor League Baseball-run MiLBY awards, Triple-A Durham was voted the best team, Class A right-hander Taj Bradley the top starter and Colby White, who pitched at four levels, the top reliever. … Infielder Curtis Mead and pitcher Carlos Garcia were selected for Saturday’s Fall Stars showcase game in Arizona. … Outfielder Brett Phillips’ entertaining July 2 pitching performance included the “Balk of the Year,” per the always interesting @PitchingNinja Twitter site. And because, he’s Phillips, he posted an “acceptance” speech. Also awarded was “Best Scolding by a Mom,” to Donna Glasnow getting on Tyler for cursing too much on camera.

Rays rumblings

Arozarena switched agents, leaving Abel Guerra of ISE for the well-known, and hard-line, Scott Boras. It’s interesting but shouldn’t have much impact on Arozarena’s contract status as (under the current system) he won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2023 as a Super 2 or 2024 (when he will be 29) or free agency until 2027 (at age 32). Maybe this positions Boras, who already reps pitcher Luis Patino, to make a run at Franco? .... Though Ozzie Timmons was being shifted from first-base coaching to solely assistant hitting coach duties, he likely would have left anyway for the Brewers’ co-head hitting coach job, which should include some financial gain, including the opportunity to be one of the four coaches on the pension plan, which provides medical and insurance benefits and a slice of licensing revenue. … The Rays have gotten more than two dozen requests from teams for permission to talk to staff and coaches, thus far losing only Timmons, minor-league hitting coordinator Greg Brown and decision science director Ari Kilambi (Phillies). … That list could eventually include bench coach Matt Quatraro, who seems likely to be of managerial interest to the A’s and maybe the Mets. ... MLB owners meet next week in Chicago, with the potential for the Montreal sharing plan to at least be discussed. ... … Phillips joined Bucs Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, and Bolts Alex Killorn, Pat Maroon and Anthony Cirelli for band LoCash’s album debut party Thursday in Tampa. ... MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd touted Lowe as one of the best second basemen in the game and floated the idea of trading him to Seattle, noting “He’s at that point now’' (salary-wise, making $4 million). … The Rays are No. 1 in ESPN.com’s appropriately titled Way-too-early 2022 MLB Power Rankings, with a warning from writer David Schoenfield that their rotation — with Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Shane Baz and Patino — “will be young, electric and better.”

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