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Where Rays stand at start of baseball’s lockout

Rays Tales | Signing two pitchers and Wander Franco long-term was a good start to the winter. Now they have to wait to get back to business. Plus, rumblings.
The Rays grounds crew works on the field following practice before Gamd 1 of the American League Division Series in October at Tropicana Field. Though transactions are frozen during the lockout, the Rays feel good about the moves they made during the first segment of the offseason.
The Rays grounds crew works on the field following practice before Gamd 1 of the American League Division Series in October at Tropicana Field. Though transactions are frozen during the lockout, the Rays feel good about the moves they made during the first segment of the offseason. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 3, 2021|Updated Dec. 4, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays feel good about the moves they made during the first segment of the offseason.

Landing targeted free-agent pitchers Corey Kluber and Brooks Raley and getting a record-setting extension done with phenom Wander Franco made for a busy, rewarding and expensive month.

“Those were the two guys that we really pressed on and recruited and tried to make our pitch as to why we felt that they were best positioned to have success individually and collectively here,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said before the lockout (during which team officials aren’t allowed to talk about 40-man roster players). “So between that and the Wander extension, those were our big items for November.”

And big-ticket ones. The three deals cost the Rays a guaranteed $200 million and could max out at more than $250 million between incentives and Franco’s 2033 option.

They also picked up catcher Mike Zunino’s $7 million option, signed first baseman Ji-Man Choi to a $3.2 million one-year deal, tendered contracts to 13 arbitration-eligible players (who will make around $32 million, per mlbtraderumors.com projections), traded All-Star infielder Joey Wendle and four others and cleared space to add five prospects to the 40-man roster.

Related: Why Rays trust Wander Franco will handle his fame and fortune

“We’re really pleased with where we stand right now and what we were able to accomplish,” Neander said.

Naturally, they have more to do. They just don’t know when they will be able to get back to work, with even conservative estimates projecting the lockout will last into February. If so, that — best case — would make for a mad scramble of signings and deals to try to open the season on time on March 31.

“There’s a lot of offseason left,” Neander said, somewhat hopefully.

The Rays don’t typically share their shopping list, using their creativity and the versatility of their players to be nimble and reactive to market opportunities.

So it was interesting that Neander talked openly about their interest in adding “a right-handed-hitting/bat-first type of player,” with the qualifier “whether it’s someone accomplished or whether it’s someone we think can continue to grow with the group that we have.” They should have plenty of options either way.

Adding more arms is always on the Rays’ list, especially given questions about several relievers returning from injury, as well as the youth of their other starters.

“I’ll be the first to say you never can say that you have enough,” manager Kevin Cash said.

The roster could be almost set, with the expectation that one of two prospects, Taylor Walls or Vidal Brujan, will fill the utility role vacated by the Wendle trade, with just some depth added on the fringes.

But these are the Rays, so they could seek to change the mix by trading another veteran or two, maybe from the group of outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Austin Meadows, second baseman Brandon Lowe or Choi.

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With all of the down time during the transactions freeze, they will have plenty of time to think creatively.

Rays rumblings

Kluber will get his preferred No. 28, with catcher Francisco Mejia switching to 21. Raley will wear No. 30. … Raysbaseball.com and other team websites stripped off stories and photos of now locked-out 40-man roster players and aren’t using their names in promos for what MLB said are legal reasons. But they are still selling player-specific merchandise that is governed by deals between MLB-licensed vendors and the union, not the labor agreement. … Reliever Nick Anderson was among players league-wide switching to blank Twitter profile pics, matching the images on team sites. .. With the major-league portion of the winter meetings slated for this week in Orlando canceled, the Rule 5 draft has been postponed indefinitely, though the minor-league portion will be held. …. As expected, bench coach Matt Quatraro is being talked about as a candidate for the Mets’ manager’s job. .... Franco is a finalist for Sports Illustrated’s Breakthrough Athlete of the Year award to be announced at Tuesday’s awards show (8 p.m., streaming on social media), along with tennis player Emma Raducanu, Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase and Hornets guard LaMelo Ball. … Outfielder Manuel Margot and catcher Rene Pinto started playing in the Dominican winter league. ... Durham was named Baseball America’s minor-league team of the year, the first Triple-A winner since 2006. ... In addition to joking that in Miami’s Don Mattingly he now had a manager “who can actually coach me,” Wendle taunted Cash, saying “Good luck winning the Citrus Series next year.” … Kameron Misner, the outfielder acquired from the Marlins for Wendle, was slotted as the Rays’ No. 22 prospect by mlbpipeline.com. … Lowe was the second baseman on mlb.com’s All-Awardless team of players not honored elsewhere. … Infield prospect Xavier Edwards is holding his fourth annual XE9 kids camp Dec. 22-23 in the Fort Lauderdale area. …. The Rays and Rowdies are launching a “Week of Giving” events to help local non-profits and families in need. … Odds on the Rays winning the World Series are 14-1, per betonline.ag, same as before they signed Kluber and Raley. The Dodgers are 13-2 favorites, followed by the Astros and Mets (9-1), Braves (19-2), Yankees (12-1) and Padres and Rays.

Offseason thus far

Signed as free agents

RHP Corey Kluber ($8M, 1 year, plus incentives)

LHP Brooks Raley ($10M, 2 years, plus option and incentives)

Re-signed

1B Ji-Man Choi ($3.2M, one year)

SS Wander Franco ($182M, 11 years, plus option and incentives)

C Mike Zunino ($7M, one year)

Added to 40-man roster

INF Jonathan Aranda

RHP Calvin Faucher

C Rene Pinto

INF/C Ford Proctor

RHP Tommy Romero

Traded

INF Mike Brosseau, to Brewers for minor-league RHP Evan Reifert

RHP Louis Head to Marlins, for player to be named

RHP Brent Honeywell to A’s, for cash

INF/OF Jordan Luplow to Diamondbacks, for minor-league INF Ronny Simon

INF Joey Wendle to Marlins, for minor-league OF Kameron Misner

Claimed off waivers

LHP Ryan Sherriff, by Phillies

Became free agents

RHP Chris Archer

LHP Adam Conley

DH Nelson Cruz

RHP Oliver Drake

LHP Dietrich Enns (signed with Seibu/Japan)

RHP Tommy Hunter

RHP DJ Johnson

RHP Chris Mazza

RHP Collin McHugh

LHP Cody Reed

RHP David Robertson

RHP Chaz Roe

RHP Michael Wacha (signed with Red Sox)

Current 40-man roster

Pitchers (23)

RH Nick Anderson

RH Shane Baz

LH Jalen Beeks

RH JT Chargois

RH Yonny Chirinos

RH Pete Fairbanks

RH Calvin Faucher

RH J.P. Feyereisen

LH Josh Fleming

RH Tyler Glasnow

RH Andrew Kittredge

RH Corey Kluber

LH Shane McClanahan

LH Brendan McKay

RH Luis Patino

LH Colin Poche

LH Brooks Raley

RH Drew Rasmussen

RH Tommy Romero

LH Jeffrey Springs

RH Ryan Thompson

RH Matt Wisler

LH Ryan Yarbrough

Catchers (4)

Francisco Mejia

Rene Pinto

Ford Proctor

Mike Zunino

Infielders (6)

Jonathan Aranda

Ji-Man Choi

Yandy Diaz

Wander Franco

Brandon Lowe

Taylor Walls

Outfielders (7)

Randy Arozarena

Vidal Brujan

Kevin Kiermaier

Josh Lowe

Manuel Margot

Austin Meadows

Brett Phillips

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