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.
“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.
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)
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
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
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
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