ST. PETERSBURG — Ji-Man Choi’s tenure with the Rays seemed likely to end after this season, and that became official Thursday when he was traded to the Pirates.
Choi had been in Tampa Bay for 4-1/2 seasons and became something of a fan favorite. But with his salary going up and production dropping, the Rays seemed likely to move on as they needed to create space on the 40-man roster and upgrade production at first base.
Rather than potentially release Choi, 31, at the Nov. 18 deadline to tender contracts, the Rays did well to make a trade and get something in return: Jack Hartman, a 24-year-old right-handed reliever who spent last season at Class A Bradenton.
Choi hit .233 with 11 homers, 52 RBIs and a .729 OPS — his lowest since his 2016 rookie season — and struggled mightily in the second half. He was projected to make around $4.5 million in 2023 in his final year of arbitration eligibility.
In an Instagram post, Choi said he was surprised to be traded, that he “enjoyed every moment” playing with Tampa Bay and that “I wish I were going to retire with the Rays uniform.” He also thanked fans several times for supporting him: “Without you, baseball is nothing and I couldn’t be here today.”
Hartman was 0-1 with a 6.27 ERA in 22 games for the Marauders, making his pro debut after being a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft out of Appalachian State and undergoing Tommy John surgery in December 2020.
The Choi trade was part of a busy day for the Rays, as they had to reinstate or otherwise move eight players that were on the 60-day injured list and create space on the 40-man roster that started the day at 38.
Another, oft-injured pitching prospect Brendan McKay, was outrighted to Triple-A Durham after also clearing waivers, and thus will stay in the organization.
The other five were reinstated: infielder Brandon Lowe, and pitchers Shane Baz, J.P. Feyereisen, Andrew Kittredge and Ryan Thompson.
Additional room on the 40-man roster was created with Choi being traded and outfielder Roman Quinn and reliever Jimmy Yacabonis electing free agency after also clearing outright waivers.
The roster is set at 40 now, but the Rays will have to create several more spaces by Tuesday’s 6 p.m deadline to add prospects so they are protected from the Dec. 8 Rule 5 draft.
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