ST. PETERSBURG — Ji-Man Choi was surprised and saddened to be traded by the Rays, but his departure seemed only a matter of time as his salary, a projected $4.5 million for 2023, was exceeding his production.
So what will the Rays do now at first base?
One scenario would be to bring in a front-line starter, and there are some free-agent options at various price levels who also could help their efforts to boost offense: lefties Anthony Rizzo and Brandon Belt, switch-hitter Josh Bell, or veteran righties Jose Abreu, Brandon Drury, Trey Mancini and Wil Myers, among others. Trade candidates also could emerge, with the benefit of investing prospects rather than cash.
But the Rays may have a better option in-house. One who could hit 30-plus homers from the left side, play good defense and make a reasonable $5.25 million — Brandon Lowe.
Obviously, Lowe could offer the same production while staying at second base, and you can make the case there is more value to get those power numbers from a middle infield spot.
But maybe moving Lowe to first keeps him healthier, given his back and other injury issues. And with the shift now banned, maybe the Rays are better with a more athletic fielder at second base, such as Taylor Walls or Vidal Brujan.
Lowe wouldn’t have to play first every day, as the Rays — against at least tough lefties if not most — could slide Yandy Diaz over from third or use Isaac Paredes.
There could be some additional options coming from the farm system, as Jonathan Aranda got some big-league time in 2022, Curtis Mead is in line to debut sometime in 2023 and Kyle Manzardo, their 2021 second-round pick, has moved impressively thus far to Double-A.
Choi, 31, was concerned at the trade deadline about talk of a trade to Houston, and the Astros and Padres were said to have had interest before the Rays sent Choi to the Pirates on Thursday. He told others what he posted on Instagram, that he had hoped to stay with the Rays the rest of his career.
Pittsburgh general manager Ben Cherington told reporters Friday the Pirates saw Choi as a good “first move” and a good fit as a lefty with “a history of on-base skills, good defender, good reputation as a teammate.” Cherington also said Choi was “fighting a relatively minor right elbow injury late in the season” and would in the coming days have “a minor procedure” in South Korea to address it and be ready for spring training.
Former Rays star third baseman Evan Longoria is a free agent for the first time at age 37 after the Giants declined the $13 million option on the extension he signed with Tampa Bay in 2012. Would Longoria be open to coming back to the Rays? “Of course, I have a tremendous amount of interest,” he said via text. “I’m excited to be a free agent. First time ever! Going to explore all that’s out there.” Whether the Rays, at least as currently constructed with right-handers Diaz, Paredes and Harold Ramirez, have a fit for him might be the bigger issue. Longoria was limited to 170 total games the last two seasons due to injuries. … Nick Anderson seemed likely to leave the Rays after being dropped from the roster and, despite battling elbow injuries after a 2019-20 run as one of the game’s best relievers, quickly found a new home with the Braves, getting a major-league deal for $875,000. … Before getting official word his option was being declined, Kevin Kiermaier said he was told there was an unnamed team interested in essentially a “sign-and-trade” deal, but it didn’t materialize.
Aranda was voted MVP of the Triple-A International League and right-hander Taj Bradley the Double-A Southern League’s pitcher of the year and top major-league prospect in votes of league managers. Top league manager awards went to High-A Bowling Green’s Jeff Smith and Class A Charleston’s Blake Butera, who both won championships. All-Stars were: Durham — Aranda, OF Josh Lowe, 2B Miles Mastrobuoni; Montgomery — Bradley, DH Niko Hulsizer, OF Kameron Misner, 2B Brett Wisely; High-A Bowling Green — OF Heriberto Hernandez, Manzardo; Class A Charleston — OF Shane Sasaki, reliever Austin Vernon, SS Carson Williams; Florida Complex League — SS Junior Caminero, reliever Andri Tavarez.
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Ex-Ray Aubrey Huff, who has drawn considerable criticism due to misogynistic and controversial social media posts, ran last week for a school board seat in Solona Beach, near San Diego. He was beaten badly, with just 18.9 percent of the vote (382 total), to the incumbent’s 81.1 percent. Wrote Craig Calcaterra in his Cup of Coffee newsletter: “Dude was a prominent part of the early 2000s Tampa Bay Devil Rays and he still never lost that badly.” … There was chatter at the GM meetings in Las Vegas that outfielder Randy Arozarena left agent Scott Boras and was seeking new representation, but two Boras reps said Friday that was not true and Arozarena remains a client. ... If the Rays can’t hold spring training at their Hurricane Ian-damaged Port Charlotte facility, the Disney complex previously used by the Braves is among several options. St. Petersburg could be another, at least for the big-league team. ... Rays president Brian Auld was selected by the Council of Governors as chair of the influential Tampa Bay Partnership, of which he has been a longtime member. … That the Rays have yet to announce the promotions of Rodney Linares to bench coach from third base and Brady Williams from Triple-A manager to third following the departure of Matt Quatraro to the Royals seems to indicate another staff change is possible. … With Bradley, Mead and several other prospects (Xavier Edwards? Greg Jones?) expected to be added to the 40-man roster by Tuesday’s 6 p.m. deadline for Rule 5 draft protection, the Rays will continue to seek trades to create space, with a surplus of relievers, including Ryan Yarbrough. … Weird situation in Houston that general manager James Click, the former longtime Rays executive, gets let go after winning the World Series. ... Starter Shane McClanahan is the only Ray on the ballot for the All-MLB team (voting on mlb.com); neither reliever Jason Adam nor Arozarena made the cut. ... Raiko Arozarena, Randy’s brother who has played goalie for the Rowdies, was called up to the Cuban national soccer team for matches this week vs. the Dominican Republic.
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