ST. PETERSBURG — Having made a series of difficult decisions to reshape their roster with potentially a few more to come before Friday’s contract tender deadline, Rays officials are getting ready for the real work of the offseason.
“We’re going to be as active as we can to try to improve the roster and make the team better,” general manager Peter Bendix said. “I think we’re starting from a place that we like, with all the talent that we have, with the depth in certain areas that we have.
“Now we’re going to try to go about what we do every offseason, which is making next year’s team as strong as possible and always keeping an eye on the future at the same time.”
How they do it, as usual, will be interesting.
The Rays will seek to bolster their offense and potentially add a veteran starter while continuing to give opportunity to young players, and balance their payroll constraints while competing for a fifth straight postseason spot.
They have been busy since their disappointing first-round exit, and though none of the moves were overly surprising the team has shed considerable experience and payroll in dropping 14 players.
Among those no longer rostered (either allowed to become free agents, traded or otherwise removed) are outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and David Peralta, first baseman Ji-Man Choi, catcher Mike Zunino, and pitchers Corey Kluber and Ryan Yarbrough.
That’s roughly 40-plus years of big-league time and close to $50 million in 2022 salary and bonuses.
But between reinstating injured players and adding five promising prospects on Tuesday (and trading two others that were under consideration to be added), the Rays have a full 40-man roster. It is one, Bendix said, without “a glaring hole” that has to be addressed, which speaks to the talent and depth he referenced earlier.
But there will be changes, because these are the Rays and that is what they do.
Whether it’s a big deal, such as trading Randy Arozarena or Yandy Diaz for other big-leaguers, landing a higher-profile free agent, or a series of smaller moves, the Rays will look different when they open spring training in mid-February.
And because they’re the Rays, money will matter.
They should have some flexibility, with around $53 million somewhat committed so far for 2023, as they’ve been averaging $70 million-plus payrolls the last 10 years.
As of now, they’ve got $22.5 million due to five players under multiyear deals — Manuel Margot ($7 million), Tyler Glasnow ($5.35 million), Brandon Lowe ($5.25 million), Brooks Raley ($4.5 million) and Wander Franco ($2 million) — and roughly $30 million projected for 14 arbitration-eligible players, a list that may be reduced soon.
Factor in at least a few key players who aren’t yet arbitration-eligible (and thus making less than $800,000) and plans for top prospects Taj Bradley and Curtis Mead to likely get opportunities, and the Rays should have some financial maneuverability to address those potential improvements.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Adding a big left-handed bat would seem the easiest fix to the offense. The Rays scored nearly 200 runs fewer than in 2021 and were notably impotent against right-handed pitching, ranking in the bottom five in the American League in average (.234), OPS (.678) and homers (108).
Choi’s expected departure seems to create the biggest hole, and the Rays will look for a replacement at first base. But they have the potential to shift lefty-swinging Brandon Lowe from second base, with right-handers Diaz or Isaac Paredes also getting time. “It’s definitely something we could do internally,” Bendix said.
A starter with a pedigree, filling the Charlie Morton/Kluber role, seems to be needed, and a veteran catcher would help. They still seem to be deep in relievers, especially lefties, which could provide trade capital.
But for now, anyway, Bendix likes where the Rays are.
“I don’t think there’s any area right now where I’d say it’s a desperate need, just given the versatility, given the flexibility that we have with our roster,” he said. “So it allows us to kind of be opportunistic, especially as we’re looking to add maybe more offense or whatever it might be that we’re able to add.”
A look at the Rays’ 40-man roster
(Arbitration-eligible players in bold; left-handed pitchers with an asterisk)
Pitchers (21): Jason Adam, Shawn Armstrong, Shane Baz, Jalen Beeks*, Taj Bradley, Yonny Chirinos, Garrett Cleavinger*, Pete Fairbanks, Calvin Faucher, J.P. Feyereisen, Josh Fleming*, Tyler Glasnow, Andrew Kittredge, Shane McClanahan*, Luis Patino, Colin Poche*, Brooks Raley*, Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs*, Ryan Thompson, Colby White
Catchers (3): Christian Bethancourt, Francisco Mejia, Rene Pinto
Infielders (10): Jonathan Aranda, Osleivis Basabe, Vidal Brujan, Yandy Diaz, Wander Franco, Greg Jones, Brandon Lowe, Curtis Mead, Isaac Paredes, Taylor Walls
Outfielders (6): Randy Arozarena, Josh Lowe, Manuel Margot, Luke Raley, Harold Ramirez, Jose Siri
Dropped since end of season (14): Pitchers Nick Anderson, JT Chargois, Javy Guerra, Corey Kluber, Brendan McKay, Jimmy Yacabonis, Ryan Yarbrough; catcher Mike Zunino; infielders Ji-Man Choi, Miles Mastrobuoni; outfielders Kevin Kiermaier, Bligh Madris David Peralta, Roman Quinn.
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.