ST. PETERSBURG — At some point between now and opening day, the Rays will make a move to improve their offense.
Maybe over the next few weeks they’ll get a better sense of Michael Brantley’s health, market and interest. A trade option with a willing partner will develop. The price on a free agent will come down enough to lessen the risk some pose given injuries or inconsistent play. Or they will shift their search priority from a lefty with some power, past success, experience and clubhouse presence.
For now, they will relish the potential of their starting pitching and improved run prevention.
In adding Zach Eflin, and their clearly stated expectations for his improved performance, to a group that includes Tyler Glasnow, Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen, the Rays have what looks to be one of the game’s deepest rotations.
“There’s nothing wrong with making a strength that much stronger,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said. “And (we) believe that with Zach here we’ve got a chance to — on any given day with our rotation — have a group that has recently pitched at the front of rotations or at that ability level or very much has that potential.”
There are, however, at least questions about each. Glasnow will have a limited workload, and some cautious handling (especially with a $25 million salary coming in 2024), in his full return from Tommy John surgery after an impressive late-2022 cameo. McClanahan has to show the dropoff from his stellar first half to a tough second and the minor injuries aren’t issues. Springs and Rasmussen are coming off career-high workloads and will be monitored closely.
But the potential is promising. MLB.com ranked the McClanahan-Glasnow duo third best in the majors, behind the Mets’ Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, and the Yankees’ Carlos Rodon and Gerrit Cole. Full rotation rankings should be similarly favorable to Tampa Bay.
And the Rays still feel good about the starter depth they have with Yonny Chirinos, Josh Fleming, Luis Patino and prized prospect Taj Bradley.
“I hope that our pitching is as much of a strength as it seems like it’s going to be,” general manager Peter Bendix said. “You need as much talented depth as you can have to get through the season. But you need as much high-end talent as possible to get over the hump to win that World Series, and that’s our goal at the end of the day. And to have these five starters, to have the amount of talented pitchers we have even underneath them as well, that’s how we think we can compete.”
Certainly adding to an offense that scored nearly 200 runs fewer than the year before also would help. They are right in expecting some internal upgrades from having Brandon Lowe, Wander Franco and Manuel Margot healthy all season, and getting more out of Josh Lowe or even Vidal Brujan.
Want more than just the box score?
Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
But they want to add more, preferably someone with, as Neander said, a consistent track record.
“That’s certainly something we’d like to add,” he said. “There aren’t that many guys out there that are available.
“I think for us adding another player, that’s a rebound candidate, or a breakthrough candidate, I don’t know how much appeal it has relative to someone that has much more of a consistency to them, and a recent track record of success.
“Because I think that’s what this group probably needs most is someone that has demonstrated that and frankly, for the younger players, can take some of the attention and the expectations off of them.”
It still seems unlikely, but they could pivot, trade a right-handed hitter to open space and bring home Evan Longoria.
Or maybe they merge their two concepts, deal from the starter depth by trading Rasmussen or Springs while their value is high and salaries low (especially amid the free-agent market frenzy) and find an impact bat that way.
“I think right now, the guys that have the five spots, it’s pretty clear,” Neander said. “But we also have some depth and these things can go in a lot of different directions.”
Radio broadcaster Andy Freed signed a new three-year deal running through 2025. Dave Wills, his partner since 2005, is inked through 2023. … With the No. 56 he wore in Philadelphia taken by Randy Arozarena, Eflin asked for his favorite No. 12, but with that retired for Wade Boggs, Eflin doubled down and chose 24. ... Eflin’s $40 million, three-year contract was also a big deal for Tampa-based agent Tom O’Connell, the largest so far in his 20-plus years in the business. … Spring training relocation plans could be finalized within a week, with the Disney/Tropicana Field split still seeming most likely. … Home clubhouse/equipment manager Tyler Wall was named one of three team employees of the year; also Jeane Drury (ticket sales manager), David Egles (Rays Foundation director). … The Rays were said to be in on trade talks for catcher Sean Murphy until the A’s decided they weren’t and did the three-way deal with the Braves and Brewers. … The Athletic’s Jim Bowden gave the Rays a B- for their off-season so far, noting an “excellent job” of signing Eflin “to a reasonable contract, considering his upside.” … Releasing and re-signing 2017 top pick Brendan McKay to a two-year minor-league deal was a wise move, giving him a familiar home and the team an extra year of control as he spends 2023 recovering from Tommy John surgery and targets a 2024 return. … Top infield prospect Curtis Mead reportedly committed to play for his native Australia in the spring World Baseball Classic. ... Among other things ex-Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier talked about doing with his hip repaired and a new home in a potent Blue Jays lineup: “I want to get on base as much as possible, draw my walks, bunt a little bit more, do whatever I can to complement this lineup and let all the big dogs drive me in.” ... The Triple-A Durham manager’s job seems likely to be filled internally. ... For the fourth straight year, the Rays had the best composite record for minor-league domestic affiliates, and with a remarkable .597 winning percentage over that span. ... Class A Charleston was the third Tampa Bay farm team in that period to be named Baseball America’s top minor-league team. … High Class A Bowling Green was named the South Atlantic League’s top organization. … RiverDogs manager Blake Butera, initially slated to be Mike Piazza’s bench coach for Team Italy, will be co-manager. ... For what it’s worth, the Rays would have been better off drafting Eflin in 2012 with their No. 25 pick, as he had hoped. Clemson infielder Richie Shaffer, whom they took instead, played only 51 games in the majors. (The Rays that year also passed over Jose Berrios, Mitch Haniger, Joey Gallo and Tampa product Lance McCullers Jr.).
• • •
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.
Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.