ST. PETERSBURG — There are reasons the Rays will go to hearings with seven of their arbitration-eligible players, much more relevant to them than the potential savings of a relatively scant $2.85 million in a likely $70 million-plus payroll if they win them all.
Baseball operations president Erik Neander explained that it was a matter of sticking to their process in negotiating the salaries, noting the same methodology led to settling with all 13 arbitration-eligible players last year by the deadline to file figures, when the team opts to halt talks.
This year, they had 14 cases and only settled half (including high-profile outfielder Randy Arozarena, who got $4.15 million as a first-time eligible), meaning they will go to uncomfortable, and at times untoward, hearings with seven players, third most of any team ever and the most since 1990, per mlb.com research.
Among the factors, Neander noted that several players had unusual circumstances in their seasons.
Jeffrey Springs, who had the largest gap by requesting $3.55 million compared to the team’s $2.7 million offer, converted in May from relieving to starting for the first time in the majors, and did quite well.
Infielder Yandy Diaz, who will make the most of the seven with a $6.3 million ask vs. the team’s $5.55 million offer, has value that isn’t reflected in counting stats (homers, RBIs) that typically factor into arbitration. Relievers Pete Fairbanks ($1.9 million, $1.5 million) and Ryan Thompson ($1.2 million, $1 million) missed extended time. Outfielder Harold Ramirez ($2.2 million, $1.9 million) and reliever Jason Adam ($1.775 million, $1.55 million) had breakout seasons as first-time eligibles. Reliever Colin Poche ($1.3 million, $1.175 million) missed the two previous seasons with injury.
“This is about two parties working within a well-defined system that exists,” Neander said. “I think this is much more about the uniqueness of several players’ career paths leading to a bit of a more challenging experience for both parties to find common ground. But I very much believe that everyone worked to find it — we just didn’t quite get there.”
The process can be tricky, as each side has a number in mind when negotiating, but then when talks break off may file at a number more designed to be chosen by the three-member panel that will hear the cases Jan. 30-Feb. 17. And despite what Neander said were “good faith” efforts by all parties, the team and agents will spend considerable time and money prepping for seven hearings.
“It’s something that we look forward to better understanding the opposing viewpoints and hope that the same can be said for our views,” Neander said. “We’ll get resolution here soon enough.”
World Baseball Classic rumblings
Preliminary rosters for March’s World Baseball Classic are subject to change, but among the more interesting Rays connections is Arozarena, a native of Cuba (which is allowing big-leaguers to participate), expected to play for Mexico, where he lived after defecting. If so, he will join Rays mates Jonathan Aranda and Isaac Paredes. … Top position player prospect Curtis Mead, recovered from the elbow injury that ended his 2022 season at Durham, won’t play for his native Australia, instead focusing on competing in camp for a roster spot. … Lefty reliever Joe LaSorsa, who had 87 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings at Double-A Montgomery, will pitch for Team Italy, which is co-managed by Class A Charleston’s Blake Butera and Hall of Famer Mike Piazza. … Tampa Bay bench coach Rodney Linares will have familiar help managing the powerful Dominican Republic team: Jonathan Erlichman, the Rays’ process and analytics coach, will be his bench coach. Wander Franco, Manuel Margot, Francisco Mejia and Jose Siri are roster candidates. … Other Rays who may play: Luis Patino and Ramirez (Colombia), Adam (United States), Christian Bethancourt (Panama), Trevor Brigden (Canada).
Fan Fest appears set for Feb 18 at Tropicana Field. … An infield option being considered: Shifting Diaz to be the primary first baseman and using Paredes and Taylor Walls at third. Another option is moving Brandon Lowe to first. … Expect an announcement soon on the minor-league coaching staffs, with Michael Johns likely to move from field coordinator to Triple-A manager (replacing Brady Williams, who is now the Rays’ third base coach) and former Durham manager Jared Sandberg returning as an outfield/baserunning coordinator. … After a series of promotions announced Friday, the Rays have 19 employees with vice president titles (and three presidents). … Manager Kevin Cash saw Franco during a quick trip to the Dominican Republic and said he “looked great,” having tailored his workouts to improve flexibility after missing time due to leg muscle issues. Cash also said Siri is totally over an oblique strain that sidelined him in winter ball. … Lowe, who missed extensive 2022 time with back issues, is said to be swinging “normally” and feeling good. … Newly elected Hall of Famer Fred McGriff — an original Ray and a Tampa native — sure seems an obvious choice to throw the first pitch on opening day of the 25th anniversary season. This also seems like a good time to launch some sort of Rays Hall of Fame. … Arozarena was fifth on MLB Network’s list of top leftfielders, Adam ninth among relievers and Diaz ninth among third baseman.. … Tricia Whitaker re-signed for a fifth season as Bally Sports Sun’s in-game reporter. … The team is in the midst of five one-week mini-camps for prospects.... Cash ranked sixth in blogger Craig Calcaterra’s annual ranking of the “most handsome” managers; Miami’s Skip Schumaker was first. … Team officials are sending players weekly messages explaining the new rules changes. Among other teaching tools, they may bring umpires to some workouts to enforce the new time limits for pitchers and hitters.
• • •
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.