Given their standard abundance of young talent, the Rays typically have a challenge in managing their 40-man roster through the offseason.
Any addition usually requires a subtraction, and this year will be particularly vexing as the Rays have to navigate a tougher roster crunch than usual.
Of the 40 spots, at least four will be taken throughout the winter by players who won’t play for them most or all of the 2024 season: injured pitchers Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs, plus recently added prospect Yoniel Curet, a 21-year-old pitcher who hasn’t thrown above Class A yet.
Another spot is held by Wander Franco, whose 2024 status remains uncertain pending what are now three-month-long investigations by Dominican Republic authorities and Major League Baseball into allegations of inappropriate relationships with minors.
The Franco situation is out of the Rays’ hands. And there is nothing they can really do about the three veteran pitchers except wait until the start of spring training to get them off the roster by placing them back on the 60-day injured list.
(That does, however, allow for a bit of a workaround in that they can sign a player to a minor-league deal with a wink-wink agreement to add him to the roster once they have space.)
Curet, though, will be on the roster all season, even though, as baseball operations president Erik Neander said, “He still has a ways to go before he impacts the club.”
That’s because Curet was added to make sure the Rays didn’t lose him in the upcoming Rule 5 draft, even though a selecting team would have to keep him in the majors all season (as the Rays did last year with reliever Kevin Kelly, who did have Triple-A experience).
Adding Curet to the 40-man roster comes at other costs, such as burning one of his three minor-league options when he gets sent back to High-A Bowling Green (or to Double-A Montgomery) at the end of spring training.
But it is also a reflection of how well the Rays think of Curet, who was a combined 8-1, 2.94 with 144 strikeouts (and 73 walks plus 12 hit batters) over 104 innings while allowing a .149 average in being named their top minor-league pitcher.
“When you’re talking about a player that hasn’t yet experienced Double A or Triple A and you’re adding him to the roster and you only get three options, there’s limited time for the development,” Neander said. “It takes a special kind of upside to warrant that type of consideration, and that’s the case here.”
Showcasing a mid- to high-90s “impact” fastball Neander called “elite,” the Rays obviously think Curet can be very good relatively soon.
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“It’s the kind of ceiling that you don’t want to take for granted, you want to continue to nurture and see where it goes,” Neander said. “He has the ingredients to be a front-end pitcher with further refinement, and (those are) the kind of guys that we need to be patient with, but we also need to take care of.”
Which makes the roster gamble worthwhile, the Rays hope.
“You’re going into the year knowing you’re going to dedicate a spot, in this case to someone who is unlikely to impact your major-league team in the near term,” Neander said. “And the cost of that you believe is made up for and then some by the ceiling that exists with someone like Yoniel moving forward.
“So it comes at a near-term cost in terms of the major-league roster and making it all work with the 40 spots you have, but there’s a point where the assessment of the ceiling amongst our staff is that it’s in a place where you want to continue to move it along and is worth that tradeoff.”
Kevin Cash did a tremendous job given the spate of injuries and Franco issues, but Baltimore’s Brandon Hyde was the clear winner of the AL Manager of the Year award, with 27 of the 30 first-place votes, and second-place finisher Bruce Bochy of Texas getting the other three. Of note, all 10 voters from AL East markets had Hyde first and nine (including this reporter) had Cash second. ... Yandy Diaz matched Evan Longoria’s Tampa Bay franchise high (2010, 2013) in finishing sixth in the American League MVP voting. Four other Rays finished seventh through 10th: Carl Crawford, Brandon Lowe, Blake Snell, Ben Zobrist. … Blake Snell said many kind things about the Rays after winning his second Cy Young award with the Padres, and showed it with a pair of custom Nikes, with one sneaker in each team’s colors. ... Diaz, who was well behind fifth-place finisher Kyle Tucker, 178-137, got four third-place votes and was named on 28 ballots, left off by one of the two voters in Cleveland and Kansas City.
Though the financially-troubled owner of Bally Sports is reportedly looking to sever TV deals with the Guardians and Rangers for next season, there are no current changes regarding 2024 coverage of Rays games. … Buddy Carlyle, most recently with the Angels, and Christian Wonders, last with the Padres, were hired as minor-league pitching coordinators. Carlyle, who pitched parts of nine seasons in the majors, became available, per The Athletic, after former Angels (and Rays) reliever Troy Percival took part in their minor-league instructional camp and told team officials he felt their coaches were too dependent on technology (”I’m not one that’s big on using the iPads”) rather than hands-on work. …. The Mets and Yankees are among teams with interest in outfielder Manuel Margot, who, with a $10 million salary, is quite likely to be traded. … Rays officials provided an update at the owners meeting on their recent progress for a new stadium in St. Petersburg and the anticipated timeline, pending approvals, to be done for the 2028 season. … The team has commissioned a survey, distributed via email and social media, regarding “features, amenities, and seating options that could be available at the new Rays ballpark,” seeking feedback they say “will be vital in designing a state-of-the-art ballpark that will provide the best fan experience in Major League Baseball.” … After playing his way from Class A to the majors, 20-year-old infielder Junior Caminero is off to a hot start with Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .321 with an .803 OPS through 13 games. … Shortstop Carson Williams was third and catcher Dominic Keegan 18th on mlb.com’s list of top 25 prospects who played in the Arizona Fall League. … Alex Feuz, who spent the season as a Rays radio intern, joined ESPN’s PR team as a senior publicist for MLB, Little League and radio. … Baseball America’s first (of several) Rule 5 draft previews includes two Rays among its 10 prospects most likely to be taken: outfielders Kameron Misner and Shane Sasaki. Also, Blue Jays pitcher CJ Van Eyk, a Steinbrenner High product. … Interesting that Peter Bendix’s first moves since leaving to take over the Marlins involved ex-Rays: signing infielder Tristan Gray to a minor-league deal, and trading for Vidal Brujan and Calvin Faucher. … Congrats to Jessica and Colin Poche on the recent birth of their daughter, Mia Grace.
Rays’ 40-man roster
Pitchers (21): Jason Adam, Tyler Alexander, Shawn Armstrong, Shane Baz, Taj Bradley, Aaron Civale, Garrett Cleavinger, Yoniel Curet, Zach Eflin, Pete Fairbanks, Tyler Glasnow, Kevin Kelly, Andrew Kittredge, Zack Littell, Jacob Lopez, Shane McClanahan, Colin Poche, Drew Rasmussen, Manuel Rodriguez, Jeffrey Springs, Colby White
Catcher (1): Rene Pinto
Infielders (12): Jonathan Aranda, Osleivis Basabe, Junior Caminero, Yandy Diaz, Wander Franco, Greg Jones, Brandon Lowe, Curtis Mead, Isaac Paredes, Luke Raley, Austin Shenton, Taylor Walls
Outfielders (4): Randy Arozarena, Josh Lowe, Manuel Margot, Jose Siri
DH (1): Harold Ramirez
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