Play The Hand We’ve Got

We see a lot of fan-written off season plans that include trading big names like Archer and Longoria. This isn’t one of those. I am of the opinion that the Rays have enough talent to compete when healthy, but not enough resources to stockpile MLB-talent ready to play when the injury bug runs rampant as it did the last two years.

Despite the high value expected to be placed on starting pitching this off season, I would not trade away a starter because I do not see a large need that can met by a willing trade partner. As a corollary to that, I also do not see the need to stockpile any more non-MLB talent in exchange for our already, well-performing MLB starting pitchers.

Here are the main points in my off season action plan:

  • Get a new catcher.
  • Yes, bullpen needs to improve from 2016, but look mainly within plus one FA signing.
  • Starting pitching is a strength. Keep it in place. Try to extend Snell; try again with Jake and Cobber.
Keeping with the DRB template for these off season plans I’ll review the existing contracts, arb-eligible decisions, and free agents in the standard order. Then I’ll break everything down in greater detail.
Existing Contracts (3): Archer, Longo, and Forsythe all stay with the team; try to sign Snell, Cobb and Odorizzi
Arbitration Eligible (11): tender all, including Bobby Wilson
Trades (2): acquire Austin Barnes and Jorge Soler (see details below)
Free Agents (2): sign Steve Pearce and Joba Chamberlain (see details below)

Acquisitions

  • Austin Barnes, C via trade with the Dodgers
  • Jorge Soler, OF via trade with the Cubs
  • Joba Chamberlain, RP via free agency
  • Steve Pearce, Bat/UTIL via free agency

Departures

I’m going to assume the Beckham and Motter situations are not fixable. Marc Topkin has already said he expects Beckham will not be back, and I’ll assume he knows something about it (despite not telling us). Hopefully Beckham, at least, has some value as a throw-in in a trade. It’s not a big reach to think that Motter might have value to Merlot Joe. Throw him in, but he’ll have to “try not to suck” if he joins the Cubs. (I think that’s their organizational motto, or something.)

  • Tim Beckham, package in trade with Dodgers
  • Taylor Motter, package in trade with Cubs
  • Mikie Mahtook, release him or package as a throw-in
  • Eddie Gamboa, release or throw-in for Cubs or Dodgers deal
  • Steve Geltz, release or throw-in for Cubs or Dodgers deal
  • Matt Andriese, trade to CHC for Soler
  • Chih-Wei Hu, trade to LAD for Barnes

Trades with Both Dodgers and Cubs

My proposed deals with the Cubs and Dodgers are similar in that we’re asking for players they do not really have a strong place for as starters. With Kyle Schwarber coming back, the Cubs need to make room on the diamond. Likewise, the Dodgers don’t have a place for Barnes and they will get more value out of him in trade than in part time work at catcher and second base.

Both of those teams are interested in starting pitching and I propose each deal is headlined by a starter such as:

  • Send Chih-Wei Hu, plus Tim Beckham to LA for Austin Barnes
  • Send Matt Andriese, plus Taylor Motter to Chicago for Jorge Soler.
  • Austin Barnes will provide the Rays with serviceable defense at the dish, with league-average OBP. Plus if his bat proves to be even better at the MLB-level, he can get some time at second or even DH. I would propose keeping Bobby Wilson as the backup to Barnes, with Luke Maile and Casali in Durham in case of injury.
    I like the idea of bringing in Soler because he is on an affordable contract, plus he is probably the odd-man out when Schwarber returns, incentivizing the Cubs to deal. I also believe that Soler and Souza, both, are performing below their previous expectations. Maybe the threat of becoming the fourth outfielder will help one of them rise up. Regardless, neither is below league average — it’s better than trotting Mahtook out there so often, as we did in 2016.
    You may ask, “Huh, why Hu?”
    Well, here is my thought process. First, we got him for practically nothing. Second, his value has built-up among the prospect watchers. And, third, we are dealing from a position of depth and strength (pitching), but not giving up anyone who has a place in the Rays MLB squad until 2018 at the earliest.
    And Andriese? I think he has value as a starter on many MLB clubs in need of a starter, but not as much value for the Rays to keep him. Plus, I don’t like to let his long-term value diminish by keeping him down in the pen. Just like Hu, Andriese is another player we received in trade without much cost to the Rays. Let’s cash those chips in.
    If these trades need more coming from the Rays for enticement, add a prospect to each, but no one from our top 10.
    Free Agents: Joba and Pearce
    I do prefer to build the bullpen from within, but if Joba Chamberlain signs on the cheap, as expected, and assuming that Hickey can work his magic, Joba could fill a few different roles in the pen, ranging from waving the white flag on the low end all the way up to 7th or 8th inning guy. If he is nothing more than a white flag guy, at least the cost is not significant.
    Most of us on DRB were happy with Steve Pearce, with the price and what he delivered for us. Let’s do it again. I fear his tendency to be injured, but he likes it here, and his potential is quite alluring. It’s also nice that he has some positional flexibility, manning 1B and 2B (possibly even corner OF, too, in a pinch).
    There has been much talk about signing Jason Castro as our starting catcher, and I respect that. However, I think the price will end up being out of our budget. If we can get Barnes, and pay him MLB-minimum, that’s a good fit and it keeps payroll low, with no commitment of future dollars.
    Payroll and 25 Man Roster: $73mm
    The payroll figure could grow if Snell signs a long-term deal, but not significantly. I also propose getting one more year from Cobb (2018 for $10mm, or $2mm buyout), and if possible Odor, too. I’m not sure on the terms, nor do I think he’s going to change his mind from last year.
    Everyone listed below will earn per contract, as predicted on MLB Trade Rumors, or MLB minimum. I propose deals of $1.5mm and $5mm for Joba and Pearce, respectively.
    C – Austin Barnes
    C – Bobby Wilson
    INF – Steve Pearce
    INF – Matt Duffy
    INF – Logan Forsythe
    INF – Evan Longoria
    INF – Brad Miller
    UT – Nick Franklin
    OF – Jorge Soler
    OF – Kevin Kiermaier
    OF – Steven Souza Jr.
    OF – Corey Dickerson
    SP – Chris Archer
    SP – Alex Cobb
    SP – Jake Odorizzi
    SP – Drew Smyly
    SP – Blake Snell
    RP – Brad Boxberger
    RP – Xavier Cedeno
    RP – Alex Colome
    RP – Danny Farquhar
    RP – Erasmo Ramirez
    RP – Enny Romero
    RP – Chase Whitley
    RP – Joba Chamberlain
    Line Ups versus LH and RH
    Here are a couple of stabs at lineups. I think these need influence based on who is hot; who is playing hurt and other such influences. I will say that I like to aim for high OBP at the top (not speed). KK seemed to be developing into a leadoff quality hitter late in the season, but I think the jury is still out on that. For now, let’s put him at the top of the righty-facing lineup and back near the bottom versus lefties.
    I am suggesting no pure platoons, but there is the possibility of a platoon between Miller and Pearce at 1B. Frankly, I’d like both to get much more than their platoon-advantaged ABs for the year.

    Versus RHP:

    1. KK (CF)
    2. Frosty (2B)
    3. Miller (1B)
    4. Longo (3B)
    5. BSD (LF)
    6. Pearce (DH)
    7. Souza/Soler (RF)
    8. Duffy (SS)
    9. Barnes/Wilson (C)
    Versus LHP:
    1. Frosty (2B)
    2. Duffy (SS)
    3. Pearce (1B)
    4. Longo (3B)
    5. Souza (RF)
    6. Soler (DH)
    7. Franklin/BSD (LF)
    8. Wilson/Barnes (C)
    9. KK (CF)

    Remainder of 40 Man Roster

    I am not sure of who needs to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, but I am carrying over only nine players from the current 40-man roster. That leaves six slots for players not yet on the 40-man, but needing protection from the draft. Here are the nine I would carry over.
    • Curt Casali (might have to go to LA in my proposed trade for LA to recoup catching depth)
    • Luke Maile
    • Justin O’Conner
    • Ryan Brett
    • Richie Shaffer
    • Taylor Guerrieri
    • Jacob Faria
    • Dylan Floro
    • Ryan Garton
    • (leaving six or seven open slots to protect newly Rule-5 Eligible potential draftees, depending on Casali)

    Assessing the 2016 Bullpen Problems: Does this plan do enough?

    There are reasons to believe that despite the failures of the pen last year that it does not need much outside help. Here is why I believe that to be so:
    • Healthy Boxberger. If he is awful, however, DFA Boxy on May 1, 2017 and replace him with either Stanek or Shultz, based on lots of looks in Spring Training on those two guys.
    • Danny Farquhar seems to be coming around, based on late season performance.
    • Chase Whitley in SSS appears too good to be true.
    • We won’t abuse Erasmo because we learned from the experience. Good Erasmo is worth preserving.
    Summary
    Thus concludes my conservative plan for 2017. It relies on our proven starting pitching, hopefully with an extension for Snell, and trying also to extend Cobb by one year, and Odor similarly. We are stashing a couple of starting pitching options in the pen — Erasmo and Chase Whitley — in case of injury or a late season trade of one our top 5. And it hopefully solves our catching problem for a few years with the oft-mentioned Austin Barnes.
    The 2016 season produced fewer wins than would be projected using a base-runs formula, and with my proposed 2017 roster, the offense should every bit as solid as it was last year. This is a team that can produce 90+ wins in 2017, and accomplishing that will be easier with less churn, particularly among the franchise players.


    Article first appeared on www.draysbay.com