Setting the Rays up to rebound after a disappointing 2016.

Guaranteed Contracts

  • Chris Archer – $4.92 million
  • Evan Longoria – $13.0 million
  • Logan Forsythe – $7.0 million

Arbitration-eligible players

  • Alex Cobb (5.061) – $4.0 million
  • Bobby Wilson (5.057) – $1.1 million
  • Drew Smyly (4.154) – $6.9 million
  • Erasmo Ramirez (3.158) – $3.5 million
  • Brad Boxberger (3.109) – $1.5 million
  • Corey Dickerson (3.101) – $3.4 million
  • Brad Miller (3.094) – $3.8 million
  • Xavier Cedeno (3.060) – $1.2 million
  • Jake Odorizzi (3.042) – $4.6 million
  • Danny Farquhar (2.168) – $1.1 million
  • Kevin Kiermaier (2.131) – $2.1 million

Everybody except Bobby Wilson gets tendered a contract

Pending Free agents

  • Alexei Ramirez – $3.0 million in 2016
  • Kevin Jepsen – $5.31 million in 2016
  • Logan Morrison – $4.20 million in 2016

Kevin Jepsen’s biggest contribution to the Rays is helping the Rays acquire Chih-Wei Hu at the 2015 trade deadline. I’d offer him a Non Roster Invite to spring training, but think somebody else might give him a better deal.

Logan Morrison was pretty solid once he got going after posting one of the worst months in Rays history in April, but there just isn’t a roster spot available for somebody with his skills in 2017.

What really needs to be said about Alexei Ramirez? He was a solid shortstop for many years, but those days are well behind him.

Where should the Rays look to improve?

I believe the base of the roster is much better than their 68-94 record. They have a lot of talent. This isn’t the Braves or Twins MLB roster. I believe they performed much closer to their 77-85 pythagorean win percentage or their 81-81 BaseRuns records.

The Rays had a very mixed season, but there were some very big steps forward taken by the end of the season on the offensive side of the ball. The acquisition of Matt Duffy in the Matt Moore trade will fill a hole and improve their defense, which was not at the elite level to which Rays fans have become accustomed. A full season from Kiermaier and improved defense at short should lead to better numbers next season.

My main goal for improving the team going into 2017 is to get a catcher who can face most righties. I wasn’t a huge Curt Casali fan heading into 2016, because I didn’t believe in his bat or glove. He improved on the defensive side of the ball in 2016. None of his defensive skills are elite, but he’s above average in just about everything you want out of your catcher on defense. He hits left handed pitching really well (106 wRC+ career and 101 wRC+ in 2016). I want a left handed bat that won’t cost you much defensively and ideally brings value with his defense. This position is where you can see the most cost efficient improvement: get somebody who grades out as average and you could see a two win improvement.

I want to bring in an outfielder to push Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza, Jr. in the corners. They are likely average there and there just isn’t a lot of talent right now in corners so it won’t be easy. I’d love if the addition could fake it enough in center for Kiermaier get the occasional day off without damaging the team too badly.

Being a designated hitter is really difficult. I want to bring in the best bat I can afford to plug into the DH spot. I would prefer this bat to be right handed with the ability to play 1B as a backup/platoon partner to Brad Miller. My main goal is to bring in the best bat; experience as a DH would be a plus.

The bullpen wasn’t good last year, but there are usable pieces. I’d like to bring in the best reliever I can since the free agent pool is quite deep. Most of the gains will come from removing the awful production from Steve Geltz and Dana Eveland.

Trades

As always trades are where the Rays will add cost-controlled value.

First, let’s find that catcher. The Rays trade 3B Richie Shaffer, RHP Jacob Faria or RHP Taylor Guerrieri, and RP Brad Boxberger to the Reds for C Tucker Barnhart. Barnhart is a switch hitting catcher who has a major platoon split. His defense grades out just above average. He’s more of a contact hitter, but he’s hit .266/.338/.376 and 89 wRC+ and coming off a season where he hit .271/.344/.400 and 95 wRC+ against right handed pitchers. It could make sense for the Reds because it frees Shaffer to return to his best position, 3B, and that has a giant roadblock for the Rays. They also acquire a pitcher who they can throw into their rotation whether they want Faria who could be in their rotation right now or if they prefer Guerrieri’s upside as a groundball innings eater. They also get Boxberger to help a bullpen that was absolutely terrible and made the Rays bullpen look very good. Boxberger isn’t expensive and they can try to build up his value to unload him for a bigger return later.

Next, I call the Marlins and try to get Christian Yelich, get turned down in all offers, but talk them into moving Marcell Ozuna for pitching help. The Rays trade LHP Drew Smyly, OF Mikie Mahtook, and RHP Hunter Wood for OF Marcell Ozuna. The Marlins are in a really tough spot as they have good major league pieces, but they need pitchers (RIP Jose) and they don’t have the trade capital without trading from the MLB team or money to bring in starting pitchers. They have a good outfield of Yelich, Ozuna, and Giancarlo Stanton, but it’s probably the spot they can afford to trade a piece to get a pitcher. Stanton’s contract and injury history make him very hard to move and Yelich has blossomed into a potential superstar with an incredibly team- friendly contract. That leaves Ozuna as a piece they could move. Mahtook could pair well with Ichiro to make a workable platoon alongside Yelich and Stanton. Smyly is a rebound candidate at a reasonable cost. Wood gives them a pitcher who is likely to be a back end of the rotation type, but could give them some spot starts in 2017 and be in their rotation in 2018. The lack of depth in the minors is one of their biggest weakness and this helps.

Free Agency

Rays sign DH/1B Mike Napoli to a 1 year $12MM contract. My goal is to sign one of Napoli, Matt Holliday, or Steve Pearce. Napoli is my first choice because of durability and ability to fill in at 1B or platoon with Miller if need be. He has some experience at DH which puts him ahead of Holliday for me. Pearce will be cheaper and he isn’t necessarily worse, but you’re paying for durability. Pearce is a year and a half younger, but he has never been able to be available for long stretches. He’s only posted 300 PA three times and he’s maxed out at 383 PA. Napoli has received 400+ PA eight years in a row. You’re paying for his health skill.

Rays sign RP Brad Ziegler to a 2 year $14MM contract. The Rays can’t afford to give out many contracts long term for money as dead money at the end hurts the Rays so much more than others. The Rays ate almost $10MM of Loney’s deal last year and that made things much more difficult in 2016. Brad Ziegler is a 37 old pitcher that doesn’t rely on velocity. He’s a sinker/slider guy that tops out in the mid 80s. His age should make him more affordable and his groundball inducing skills are elite. He gives the Rays a guy that’s different from the rest of the pen and he’s done well in high leverage situations. He could throw in the 8th, 9th, or when you need a groundball.

25 Man Roster

C: Curt Casali

C: Tucker Barnhart

1B: Brad Miller

2B: Logan Forsythe

SS: Matt Duffy

3B: Evan Longoria

CF: Kevin Kiermaier

OF: Marcell Ozuna

OF: Steven Souza, Jr.

OF: Corey Dickerson

DH: Mike Napoli

UTI: Nick Franklin

UTI: Tim Beckham

SP: Chris Archer

SP: Jake Odorizzi

SP: Blake Snell

SP: Alex Cobb

SP: Erasmo Ramirez/Matt Andriese

RP: Brad Ziegler

RP: Alex Colome

RP: Xavier Cedeno

RP: Danny Farquhar

RP: Matt Andriese/Erasmo Ramirez

RP: Chase Whitley

RP: Eddie Gamboa/Enny Romero + Shuttle

The total cost comes to $75.8MM plus $1.5MM deferred in accordance with Evan Longoria’s contract.

This fills all the major holes and should give them a roster that has a good shot at competing for a playoff spot. They don’t have enough talent or money to brute force the division in the manor of the Red Sox or Cubs. The talent is there if they play up to their capabilities.

The team was depth with potential impacts from Willy Adames, Casey Gillaspie, Brent Honeywell, and Chih-Wei Hu in 2017; the team looks poised to take a giant step forward after a down 2016.


Article first appeared on www.draysbay.com