Just two weeks away from the trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays have clearly emerged as contenders in the AL East, standing atop the Wild Card race and just 2.5 games out of first place in the division.
Like usual, GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays probably won’t make much noise at the deadline, but it is likely that we see at least one minor trade later this month.
Here’s my ranking for the organization’s top four best bargaining chips.
4. Ryan Roberts
Ryan Roberts is one of the most likely trade candidates for the Rays at the deadline. With the team healthy and the offense functioning well, Tampa Bay simply does not have a spot for him on the roster, which is why he’s currently playing in Triple-A.
If the Rays do try to make a move at the deadline, expect to see them shopping Roberts.
3. Enny Romero
One of the Rays’ top pitching prospects, Enny Romero was just selected to his second consecutive All-Star Futures Game earlier this week. The 22-year-old left-hander has exciting potential and has looked good this year with Class AA Montgomery.
With the emergence of Chris Archer, Alex Torres, Alex Colome and Jake Odorizzi, could Romero be a possible trade candidate?
I don’t expect to see Friedman even attempt to trade him, but if he does decide to dig deep for prospects, this may be a good time to deal Romero with his stock pretty high.
2. Kelly Johnson
Could Kelly Johnson be a potential trade target for clubs seeking a bat and some depth? The 31-year-old is enjoying a strong comeback year in Tampa Bay, posting a .762 OPS with a 113 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) and a 1.8 WAR.
Since his contract is expiring at the end of the year, Andrew Friedman may listen to some offers for Johnson but I doubt he’ll pull the trigger. He’s a key part of a team that plans on competing in October, so I don’t think it would be the right choice to deal an important piece like Johnson.
1. Roberto Hernandez
Roberto Hernandez’s numbers this season in the back end of the Rays’ rotation aren’t too pretty: 5-10 with a 4.90 ERA and a 4.58 FIP. However, Hernandez has shown some flashes of his All-Star Fausto Carmona days, posting a career-high 3.36 K/BB rate.
With rookie Chris Archer appearing to be more than capable of pitching in the Rays’ rotation and Alex Cobb returning soon, the Rays may look into trading Hernandez, who will be a free agent after this season.
If the Rays decide to hang on to him, he might find himself with a role in the bullpen.
It was a productive offseason for general manager Andrew Friedman, as he significantly bolstered the Tampa Bay Rays’ offense and organizational depth.
The Rays made headlines this winter when they pulled off a huge blockbuster with Kansas City, trading away James Shields and Wade Davis for a talented haul of prospects which included Wil Myers. Tampa Bay also filled in some crucial holes on their roster via free agency, signing James Loney to play first base and Yunel Escobar for shortstop.
Of course, some acquisitions haven’t turned out to be as good as others, but at the end of the day it was a successful offseason for the Rays.
Here’s my updated evaluation and grading on every offseason signee.
*Take note that only players on the 25-man active roster are included. I also excluded players who were re-signed (Kyle Farnsworth and Luke Scott) from this article.
Kelly Johnson has been arguably the best free-agent acquisition for the Rays, well exceeding expectations so far this season. Johnson, who had not very productive 2011 and 2012 seasons, has rebounded in a huge way in 2013.
He’s posted a .275/.340/.515 slash line with 10 homers, 35 RBI and a 134 wRC+. Johnson has been strong defensively as well, compiling a 2.4 UZR after putting up a -6.9 UZR last season.
It’s safe to say that he’s well worth the $2.45 million that he’s being paid in his one-year deal.
When the Rays lost James Shields and Wade Davis in the Wil Myers blockbuster, Andrew Friedman felt that it was necessary to pick up an additional arm that can contribute to the starting rotation and/or bullpen. He went out and signed veteran sinkerballer Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million.
After 10 starts with the Rays, Hernandez has posted a 4.87 ERA with a 4.69 FIP and 7.85 K/9. Nobody really expected him to return to frontline-starter form, but if he keeps up this kind of performance he’ll eventually be demoted from the rotation to either a bullpen spot or the minor leagues.
With the emergence of Alex Torres, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome, Hernandez’s job is definitely in jeopardy. If Hernandez can’t maintain his rotation spot, hopefully he can make a positive contribution to the bullpen with his groundball services.
After a down year with the Dodgers and Red Sox in 2012, the Rays didn’t know how much production they would get out of James Loney this season. So far he’s been more than a best-case scenario, batting .324/.390/.516 with a very impressive 150 wRC+.
The $2 million that the Rays are paying their starting first baseman this year is more than a bargain.
Loney has not only outperformed Carlos Pena offensively as Tampa Bay’s first baseman, but he’s also provided a lot of value defensively, as he’s been one of the better fielding first basemen in the league for a while. He’s been a key part of both the Rays’ improved offense and defense in 2013.
Acquiring Yunel Escobar was another smart pick-up by Andrew Friedman this offseason. Adding Escobar was a great decision in all respects; the Rays only gave away a Single-A [not-top] prospect in the trade for him and also have the veteran shortstop under a reasonable $5 million contract through 2015.
Although Escobar hasn’t been very productive offensively (currently owns a .299 wOBA, which is actually higher than projected and not too bad for a shortstop), he’s been extremely valuable to this Rays team.
In the previous two seasons, the Rays couldn’t get any kind of stable production from the shortstop position, tooling around with different mediocre-at-best players such as Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac. With Escobar, the Rays no longer have that problem.
For the first time since 2010, Tampa Bay has a defensively-solid everyday shortstop.
The Rays made some noise this week in what has been one quiet month in the offseason.
Andrew Friedman signed a quartet of free agents to minor league contracts on Tuesday, including right-handed relievers Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly known as Leo Nunez), Jamey Wright and Juan Sandoval, as well as OF Shelley Duncan. He added to the FA shopping spree Thursday by re-signing veteran righty Kyle Farnsworth and left-handed DH Luke Scott.
Oviedo, 30, saved 92 games during his three seasons with the Marlins (2009-2011), where he posted a 3.86 ERA through 198.0 IP. Due to a suspension for identity fraud and an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, he didn’t pitch at all in the majors in 2012. Unfortunately for the Rays, Oviedo is going to miss most of this season as well to recover, which is why they added a 2014 option to his contract.
Shelley Duncan, the second biggest name in these signings, was a rather interesting pick-up. Back in a 2008 spring training game between Tampa Bay and the Yankees, Duncan started a bench-clearing brawl by purposely sliding hard into second baseman Akinori Iwamura. The 33-year-old right-handed power hitter will provide some depth in the corner outfield positions and might even end up at DH if the Rays fail to sign someone. Duncan is a .229/.306/.427 lifetime hitter who hit 11 homers and less than 50 RBI during each of his last three seasons with Cleveland, where he averaged 80 games per season. With that mediocre production and below-average defense, hopefully the Rays can find somebody better qualified in the next month to serve as the team’s DH.
Jamey Wright, a 38-year-old reliever with 17 years of MLB experience, could very possibly give Tampa’s ‘pen a nice boost. A very affordable option, Wright has proven to be one of the better groundball specialists in the league. Over the past three seasons with Seattle and Los Angeles, he’s posted a groundball percentage of 62.4%. That’s better than Burke Badenhop’s rate, who Wright could very likely replace in the bullpen.
Thirty-two year-old Juan Sandoval completes the trio of right-handed relievers acquired by the Rays Tuesday. Sandoval has never pitched in the big leagues, but he has spent the last two season in the Mexican League at the Triple-A level. One very intriguing fact about Sandoval is that he’s blind in one eye due to a pellet gun accident.
As for Kyle Farnsworth, well, Rays fans already know what kind of contributions he can give to the ‘pen. Farnsworth posted a 4.00 ERA with 8.3 K/9 through just 27 innings last year after missing most of the season due to an elbow injury. However, he had a career year as the team’s closer in 2011 when he went 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA and 25 saves.
Tampa Bay continued their busy Thursday by making another re-signing, but this one a bit more surprising. Lacking an adequate designated hitter, the Rays went out and signed Luke Scott despite declining his $6 million option in October and paying for his $1 million buyout. Scott had disappointing 2012 season with the Rays, batting just .229/.285/.439 with 14 homers and 55 RBI through just 96 games.
So, what does this flurry recent acquisitions mean for the current state of the Rays?
The bullpen now appears to be set with the additions of Farnsworth, Oviedo and Wright. The offensive depth just got better as well, as the Rays added both a right-handed and left-handed power bat in Shelley Duncan and Luke Scott.
Bats such as Travis Hafner, Juan Rivera, Carlos Lee, Jim Thome, Dan Johnson and Aubrey Huff are still available on the market, but the Rays are more than likely done with free agent signings this offseason as the roster seems to be set. Scott will probably end up as the starting DH as he was last year, and the Rays appear to be going with Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton as their two catchers to start the season.
It’s nice to see Friedman get the job done again this offseason by filling in all of the holes in the roster by the most affordable means possible. Rays fans should be confident that their team will have yet another successful bullpen in 2013, as Tampa once again displayed their ability to reconstruct what could potentially be one of baseball’s better ‘pens.
Baseball’s long winter is finally coming to an end. Today, pitchers and catchers will report to camp, concluding the four month offseason in the return of our national pastime. As expected, the financially-limited Rays didn’t make too much noise this winter. Coming into the offseason, there were a lot of questions regarding the multiple holes on the roster. The Rays knew they had to address the open spots at DH, first base, and catcher. Fortunately, the front office was able to fill in the holes during the winter, in efforts to bring back another successful season to Tampa Bay. Although the Rays did not make a huge splash in MLB’s Hot Stove frenzy, they have a pretty good amount of new additions joining the club this spring. Here’s an evaluation of every single Rays offseason move.
Back in October, the Rays were met with their first main task of the offseason. A decision had to be made on whether the Rays were going to exercise their club option on James Shields, Kyle Farnsworth, and Kelly Shoppach. The Rays picked up the options on Shields and Farnsworth, but declined Shoppach. By exercising Shields’ option, the Rays will be paying him $7.5 million in 2012. Farnsworth will be making $3.3 million during the 2012 season, which is $700 thousand more than he made last season. Shoppach, who’s now a member of the Boston Red Sox, recieved a $300K buyout by being declined. To recap the Rays’ decisions on club options, they were able to bring back their ace and closer from last season. Both Farnsworth and Shields were obviously a huge part of the Rays’ success last year. At 35-years-old, Farnsworth may of had the best season of his 13-year career with the Rays, posting a 2.18 ERA with 25 saves and a 5-1 record. Shields also had a career year, leading the Rays’ pitching staff in 2011 with ridiculous numbers. Shoppach on the other hand, was a disappointment. The backstop batted an atrocious .176 average while driving in just 22 RBI’s. Although he did much better down the stretch and his defense was not bad, it’s easy to see why the Rays decided not to keep Shoppach, even with their catching situation.
Overall Grade: A
John Jaso-Josh Lueke Trade
Even after signing Molina, the Rays surprised everybody by parting ways with another backstop. This time it was John Jaso, who was traded to Seattle back in November. In exchange for Jaso, the Rays recieved relief pitcher Josh Lueke and cash considerations (or a player to be named). Lueke has one year of big league experience under his belt, after pitching 32.2 innings out of the Mariners’ bullpen last season. He posted a high 6.06 ERA while struggling through his rookie year. Lueke’s under-par numbers may not be the biggest concern the Rays have about him. Lueke’s criminal past is something the Rays are very aware of. While playing in the Rangers’ organization in 2008, Lueke was charged with rape and would serve jail time. The Rays seem confident that Lueke’s legal trouble won’t be an issue in the future, and believe that he can help reinforce the bullpen. As for losing John Jaso, he probably won’t be missed much in Tampa Bay. The 28-year-old saw a big decline in his offensive numbers last year, while continuing to struggle defensively.
Overall Grade: C+
Acquiring Jose Molina
Once the Rays cut ties with both of their main catchers from 2011, it was imminent that they were going to find a backstop to fill in that big hole on the roster. The Rays took their first dip into free agency, and emerged with veteran Jose Molina. The 36-year-old was signed to a one-year deal including an option for 2013. Molina will be paid $1.5 million this season, and $1.8 million next year if the Rays exercise his option. He batted a career-best .281 last year through his 55 games with the Blue Jays. His defense and experience is what’s most attractive to the Rays, as Molina has a gun of an arm behind the plate. Molina threw out 36.5% of runners attempting to steal during the last four seasons, which is the MLB’s highest percentage during that span. Throwing out baserunners was one of the Rays’ weaknesses last year, and Friedman did a good job of addressing that by signing Molina.
Overall Grade: B+
Matt Moore Contract Extension
The contract extension of phenom Matt Moore was probably the highlight of the Rays’ offseason. The Rays were able to pull of a great move, locking up baseball’s most hyped-up prospect long-term. With the ridiculous potential that he has, the huge eight-year contract extension they signed with Moore is a bargain. Moore is guaranteed $14 million through five years, and has an additional three years of options. If Moore plays through all eight years of his contract, the overall value will be worth around $40 million. It’s a lot of money for a team like the Rays, but it’s well worth it considering the type of player Moore is. Below is a breakdown of Moore’s eight-year deal (courtesy of spotrac.com):
Overall Grade: A+
Burke Badenhop Trade
The Rays made their second offseason trade for a relief pitcher back in December, when they traded minor league catcher Jake Jefferies to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Burke Badenhop. “The Hopper” posted a 4.10 ERA and a 2-3 record out of the ‘pen last year, and owns a career ERA of 4.34 through his four big league seasons. As for the Marlins’ side of the deal, the Rays didn’t give away much at all by trading minor leaguer Jake Jefferies. The 24-year-old backstop has never made is a career .254 hitter, and has never made it past the Class-AA level.
Overall Grade: A
Signing Fernando Rodney
The Rays continued their emphasis on bullpen help when they signed veteran right-hander Fernando Rodney to a one year deal. This time though, they picked up a bullpen arm via free agency. The Rays signed the 34-year-old to a one-year deal worth about $2 million. Rodney struggled with his control last year during his season with the Los Angeles Angels last year, resulting in some disappointing numbers. He posted a 4.50 ERA with just three saves. Rodney has had success in the past, however, saving 37 games with Detroit in 2009. He has been on a downslide since then, but keep in mind that the Rays seem to have the magical touch of reviving relievers who are past their prime. Hopefully, Rodney can continue that trend and be solid arm in the bullpen this season.
Overall Grade: B-
Non-Tender Deadline Deals
The Rays had tender choices to make on seven arbitration-eligible players before the deadline last December. B.J. Upton, J.P. Howell, Joel Peralta, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and the newly-acquired Burke Badenhop were all tendered. The one player non-tendered was Andy Sonnanstine, who is now a Chicago Cub. The only unpredictable news that came out of the Rays’ non-tender deadline deals, was the tendering of J.P. Howell’s contract. As the deadline loomed, there was a big question whether Howell would be a Ray next year. The organization’s steadfast belief in Howell prevailed, and J.P. will get another shot to return to his top form with Tampa Bay.
Luke Scott Acquisition
With Johnny Damon a free agent, the Designated Hitter role was one roster hole the Rays knew they needed to fill in. They did exactly that, picking up veteran slugger Luke Scott off the free agent market. The 33-year-old was signed to a one-year deal worth $5 million, including a 2013 option worth $6 million ($1.5 buyout). Scott has spent the last four seasons in Baltimore, ending his tenure there with an injury-riddled 2011 season. Before 2011, however, Scott established himself as a consistent 20+ homer guy with the Orioles. He also owns a career line of .264/.349/.494 and a 162-game average of 79 RBI’s. Scott is the kind of quality hitter that the Rays need, and the stats definitely show that. His powerful left-handed bat fits perfectly in the meat of the Rays’ lineup, and is exactly what the Rays lacked last year.
Overall Grade: A-
Arbitration Deadline Deals
As the January arbitration deadline drew near, the Rays had six arbitration-eligible players to negotiate with. B.J. Upton, David Price, Burke Badenhop, Jeff Niemann, Joel Peralta, and J.P. Howell were all looking to work out a deal to avoid an arbitration hearing. Everyone except Jeff Niemann was able to agree to a deal, which resulted in just one player entering an arbitration hearing. Below are the details on all five of the deadline deals. Note that all projections are from MLBTradeRumors.com’s Projected Arbitration Salaries list.
- B.J. Upton- $7 million; $7.6 million projected.
- David Price- $4.35 million; $7.8 million projected
- J.P. Howell- $1.35 million; $1.4 million projected
- Joel Peralta- $2.175 million; $2 million projected
- Burke Badenhop- $1.075 million; $1.1 million projected
As you can see, the Rays did an outstanding job of negotiating before the deadline. The Rays agreed to a deal that was cheaper than the projected salary of every player, except for set-up man Joel Peralta. The highlight of the deadline deals was Price’s salary agreement, where the Rays saved some big bucks. Price will earn $4.35 million this season, in contrast to the $7.8 million that was projected. They also worked out a pretty good deal with Upton, keeping his 2012 earnings at just $7 million. As for Niemann’s arbitration hearing earlier this month, that also went well for the Rays. Not surprisingly Niemann lost, resulting in an agreement of $2.75 million. The salary is $350,000 less than the projection, and $450,000 less than the Niemann asked for. The penny smart Rays continue their undefeated arbitration record, as they’re now 6-0 (5-0 under Friedman).
Overall Grade: A+
The Return of Carlos Pena
Bringing back Carlos Pena to Tampa was probably the offseason’s most exciting moment for the Rays and their fans. With Casey Kotchman a free agent, the Rays were in desperate need of a first baseman. They found their man (our re-found) in Pena, signing him to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. Pena spent four years in Tampa Bay (2007-2010), compiling a total 144 homers and 407 RBI’s with a line of .238/.368/.516/. He played one season with the Chicago Cubs last season, batting .225 with 28 home runs and 80 RBI’s. Pena’s big-time power is something the Rays really could of used last year. If Pena can continue his homerun-hitting consistency, his presence in the lineup can make the Rays a scary good team.
Overall Grade: A-
Signing Jeff Keppinger
Picking up someone to add to the middle-infield was apparently one of the Rays’ tasks this offseason. The Rays signed veteran Jeff Keppinger to a one-year, $1.525 million deal. Keppinger, who owns a career line of .281/.332/.388, is a pretty solid contact hitter. He’s not impressive on the base paths, defensively, or power-wise; but he has the ability to get on base. The Rays are looking forward to his right-handed average-hitting type of bat in the lineup. Keppinger also has some versatility; filling in at shortstop, second (main position), and third base.
Overall Grade: B
Russ Canzler Trade
In a trade that surprised many, Rays’ farmhand Russ Canzler was traded away to the Cleveland Indians for cash considerations. Canzler had a terrific season at Class-AAA last year, earning him the International League MVP award. He batted .314 with 83 RBI’s and 18 homers last year for AAA Durham. Despite good numbers throughout his minor league career, Canzler has never been considered a high-ranked prospect in either the Rays’ organization or the Cubs’ organization. The reason why he was traded to Cleveland was solely because he has no spot on the Rays’ roster. Canzler simply does not fit in on the Rays defense-based infield. Canzler can also play some corner outfield, but he also has no defensive value there. As for the DH position, that too is occupied with signing of Luke Scott.
Overall Grade: C
Joe Maddon Contract Extension
Skipper Joe Maddon’s three-year contract extension is the most recent news of the Rays’ offseason. This move may of been the biggest no-brainer of them all, as keeping Maddon was an absolute must-do. The two-time AL Manager of the Year will be paid about $6 million over the course of three years. Considering how much Maddon means to an MLB team, it’s one of the biggest bargains you’re ever going to see in the business. The Rays are going to love getting used to seeing Joe Maddon around, if they aren’t already.
Overall Grade: A+
Minor League Signings
The Rays signed a total of nine players to minor league contracts this offseason. Below is a list of all of them.
- OF Jesus Feliciano
- INF Matt Mangini
- 1B Juan Miranda
- LHP Jhonny Nunez
- INF Will Rhymes
- RHP Romulo Sanchez
- C Chris Gimenez
- OF Brad Coon
- OF Jeff Salazar
Players to keep an eye out for:
- Matt Mangini- The former first-round draft pick, owns a .321 with 104 RBI’s and 20 home runs through 175 games at Class-AAA ball. Mangini plays first base and third base.
- Juan Miranda- The 28 year-old first baseman possesses raw power, but his just .226 through his 111 career MLB games. Miranda also hit 37 RBI’s and 11 home runs in his four seasons of big league experience.
- Will Rhymes- The 5’9″ second baseman has spent his whole professional career with the Detroit Tigers’ organization. Rhymes has established himself as a good contact hitter, owning a career line of .283/.341/.370 through his 83 big league games and a career .291 average in the minors. His defense at second is maybe average, and his speed is pretty good.
Overall Grade: B
If one thing’s for sure, the Rays have to be satisfied with themselves entering Spring Training. The Rays were successful in filling in all three of their main roster holes; catcher, first base, and DH. Not only were they able to get the guys they needed this winter, but they also did plenty of bargaining. For a small-market team like the Rays, making penny-wise deals is crucial during the offseason. The Rays set a perfect example of how financially-limited teams should operate, by doing a terrific job of negotiating free agent acquisitions and contract extensions this winter. However, I don’t think it was a perfect offseason for Friedman & Co. The Rays may of whiffed at a few possible trades that should of been made, which would of traded away their surplus of pitching for a bat. One example of where the Rays could of been more aggressive was trading for top prospects Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, who were both on the trade block and were perfect fits in Tampa. Instead, both of those big bats ended up in San Diego after a five-player swap with the Reds. Another player the Rays might of missed out on was Anthony Rizzo, who was traded to the Cubs last month. Looking at the players Chicago had to give up to acquire Rizzo, the Rays likely will regret not snagging a phenom first-base prospect like Rizzo. Back to the bright side of things, the Rays did avoid one trade that wouldn’t be such a smart idea. Despite trade rumors throughout the whole offseason, the Rays were able to hang on to B.J. Upton. Many will argue that trading away the Rays’ centerfielder is the right choice, but Upton is actually a big part of an offense that’s lacking. Along with Upton, the Rays were able to keep (or replace) all their main offensive figures from last season.As for the rotation, all the starters from last year will be back in Tampa this season, with addition of Matt Moore’s superstar talent.
At the end of the day, it’s hard not to say the Rays’ front office got the job done this winter.
Overall Grade for the Rays’ Offseason: A-
As 2011 comes to a conclusion, the Rays’ Hot Stove is about to heat up. Since the Andrew Friedman era started back in 2005, January has been the month with the most off-field activity. As you can see in the picture above (Courtesy of DRaysBay.com), January is clearly the busiest month for the Rays’ front office. That brings up the big question; what moves will the Rays make this month? With constant rumors starting to flare, all signs are pointing towards offseason action in the coming weeks. With four new names emerging in Rays chatter in just the last five days, things could get interesting here.
Free agent Ryan Theriot is one of those names who’s apparently attracting interest from the Rays. According to sources, the Rays are among multiple teams that may be after Theriot’s middle-infield services. Last year, Theriot batted .271 and also contributed with solid defense at two positions for the World Champion Cardinals. I don’t see the Rays landing Theriot as a high possibility, but it could be a good acquisition considering the Rays’ shortstop situation.
The next couple of players have made a splash in Rays rumors lately, and definitely should excite Rays Republic. John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that the Rays may work out a trade with the Angels, bringing either Kendry Morales or Mark Trumbo to Tampa Bay. The potential trade suggested here makes a lot of sense. With Albert Pujols now the team’s future first baseman, the Angels are stuck with two extra first baseman. It seems likely that LA would shop one of the two, and Tampa appears like a probable destination. The Angels would probably be looking for another starter to add to an already-impressive rotation, while the Rays are in need of a first baseman. If you remember, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann are still sitting on the trade block, and it wouldn’t be a shocker if LA is keeping a close eye. The Rays absolutely need to aggressively pursue a trade for either Trumbo or Morales this month. These are a pair of two talented sluggers who could really bolster the Rays’ offense. Trumbo had a great rookie season for the Angels last year, finishing second place in the ROY voting. The 25 year-old belted 29 homers and knocked in 87 RBI’s, giving the Angels’ a huge offensive boost during the season. Morales seems to be more of an attractive trade piece for the Angels rather than an current interest of the Rays. The obvious reason for this is his famous 2010 injury, which kept him out of the whole 2011 season. Still, his terrific production during his ’09 and ’10 seasons may soon open up eyes in the front office. Of course none of this will be necessary if the Rays can pull of a trade with Anthony Rizzo, who should be the main target right now.
The last name that could develop into a rumor later this month is Kurt Suzuki. There haven’t been reports of any teams interested in him yet, but the possibility of him leaving Oakland in the near future is no secret. Even though the Rays signed Jose Molina to fill in at the catcher spot, the backstop issues aren’t over by no means. Suzuki isn’t anyone to get too excited about, though. The 28 year-old Hawaiian owns a career .258 batting average with mediocre run production, and also has proven to be decent defensively. Obviously, this is much better than most of the Rays’ future catching options. However, Suzuki’s contract is a bit expensive for the Rays, and it’s debatable whether he’s worth spending the money on. Chances are the Rays will have to do with Jose Molina in 2012.
Contract extensions are where Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays shine. The Rays have done a terrific job in recent years locking up young talent with very reasonable contract deals. Past young stars such as Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields, Carl Crawford, and Ben Zobrist were all signed to long-term contracts with the Rays. The club kept the trend going this offseason, signing phenom pitcher Matt Moore to an eight-year extension. As more talented youth continues to emerge from the depths of Durham, more names continue to be recognized as extension candidates. Let’s take a look a look at the Rays’ most probable contract extension candidates.
Matt Joyce is currently the club’s most renown extension candidate. With Carl Crawford gone and B.J. Upton possibly leaving sometime within the next year, Matt Joyce could be a big part of the outfield in the years to come. Joyce is exactly the type of player the Rays want in their future. At just 27, Joyce already provides a big left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup. Last year in his first full MLB season, he was the only Rays position player elected to the All Star Game in Phoenix. Joyce finished the season with a .277 average and 75 RBI’s, and showed major improvement in both his defensive and running game. A contract extension is probably an attractive option for both the Rays and Joyce. Joyce is a young player seeking long-term financial stability, while the Rays are a team looking for effective power hitters like him. I definitely see a contract extension for Matt Joyce as a possibility for the Rays, and I’m hopeful the team can work out a deal with him. I believe that signing Joyce to an extension this offseason is the right move for the Rays. Offensive production is vital for the Rays’ future, and a decently-priced deal could also be in line here. In a past article from ESPNFlorida.com, analyst Tommy Rancel brings up an intriguing idea on how a Joyce extension might work out. He states that Ben Zobrist’s contract, $18 million through four years plus two club options, could serve as a blueprint for a potential extension with Joyce. A recent article via MLBTradeRumors.com mentions some more points that could favor a contract extension. It suggests that Joyce could offer a discount, being a Tampa native. The article also talks about how Joyce’s lack of a big draft signing bonus could make him more interested in signing the extension. Hopefully, both Joyce and the Rays see the same golden opportunity here that I do. Andrew Friedman is on a roll, and we’ll see if he can pull off another masterpiece yet again.
Rookie outfielder Desmond Jennings is one of baseball’s young stars ready to take flight. Unlike most of the Rays’ talented young stars, Jennings isn’t a pitcher. He’s a wanted commodity in Tampa Bay, and he’s player the Rays really need to get a grip on. In his anticipated rookie season in 2011, Jennings was everything the Rays had expected and more. His great speed, defense, and contact hitting was already acknowledged by scouts everywhere, but his electric power that he displayed was a bit of a surprise. Like fellow candidate Matt Joyce, Jennings is also a huge part of the team’s future in the outfield. He is the complete package, and the Rays are really excited about this guy. Considering how much the Rays would love to have a player like Jennings in their future, a long-term extension with him could be very possible. Jennings is under team control for six more seasons, which is good news. Interestingly, Evan Longoria and Matt Moore are the only other Rays players ever to be extended for all six years of their team control. Longoria was guaranteed six seasons and Moore was guaranteed five season. Both were given three years of club options. The reason for the Rays’ larger commitment towards Longoria is because Moore (being a pitcher) is at a higher risk for injury. If the Rays decide to offer Jennings a contract extension, it will probably be more like Moore’s. The reason for this, is that the 25 year-old has already experienced a number of injuries in his professional career. Jennings’ health issues are obviously something that will go against the chance of an extension. However, the likeliness of B.J. Upton leaving the Rays next year is something that definitely favors a long-term deal. At the end of the day, I think it’s a no-brainer to extend Jennings’ contract. We’re talking about the future leadoff hitter of the team here, and someone who I believe will be essential to the Rays’ offense in the coming years. Locking up Jennings for the long-term will come with a price, but it’s well worth the money.
2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, by no surprise, is an appealing extension candidate. After winning the prestigious ROY Award, making efforts to negotiate some sort of long-term deal with Hellboy seems inevitable. Of course the Rays and all their fans would love to see Hellickson pitching in Tampa for as long as possible, but a contract extension would be pretty pricey. After such a stunning rookie season, Helly can obviously make a good case for a salary. The money is really the only thing that would get in the way of an extension. If the Rays and Hellickson work out a deal, it would be something like the contract agreements of fellow starters Wade Davis, James Shields, and Matt Moore (click here for a chart via DRaysBay.com). That means it would be somewhere in the range of 4-5 years guaranteed, with probably three years of club options. Considering the Rays’ surplus of starting pitching right now, I don’t see a long-term deal with Hellickson as much of a necessity as a Desmond Jennings extension. Still, keeping Hellickson in Tampa Bay is something the Rays should work on this offseason.
This Monday was a busy day for Rays. During the same day the club’s tender decisions were due, the Rays traded for another bullpen arm. Andrew Friedman picked up right-handed Burke Badenhop from the Miami Marlins, in exchange for minor league catcher Jake Jefferies. Like the earlier trade for Josh Lueke, this one was also a surprise. Another mediocre catcher traded for another mediocre reliever. It’s obvious now that the Rays are heavily emphasizing on reinforcing the bullpen. Badenhop went 2-3 with a 4.10 ERA for the Marlins last year. The 28 year-old has a career 4.34 ERA through his four big league seasons. The stats are nothing special, but Marlins fans still seem to love the guy. “The Hopper”, as he is nicknamed, has been a fan favorite in the Marlins community. Hopefully he’ll also be a hit with the Rays; on and off the field.
Besides negotiating the Badenhop trade, the Rays also had some tender options to make. B.J. Upton, David Price, Joel Peralta, Jeff Niemann, J.P. Howell, and Andy Sonnanstine were all arbitration-eligible before the deadline. As expected, Upton, Price, Peralta, and Niemann were all tendered. Both Sonnanstine and Howell on the other hand, were projected to be non-tendered.
Howell posted a lopsided 6.16 ERA last year, and Sonnanstine put up a high 5.55 ERA. At the end of the day, the Rays decided to tender Howell and part ways with Sonnanstine. Both were ineffective pitchers last year, but the Rays see much more value in Howell because of their efforts to rebuild the bullpen. I wasn’t surprised by any of the Rays’ choices at the tender deadline. It was clearly time for Sonnanstine to go, as he’s just not the same pitcher that he was back in ’08. Though Rays fans should never forget how much Sonny meant to the team’s magical run in ’08. As for Howell, I think the Rays still have hope that he’ll be able to recover from his big shoulder injury.