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-
Rays’ farmhand Russ Canzler was traded to the Cleveland Indians today in exchange for cash, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Canzler won the International League’s MVP award last season, batting .314 with 18 homers and 83 RBIs in 131 games last season for Durham. The trade came less than a week after Canzler was designated for assignment to make room for the newly-acquired Jeff Keppinger on the roster. Although it may not seem to make sense for the Rays to trade away someone who’s produced big numbers offensively in the minors, Canzler doesn’t really have a future in Tampa. The corner infielder/outfielder’s lack of defensive ability is the main reason why he doesn’t fit on the Rays’ roster. The Rays could use some extra cash anyways.
The Rays lost another Triple-A player this week, after Justin Ruggiano declined his minor league assignment on Monday. Ruggiano has been in the Rays’ organization since 2006, when he was acquired in a trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 29-year-old outfielder had a .226 average with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 195 career Major League at-bats with the Rays.
It’s hard to argue that any team in Major League Baseball utilizes their prospects as well as the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have a knack of producing farm-grown starts from their organization, and it looks as if they will continue this trend. It’s pretty well-known across baseball that the Rays have an absolutely stacked farm system. Young talent is the core of the Rays success. Every year it seems, the Rays have have at least one prospect come up to the big leagues to make an impact. Last year, Desmond Jennings, Wade Davis, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Rookie of the Year Award winner Jeremy Hellickson all contributed to the team’s memorable season. So, who which top prospect will make in impact in 2012? Many of the Rays’ top prospects won’t make a big league appearance this season, but let’s take a look at four who could very possibly make a splash.
Matt Moore- If anybody’s ready for The Show, it’s phenom pitcher Matt Moore. It’s very rare to discover any young baseball player with the talent like Moore; the kid’s an absolute natural. The young fireballer is considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, being ranked No.3 overall (No.1 pitcher overall) by MLB.com’s top 50 list. Moore is also titled as the Rays’ top prospect by numerous sources, including Baseball America’s top 10 list. Moore features some wicked wicked stuff in his arsenal, which is a nightmare for hitters. The young flamethrower lives off of his outstanding fastball, which effortlessly reaches blazing speeds in the upper 90s. He also features a nasty curveball, along with a plus curveball. As expected, the 22-year-old lefty enjoyed success in his first Major League season. After pitching ridiculously well during his 27 starts for AAA Durham (12 wins, 1.92 ERA, and 210 Ks), Moore finally got his chance to shine on the big stage. And shine he did, in most of his 19.1 cumulative innings of his 2011 experience. Moore really made his mark when the playoffs started, though. He had an unbelievable outing in Arlington after being called on to start Game 1 of the ALDS (just his second MLB start). He was looking like the ace of the Rays’ rotation, dominating Texas’ big bats by shutting them out through seven strong innings. Moore would finish his brief 2011 season with a combined ERA (including postseason and regular season) of 2.09 with 23 strikeouts. If Moore is able to stay healthy, he’ll be the future ace of an already-great Rays rotation, which includes David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson. Moore gives the Rays every reason to believe that their contract extension decision with him was a no-brainer, and will be well worth it. Moore has a lot of pressure on him, and I’m sure he’ll respond positively, just as he did last October. A lot is expected from him, and I won’t be surprised to see the major rookie impact from him that everyone is anticipating. It’s early, but it looks like the Rays are possibly on their way to a second straight Rookie of the Year Award winner.
Brandon Guyer- Brandon Guyer was one of a handful of Major League-quality players acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade. Guyer was one of three Rays on the top 10 prospect list to get big league playing time in 2011. Out of all three, nobody started off his career with a bang like he did. In his first ever big league at bat, Guyer blasted a solo homer into the seats of Camden Yards. That would be the first of 15 games for the Rays in 2011, as Guyer spent most of the season for Triple-A Durham. In his 107 games in AAA, he batted .312 and knocked in 61 runs. From what Guyer has displayed in his years in the minors, he definitely has the tools for a successful MLB career. Not only is Guyer a tremendous athlete, but he is also a potential four-dementional player. The 25 year-old outfielder has power, speed, good defense, and the ability to hit for average as well. The Rays could really use a guy on the roster like Guyer, who brings the uncommon combination of speed and power to the table. At 25 years old, Guyer is older than most of the Rays’ top prospects. 2012 will probably be the year Guyer will get to prove himself in the big leagues, and emerge as a full-time MLB player.
Chris Archer- Chris Archer has been one of the biggest names in the Rays farm system, swiftly surging through minor leagues . Archer was another top prospect that was included in the Matt Garza trade. According to MLB.com, Archer is the Rays’ third-best prospect and is ranked at No. 38 in the top 50 list. With all the pitching talent in the Rays farm system, Archer leads the pack of right-handed arms. He features an impressive fastball, with great movement and velocity. The hard slider is the next good pitch in his arsenal, which he also throws very well. Then there is the still-developing changeup, which can also become an effective pitch. Like Matt Moore, Archer’s fastball command is the key to his big league success. The command was the only main issue Archer had this year, but it is clearly improving as he gains experience. Archer’s stats for the year (in AA Montgomery and AAA Durham) include 4.09 ERA, a 9-7 record and 130 strikeouts. Archer started 27 games in 2011, two of them in Durham. The best news is that he ended the season strong on a high note. After being promoted to Triple-A late in the season, Archer posted an ERA of 0.69 in 13 innings pitched. Archer could be a big help to the Rays bullpen at some point in next season, as that will probably be his best chance to contribute to the team in 2011. With the stable and talented rotation that the Rays have, the ‘pen may be Archer’s best opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation anytime in the near future. Whether he’s pitching out of the bullpen or starting games, I think Archer will impress a lot of people in 2012. Archer is a player destined for a career in the MLB, and his potential is sky-high. This is definitely a guy Rays Republic should be excited about.
Alex Torres- Torres is another impressive young arm on the Rays’ prospect list. The 23-year-old lefty was acquired from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade. In his first full season in the Rays organization, Torres started 27 games for the Durham Bulls and pitched eight innings for the Rays. His minor league numbers in 2011 were pretty good, as he went 9-7 for Durham with a 3.08 ERA and 156 K. He didn’t do poorly in his first crack at the big leagues this year, either. He posted a 3.38 ERA through eight innings pitched out of the bullpen. Torres’ main arsenal includes a solid and live fastball, a pretty decent changeup and a developing curve. The curveball has been sort of his “x-factor” pitch in the past. When he has a feel of the curve, opposing batters are doing a lot of swinging and missing. Like Moore and Archer, Torres is good at striking out batters. Unfortunately, his command issues are worse than Moore and Archer. Not only does Torres have problems placing his fastball where he wants it, but he also walks far too many batters. Torres knows that his command is not adequate for an effective Major League starter, and is working hard to fix it in Venezuelan winter ball. Torres is preparing to pitch another season in a terrific Durham rotation, but there’s also a good chance he’ll be pitching out of the bullpen for the Rays. The front-end of the ‘pen could use as much help as it can get next season, meaning Torres may be an important piece.
Russ Canzler- 2012 will probably be the year Russ Canzler will get his chance to prove himself as a big league quality player. Canzler definitely did his job in AAA Durham last year, winning the International League MVP award. Canzler, another successful minor leaguer out of the Cubs’ farm system, put up some terrific numbers in Triple-A last season. The 25 year-old batted for a high .314 with 83 RBI’s and 18 homers. Considering how well Canzler has hit in his minor league career, it seems a bit strange that he’s not considered one of the Rays’ top prospects. A high strikeout rate (23.5% in the minors last season) and lack of defensive value likely have a big part to do with it. Canzler spent most of his 2011 season at first base, but can also play a little in the outfield as well. Assuming that the Rays acquire a first baseman later this offseason, Canzler will probably be used mostly as a pinch hitter and DH in the majors this year. Although Canzler probably won’t get a huge chunk of big league playing time, his big bat could come through in clutch situations. Timely hitting is something that will play a major part in the Rays’ success in 2012, meaning the Canzler will have his chance to be an impact rookie.
As the first two months of the Rays’ offseason comes to a conclusion and the Winter Meeting pass, the Rays have made progress on their Winter to-do list. Entering the offseason, the Rays had some work to do in order to address areas of need. First base, bullpen, catcher, and the DH spot were all holes that needed to be filled coming into the winter. There also were, and still are, big names at risk of leaving the team. Johnny Damon, Joel Peralta, Kelly Shoppach, and Casey Kotchman are all on the free agent list. James Shields, Kyle Farnsworth, and B.J. Upton are others that may not be playing for the Rays next year.
The first mission the Rays had this offseason was to deal with their three club options. Kyle Farnsworth, Kelly Shoppach, and James Shields were all asking for multi-millions for 2012. With the team’s ace and closer on the line, the Rays accepted both Farnsworth’s and Shields’ option. Kelly Shoppach, however, was declined and is now testing free agency.
The acceptance of Shields’ and Farnsworth’s options highly increased their chances of staying with the team next year. It was a huge sigh of relief for Rays fans everywhere to hear that their “Big Game” James is safe, unless traded. As for Farnsworth, he was a big part of the Rays’ bullpen in 2011. Keeping Farnsworth is essentially one less step in the bullpen’s rebuilding process. In Shoppach’s case, I guess the Rays just didn’t see any reason to overpay him after an awful 2011 season. Although considering the Rays’ catching situation, I was a bit surprised with the choice.
The Rays’ issue behind the plate was the main focus of their next offseason move. With Shoppach likely not returning in 2011, the Rays went out to look for catching on the free agent market. They found themselves a low-priced and experienced veteran in Jose Molina. It was a move that needed to be done, and took a lot of stress off the issue. After signing Molina, the Rays still weren’t done dealing with their catchers yet. Suddenly out of nowhere, the Rays acquired reliever Josh Lueke from Seattle in exchange for John Jaso. The trade was the biggest surprise of the Rays offseason so far. Being a catcher, nobody expected to see Jaso go anywhere. The trade forecasts that the Rays are probably looking for more catching in the following months. Already rumored names have emerged, such as 40 year-old Ivan Rodriguez.
Catcher isn’t the only position that the Rays have been targeting. With Kotchman and Damon free agents, the first base and DH roles are questionable for Opening Day. The Rays made their first efforts to find a first baseman last week, when the picked up Juan Miranda. Miranda was one of four minor leaguers who were invited to Spring Training by the Rays at the Winter Meetings. The 28 year-old Cuban native has played five professional seasons, showing scouts everywhere his raw power. He hasn’t had much success in his previous MLB stints, but the Rays see a bright future in his big bat. There’s been some trade rumors of other first basemen that the Rays may pursue, but Miranda is the only deal they’ve done so far. The other three players who received the Spring Training invitation along with Miranda, were Matt Mangini, Ricky Orta, and Johnny Nunez. Like Miranda, I believe the Rays made a great move signing Mangini.
The third/first baseman hit an impressive .336 in Triple-A Tacoma last year. I think he can also help give the offense a boost, even though he doesn’t have the power that Miranda has. Ricky Orta and Johnny Nunez are two young relievers that the Rays picked up as part of their bullpen rebuilding process. The Rays reportedly have been seeking more bullpen arms. Veterans that are more likely to contribute to the team in 2012. Joel Zumaya, Luis Ayala, and Andrew Bailey are all names that have come up in rumors lately. With the DH and first base positions a problem now, many overlook the Rays’ bullpen issue, which is also vital in the club’s success. The Rays are definitely better off seeking hitting during the winter. Being so deep in starting pitching, the Rays will probably be able to make something work for next season.
The most recent news of the Rays’ offseason is the contract extension of Matt Moore, which also happened at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. The rookie southpaw guaranteed his contract for a minimum of five years (up to 8 years including options) for $14 million. The contract extension was great news for Rays fans, and another clever offseason move by Andrew Friedman.
It’s a nice feeling knowing that a pitcher like Matt Moore is here to stay for a while. Hopefully, other young stars such as Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson will follow in Moore’s footsteps. Those are two guys that the Rays need to get a grip on, and a contract extension should be in the conversation this offseason. Besides handing out four Spring Training invitations and locking up Matt Moore, the Rays were pretty quiet at the Winter Meeting. With all the big-market action happening in Dallas last week, the Rays probably see a better chance to strike later in the winter. I believe the team’s main goal before spring should be to re-sign Casey Kotchman and Joel Peralta, as well as find at least one more good hitter. At the end of the day, DH and catcher are the Rays’ two main priorities. As of now, Jose Lobaton/Robinson Chirinos is the Rays’ second catcher, and Sam Fuld is the Opening Day DH. Obviously, there’s still plenty of work to be done. The Rays have made forward progress in the first two months of the offseason, but luckily there is another two and a half months to make things right.
The Rays Triple-A affiliate- the Durham Bulls- were once again in the International League’s playoffs in 2011. Unfortunately, their race to the Governor’s Cup only lasted a brief three days. The Indians minor league club, the Columbus Clippers, stunned Durham with a clean sweep. How does this affect the Rays? Well it could mean some early september call-ups from the talent-rich Bulls. Already two players were called up to join the Rays in their quest for the postseason. The IL’s MVP Russ Canzler and right-handed reliever Dane De La Rosa.
The Rays hope that Canzler can give the Rays an offensive boost, after his monster season in Durham. He could be the last piece to the October-quality lineup the Rays need to make the playoffs. Now that Farnsworth is having elbow problems (http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?topic_id=8877450&c_id=tb), De La Rosa could be very important to the bullpen if he can pitch well. It looks as Farnsworth is very likely to hit the DL, having dealed with this inury for a while. As you probably know, the Bulls have some more big names that are likely to be called up in the next few weeks. Phenom Matt Moore and starter Alexander Torres could be canditates to pitch in a big series in the Bronx.
That would result in an abbreviated 2011 for Canzler ad De La Rosa in the big leagues. Another possible name is catcher Jose Lobaton who was recently activated off the DL. He could be a third catcher for the Rays squad in September.
For a recap of last night’s epic walk-off win against Boston, click this link: http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=19082107&topic_id=8879208&c_id=tb
In just the last month, 4 Ray top-prospects have been promoted in the Rays farm system. 3 of them participated the 2011 MLB Futures Game in Phoenix. Two of the four prospects were acquired in the Matt Garza trade. Let’s start with phenom southpaw Matt Moore.
Moore has some great stuff, including a blazing fastball that lights up the radar gun in the high-90’s. He’s started 7 games since being called up to Durham, and all he’s done is rack up 63 strikeouts with a 3-0 record and a 0.89 ERA. Many prospect watchers around the country are saying that Moore and Stephen Strasburg are the two best prospects in the minors right now. It’s great when your team has a young pitcher that is often compared to Stephen Strasburg. Matt Moore is definitely something special.
Next is Chris Archer, who was just called up to Durham and made his first Triple-A appearance yesterday.
He recorded a win with six inning and only a run allowed, and also stuck-out six. Chris Archer is another pitcher with a very bright future in the big leagues. He was the best prospect acquired in the Garza trade, where the Rays also acquired Hak Ju Lee, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer, and Robinson Chirinos.
That trade couldn’t of been much more perfect than for the Rays. Garza has had a bad year this year, and the Rays acquired 5 MLB quality players including two top-prospects. Friedman really knew what he was doing when he made that trade, but no surprise there.
So how are Lee, Guyer, and Chirinos doing in the minors this year? Hak Ju Lee was just recently promoted from Single-A Charlotte, to Double-A Montgomery. Lee has played 17 games for the Biscuts, and has batted just .225 so far, although he has shown some speed with an impressive four triples. Brandon Guyer has swung a hot bat all season long, while continuing to be a solid outfielder. The Rays know what he can do at the Major League level, after he blasted a 3-run homer in his first MLB AB at Camden Yards early in the season. Guyer is batting an impressive .313 this season, sharing that average with teammate and All-Star Russ Canzler. Canzler, a third baseman, has knocked in 78 runs and 18 home runs. Chances are he’s going to get some big league playing time next year, after such a phenomenal 2011. Chirinos has struggled a bit since being called up to the big leagues in replacement of the injured John Jaso. He’s batting .262 now for the Bulls, and he’s been working hard to improve his footwork behind the plate. Catcher is really the only position the Rays lack solid defense, and Chirinos could be the future at that position.
The last prospect to talk about is Tim Beckham, who was recently called up to Durham.
Beckham is a speedy shortstop, and has been making a lot of progress to improve defensively at that position. Beckham started out very hot with Durham, but has now started to cool off and is batting .268. He has hit 2 triples and 4 homers in only 16 games though, which is pretty good. Beckham was another Ray in the Futures Game in July. He contributed to the US’s with a base hit and run; where he showed off his great speed. The future is very bright for the Rays, there’s no doubt about that!