Today was roster crunch day, and with a number of promising young prospects needing to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, GM Matt Silverman had some difficult decisions to make. He made those decisions even more difficult by adding a player to the 40-man when the Rays claimed pitcher Chase Whitley from the Yankees.
Well, now we know who has been designated for assignment to make room. According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, those players are Daniel Nava, J.P. Arencibia, Brandon Gomes, and Kirby Yates.
Nava was claimed off waivers last season as part of the replacement for traded left-handed hitter David DeJesus. He had years of team control remaining, and he's been a good player in the past when healthy, but at 32, and with younger players with more upside needing to be protected, he was an easy cut. I expect Nava to be claimed by another team with space on the 40-man.
J.P. Arencibia (and not Rene Rivera)
Essentially, the Rays needed to choose between J.P. Arencibia and Rene Rivera, and they went with keeping Rivera on the roster and exposing Arencibia. This is a choice that has many fans up in arms on twitter, but it's pretty clear why the Rays went the way they did.
Last season, with Rene Rivera failing to find any type of stroke offensively (.171/.213/.275, 67% below average in 319 plate appearances), the Rays gave Arencibia a tryout late in the season, and on the face of it, he was very impressive. In 73 plate appearances, he hit for a .310/.315/.606 slash line with six home runs. That's crazy power, and it's 52% above average over all. But there are very good reasons not to believe he'll be able to produce like that ever again.
Arencibia has always been a one-trick pony, with a high strikeout rate and a minuscule walk rate, and last season he was even more extreme than usual, striking out 30.1% of the time and only walking 1.4% of the time. And never before in his big-league career has Arencibia been an above-average hitter, so those peripherals are a good reason to suspect that he has not, in fact, turned the corner.
In fact, taking Rivera's horrible season and Arencibia's great one into account, the Steamer projection system actually predicts them to have identical offensive outputs in 2016: a cool 33% below average. Faced with two similarly uninspiring hitters, the Rays went with the one they know to be able to play excellent defense. Rivera will be cast in a backup catcher roll next season, most likely.
Although he registered his first major-league save last season, and set a new high in major-league innings, Brandon Gomes, who will be 31 next year, pitched pretty poorly. His 4.27 ERA was actually slightly better than his peripherals.
Steamer thinks he'll be a bit better than that going forward, but considering that Gomes passed through waivers and was assigned to Durham at this time last season, there's a pretty good chance he can do so again. Gomes isn't the worst player to have around, but he's also not really a pitcher teams are beating down the door to get. He is out of options, and if Chase Whitley can get healthy, he would be a more worthwhile use of bullpen space.
Yates has pitched well in the minors, and well for the Rays in 2014, but last season he showed a truly amazing ability to give up home runs, with a 30.3% HR/FB. That's the type of performance that makes you wonder if someone has the stuff to hack it in the majors.
The Uncut: Joey Butler
There's one name conspicuously absent from the above list, and that's Joey Butler. Really, you have to feel good for the soon-to-be-30-year-old, who, after coming back from Japan, appears to have finally established himself with a major league team.
Joey Butler carried the Rays offense through the months of May and June before cooling off to finish the season. He finished with a .276/.326/.416 slash line that was 9% above league average, and while there are some questions about the sustainability of his approach, the red flags aren't nearly as red as Arencibia's red flags are red.
Steamer projects him to be exactly average next season, but this is one of those situations where we're working with an extremely small sample size, and with major league production that has startlingly different components than the minor league track record. I wouldn't be at all surprised for The Butler to make a few more adjustments and remain above average next season.
Of course, this is only the first round of players exposed to other teams through waivers. The other side is the players left unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft. Scott profiled who was added to the 40-man and which minor league players were left off it. That list of players the Rays may lose is headlined by Tyler Goeddel, Jake Hager, and Jeff Ames. Additionally, the Rays outrighted Grayson Garvin and Burch Smith to Triple-A Durham, meaning that they've been removed from the 40-man roster, but do not now have to pass through waivers (this can only be done with minor league players on the 40-man).
My bet is that the Rays retain Brandon Gomes in the organization, and also keep both Hager and Ames, but that the rest of the DFA's go elsewhere and Goeddel is drafted and not returned. What's yours?