It’s no secret the Rays don’t have the financial means to compete in free agency and seldom come out of the winter meetings with many signings. However once the calendar flips to the new year the Rays front office has often come to life. Some of the team’s biggest deals have been made in January.
This year, the free agent pool is unusually well stocked for January. Both the anticipation of the new CBA (announced in early December) and the wait for Edwin Encarnacion’s contract, which was seen as an important market signal, pushed the season for free agent signings, especially for 1B/DH/OF types, into the new year.
But the Rays are sure to make a couple moves as they finish off their roster before heading into spring training, most likely continuing their tradition of winter deals.
Let’s take a look at January/February deals from the recent past.
2011 - Rays trade Matt Garza, sign Kyle Farnsworth, Manny Ramirez, and Johnny Damon
The Rays started 2011 off with a blockbuster trade on January 8, 2011 that sent RHP Matt Garza and LHP Zac Rosscup to the Cubs for RHP Chris Archer, OF Brandon Guyer, OF Sam Fuld, C Robinson Chirinos, and SS Hak-Ju Lee. The fruits of this trade are still nourishing this team, six years later. Archer has turned ace level potential into ace production. Guyer had a solid run as a platoon outfielder and Fuld had an incredible month with the Rays. Hak-Ju Lee has been a bust, which is disappointing, but the trade is nonetheless a big win for the Rays.
On January 15, 2011 the Rays signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a one year, $2.6MM deal with a $3.3MM team option ($600k buyout). Farnsworth’s first season with the Rays was really good. He put up a 2.18 ERA and 3.16 FIP over 57.2 innings while picking up 25 saves.
After losing a lot of star power from the 2010 team the Rays looked to add a two former stars, OF Johnny Damon, and DH Manny Ramirez. The Rays signed Johnny Damon to a one year, $5.25MM deal with $750k attendance based incentives (really?!?!). Manny Ramirez was signed to a one year, $2MM deal. Ramirez’s Rays tenure was short lived as he was busted for a second PED violation five games into the season. Damon stepped into the vacated DH slot. He hit .261/.326/.418 and 108 wRC+ over 647 plate appearances. It’s not a great season by any stretch for a DH, but fortunately for Damon Rays DHs have set a very low bar, so he could well have had one of the team’s best performances at that position.
2012 - Rays sign Fernando Rodney, Carlos Pena, Luke Scott, and Jeff Keppinger
On January 4, 2012 the Rays made one of their most impactful free agent signings when they signed Fernando Rodney to a one year, $1.75MM deal with a $2.5MM team option ($250K buyout). In 2012 Rodney put up one of the best seasons by a reliever in MLB history by posting a 0.60 ERA and 2.11 FIP in 74.2 innings while picking up 48 saves.
On January 12, 2012 the Rays signed DH Luke Scott to a one year, $5MM deal with a $6MM team option ($1MM buyout). Scott was a replacement level DH for the Rays in 2012.
On January 24, 2012 the Rays signed 1B Carlos Pena to a one year, $7.25MM deal after he had spent 2011 with the Cubs. El Gato Round Two was not nearly as successful as Round One had been; Pena put up a .197/.330/.354 line and 98 wRC+.
On January 27, 2012 the Rays signed IF Jeff Keppinger to a one year, $1.5MM deal with $500k in incentives. Keppinger had a career year for the Rays. He hit .325/.367/.439 and 128 wRC+ while putting up 2.7 fWAR in 418 plate appearances.
2013 - Rays sign Kelly Johnson, Kyle Farnsworth, and Luke Scott
The Rays waited until February to make their final major league moves in the winter of 2013, signing IF/OF Kelly Johnson to a one year, $2.45MM deal. Johnson put up a solid .235/.305/.410 line and 100 wRC+. He accrued 1.2 fWAR in 407 plate appearances.
On February 5, 2013 the Rays re-signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a one year, $1.5MM deal with $1.5MM in incentives. After an injury-plagued 2012, Farnsworth’s third season with the Rays never matched his first season in 2011. Farnsworth made 39 appearances and threw 29.2 innings of 5.76 ERA and 4.33 FIP in 2013.
On February 6, 2013 the Rays re-signed DH Luke Scott to a one year, $2.75MM deal. After declining their $6MM team option ($1MM buyout), the Rays decided to run it again with Scott as their DH in 2013 after a disappointing 2012 with the Rays. Scott was better in his second round as he put up a 108 wRC+, but that wasn’t enough to see him have another opportunity in the majors.
2014 - Rays trade for Logan Forsythe, Brad Boxberger, and sign James Loney and Grant Balfour
On January 3, 2014 the Rays officially re-signed James Loney to a three year, $21MM deal. This contract set the record for largest free agent deal the Rays ever made, coming after Loney’s solid 2013. This was surely not one of the Rays better moves. Loney provided a combined -0.6 fWAR between 2014 and 2015 before the Rays ate the final year of the contract last spring. The Rays ended up paying Loney $7 million in 2016 to be mediocre for the New York Mets.
On January 22, 2014 the Rays acquired 2B Logan Forsythe, RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Matt Andriese, RHP Matt Lollis, and C Max Tissenbaum for LHP Alex Torres and RHP Jesse Hahn. The results of this trade completely favor the Rays, who quite possibly acquired the three most productive players in the deal. The 2015 breakout of Forsythe makes this trade an especially big win for the Rays. Hahn has been good when healthy enough to pitch, but that hasn’t been that often. In the three years since the trade he’s only managed to throw 323.1 innings in the majors and minors combined in 67 appearances (62 starts).
On January 23, 2014 the Rays signed Grant Balfour, who had just failed a physical with the Orioles, to a 2 year, $12MM deal. Balfour was coming off two successful seasons as the Athletic’s closer. Balfour’s second stint with the Rays, however, was not nearly as successful as his first. In 2014 he put up a 4.91 ERA and 3.95 FIP over 62.1 innings. In the second year of the deal Balfour only threw 4.1 innings before being DFA’d.
On Febraury 13, 2014 the Rays acquired RHP Nathan Karns for C Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero, and OF Drew Vettleson. The Rays paid a hefty price to acquire Karns. Lobaton has been a good backup catcher and Rivero has become a very good left handed reliever. Karns put together a very solid 2015 for the Rays and became the key piece in the trade for Brad Miller.
2015 - Rays trade Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, and sign Asdrubal Cabrera
On January 10, 2015 the Rays traded their super utility star 2B/OF Ben Zobrist and SS/3B Yunel Escobar to the Athletics for DH John Jaso, SS Daniel Robertson, and OF Boog Powell. After a tough 2014 the Rays used Zobrist as a mechanism to help unload Escobar’s contract.
After clearing a 40 man roster spot and some money the Rays signed SS Asdrubal Cabrera to a one year, $7.5MM deal. The Cabrera signing was effective for the Rays as he put up a .265/.315/.430 and 104 wRC+ line over 551 plate appearances. Even with his well below average defense at short he put up 2.2 fWAR.
2016 - Rays trade for Corey Dickerson and sign Steve Pearce
On January 28, 2016 the Rays traded LHP Jake McGee and RHP German Marquez to the Rockies for OF Corey Dickerson and 3B Kevin Padlo. The Rays consolidated 40 man roster space in adding Padlo who will not need to be added to the 40 man roster until the winter of 2018.
With the newly created roster spot and money saved in shipping McGee to Colorado the Rays signed 1B/DH Steve Pearce to a 1 year, $4.75MM contract with $1.25MM in incentives. Pearce bounced back after a down 2015 to put up 232 PA of .309/.388/.520 ball and 147 wRC+ until the Rays traded him to Baltimore.
On February 18, 2016 the Rays added their only reliever on a major league contract by signing RHP Ryan Webb to a one year, $1MM deal. Webb only made 18 appearances totaling 17.1 innings.