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Rays 2018 budget issues to force at least three trades in 2017

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The Rays have 15 arbitration eligible players in 2018. Here’s how that impacts 2017.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Tampa Bay Rays
Drew Smyly is on track for his 4th year of Arbitration eligibility in 2018. Can the Rays afford it?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As every Rays fan knows, when players get close to the end of their arbitration eligibility, the team will look to maximize their asset. Whether it results in an extension, a trade, or in the status quo, the team has to ensure it does what’s best for the long term outlook of the franchise. With this in mind, it’s interesting to take a peek over the fence at what awaits the franchise next offseason, when 15 of its current players will be eligible for arbitration; but first, let’s refresh on 2017.

Most are aware, the Rays have 10 players eligible for arbitration this year. They are as follows (with MLBTR’s projections included in brackets) Arbitration level:

  • Alex Cobb ($4.0MM) A3
  • Drew Smyly ($6.9MM) A3
  • Erasmo Ramirez ($3.5MM) A2
  • Brad Boxberger ($1.5MM) A1
  • Corey Dickerson ($3.4MM) A1
  • Brad Miller ($3.8MM) A1
  • Xavier Cedeno ($1.2MM) A1
  • Jake Odorizzi ($4.6MM) A1
  • Danny Farquhar ($1.1MM) A1
  • Kevin Kiermaier ($2.1MM) A1

The total projected cost: $32.1 million, a substantial sum for a budget restrictive franchise like the Rays. We also need to add Tim Beckham (A1) to that total since he was left off MLBTR’s list.

With the majority of the players listed above looking at significant raises when they get to the 2nd level of arbitration, and likely to perform well-enough to earn them, the Rays are going to be under a lot of pressure to come up with a plan.

Additionally, the Rays will pay out raises to three players: Evan Longoria will receive a minor $500K raise, Chris Archer gets a $1.5M raise, and the newly acquired Wilson Ramos receives a $4.5M raise. Finally, the Rays will need to decide on their option for Logan Forsythe who would either receive a $1.5M raise or a $1M buyout. At a minimum, these players will cost the Rays an extra $7.5M, or $8M if they opt to keep Forsythe.

Doing the math of this year’s arbitration ($32.1M), player raises ($8M), and current commitments (Longo, Archer, Ramos, and Forsythe - $29M), we set a Salary Floor of $69.1M before even looking at any 2018 raises.

Since the year 2000, the Rays have only exceeded the $69M mark for opening day 3 times: $75M in 2015, $76M in 2014, and $72M in 2010. This sets a precedent that we can’t ignore going forward.

Here’s a breakdown of what next year’s arbitration eligible players look like (courtesy Cot’s Contracts):

  • Drew Smyly A4
  • Erasmo Ramirez A3
  • Brad Boxberger A2
  • Corey Dickerson A2
  • Brad Miller A2
  • Xavier Cedeno A2
  • Jake Odorizzi A2
  • Danny Farquhar A2
  • Kevin Kiermaier A2
  • Tim Beckham A2
  • Steven Souza A1
  • Alex Colome A1
  • Matt Duffy A1
  • Curt Casali A1
  • Nick Franklin A1

Let’s use some very conservative figures to try to get an idea of what kind of cost the Rays may be facing at that point. Since we can’t predict how well players will do, and whether or not they’ll get injured, we’ll set the bar low. For this, I’ve taken an average of what players in similar situations received, and then rounded down.

The real focus here is to indicate how much salary the Rays may need to shed prior to 2018, not to come up with accurate arbitration raise amounts.

So let’s assume Smyly receives a $3.5M raise, Ramirez gets $3M, the 8 players in the arbitration 2 level get an average of $2.5M in raises ($20M total), and the 5 eligible for the first time get an average of $1.5M in raises ($7.5M total). Again, it’s likely to cost the Rays more overall, but we’ll use those figures for now.

Added up, the Rays would be looking at an increased salary obligation to $103M after providing arbitration eligible players $34M in raises.

Something’s gotta give

In some way, shape, or form, the Rays “have” to offload close to or more than $27M in salary if they want to remain at their historical levels. Unless they suddenly change course on their budget restrictions and decide to pay for a more mature and developed team, a few of their pricier players are set to be dealt within the next year.

Who are the prime trade candidates when considering costs and control?

Based on the need to offset 2018 costs, ability to replace with internal options, and health concerns, Drew Smyly becomes the first candidate.

Barring injury and/or poor performance, he’ll likely surpass the $10M mark in salary demands for 2018. For this exercise, we assumed he’d be at $10.5M. It’s a substantial savings, and with a great start to the year, he could net the Rays a substantial return.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Next up, sadly, is Rays fan favourite Logan Forsythe who would be a tremendous loss for this team as its leadoff hitter, but is also on a short-term contract. Luckily the Rays have up-and-coming 2B/SS Willy Adames set to be on the roster in 2018 and sharing the middle infield with Matt Duffy. Dealing Frosty would net the Rays a savings of $8.5M for the 2018 season.

At this point, the Rays would have approximately $19M in cost reductions, less the cost of the players who head to the Rays in return or take their spots on the roster. With league minimum players taking their roster spots, the $19M reduction becomes $18M.

The reason this is being pointed out is that even if the Rays were able to find takers - and fair value - for both Smyly and Forsythe before the 2018 season begins, they’re likely to continue to look for savings in the range of $7M to $10M.

That places players such as Brad Miller, Corey Dickerson, Erasmo Ramirez, and Jake Odorizzi in the crosshairs of possible trades.

With Casey Gillaspie being one of the more MLB ready players available internally and Miller’s value being higher than ever after he hit 30 HRs in 2016, the current most likely candidate to be dealt in 2017 may be Miller. This is particularly evident when you consider the Rays would already have lost both Cobb and Smyly to this point, theoretically leaving the rotation weaker than the lineup.

With another strong season, dealing Miller could save the Rays approximately $6.3M and complete the salary shedding needs pre-2018 season if the Rays are comfortable being in the $75M to $80M range pre-2018.

Should the Rays not find a trade partner for Smyly, there have also been many rumours about a Chris Archer trade. If he is dealt, it’s possible that the Rays would opt to keep Smyly around even longer to lead the staff alongside Odorizzi in 2018.

My personal take on this is that the Rays would rather build around Archer and are rightfully asking for more than most teams are willing to deal. That could change, particularly if the Astros lose out on other trade targets such as Jose Quintana.

So many possible scenarios, so little time.

Neander in the wilderness

MLB: General Managers Meetings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never easy for the Rays front office to balance today and tomorrow’s needs. It would be great to see the Rays make a commitment to a player like Jose Bautista for the 2017 season since a playoff appearance could have a positive impact on the 2018 budget and lessen the pressure listed above.

As it currently stands, you can expect the Rays to be one of the more aggressive teams on the trade markets. Although they currently sit in a position of strength, they need to act promptly to ensure teams don’t wind up taking advantage of their resource limits next offseason.

Depth incoming

Before I hand it over to the comments section, I do want to make one more point about what this means for the franchise’s young players. Instead of looking at this as another setback, let’s see what it means from a possible replacement point of view.

Assuming Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Logan Forsythe, and Brad Miller are out of the picture, the following players could become a part of the roster full-time in 2018:

  • Brent Honeywell takes over Alex Cobb
  • Jacob Faria or Chih-Wei Hu (or Jaime Schultz or Austin Pruitt or Chase Whitley or Matt Andriese) take over for Drew Smyly
  • Willy Adames takes over for Logan Forsythe
  • Casey Gillaspie and/or Jake Bauers take over for Brad Miller

If the hype and minors performances reflect their true potential, those are some pretty capable replacements. They certainly have notched every box required to earn a shot.

The point: Rays brass have set the franchise up extremely well to shake off these losses and continue to compete. Without these internal options, the Rays would not be able to patiently wait for the right offers to come around; therefore, even though moving the players listed above - or others - will irritate some fans, it’s really not as bad as it seems on first glance, this has been in the works for some time.

The fact that the Rays have such strong internal options to replace players they’ll have to deal before the 2018 season begins can help explain the patience Rays brass have shown in the trade trade market. They are in a position of considerable strength and need to maximize returns if they want to make the playoffs in the near future.

These moves are an opportunity to bring up the next core of this franchise and simultaneously obtain players that can support them or to reload the system with. And while we can’t expect every rookie coming in to pan out and take the reigns without any hiccups, the recent success experienced by the Cubs, Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, and Jays rookies point to the positive impact such promotions can have.

The Rays will remain one of the more interesting teams to speculate on when it comes to the trade market, and it’ll be interesting to see what the returns are when they pull the trigger.