The Rays have nine candidates for the 2018 rotation: Chris Archer, Jacob Faria, Blake Snell, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Andriese, Nathan Eovaldi, Austin Pruitt, Brent Honeywell, and Jose De Leon.
I will assume (more on these assumptions later) the Rays rotation in 2018 has Chris Archer, Jacob Faria, and Blake Snell set in stone but beyond that the Rays will be making a move with one or two of their starting pitching candidates.
This begs the question: which surplus pitchers will be dealt over the winter?
6. Brent Honeywell - 12-8, 3.64 ERA, 2.84 FIP in 26 minor-league starts
Contract status: Prospect
There is little to no chance that Honeywell gets moved this coming offseason. Cheap, young players with star potential like Honeywell are more valuable to the Rays than other teams because they are the worst positioned to buy wins. I would hedge more on the Rays trying to get him into a Chris Archer type extension but he is included in this list in the event someone feels that his trade value would net the Rays a blockbuster return.
It is likely that Brent Honeywell begins the year in Durham but I believe there is a small chance he begins the year in the Rays rotation and has a contract extension in hand by the time he makes his 2018 debut.
5. Nathan Eovaldi - Missed all of 2017 season after Tommy John. 9-8, 3.37 ERA, 4.44 FIP in 2016 with Yankees
Contract status: 2017: $2 million, 2018: $2 million club option
The Rays are going to roll the dice with Eovaldi in 2017, and all signs point to him being on the 25-man roster. Whether that is as a starter or a reliever is to be determined. For now, he offers more value as a potential rebound than in the trade market and will have every chance to win a starting spot in next year's rotation.
4. Austin Pruitt - 7-5, 5.14 ERA, 4.21 FIP
Contract status: 2017: $535,000, 2018-2019: Pre-Arb. Eligible, 2020-2022: Arb. Eligible, 2023: Free Agent
With no track record and an inconsistent 2017, I can't see many organizations having too much interest in the 27-year old right-hander this winter. The Rays will hold onto Pruitt, evaluate him next spring, then decide where he belongs in the organization. His mostly likely role is serving as injury replacement.
3. Jose De Leon - Injured most of 2017 season
Contract status: 2017-2019: Pre-Arb. Eligible, 2020-2022: Arb. Eligible, 2023: Free Agent
De Leon is possibly the most intriguing pitcher on the list. On the one hand, he’s under team control for six more seasons, none of which is likely to tax a team’s finances too significantly. On the other hand, De Leon hasn't shown anything in his time in the Rays organization because of injury. He's landed on the minor league DL three times this season, as he's dealt with right elbow tendinitis for much of the year. The 2017 campaign is shaping up to be a lost one for De Leon, who has been limited to just 41 innings between the majors and minors.
I'm not 100% confident the Rays will trade De Leon this winter, but I am sure they will listen to offers, especially if their confidence in him has flagged.
2. Matt Andriese - 5-3, 4.44 ERA, 5.01 FIP
Contract status: 2017: $547,500, 2018: Pre-Arb. Eligible, 2019-2021: Arb. Eligible, 2022: Free Agent
Andriese may be the one of most valuable assets on this list given his contract status and his success at the major league level in 2+ seasons. He won the battle for the fifth starter’s job in spring training and was pitching well prior to being placed on the 10-day disabled list with a groin strain. When he finally returned, he had to leave the game after aggravating his strained right groin, only to find out he would soon be placed on the 60-day DL with a stress reaction in his hip. In four starts since, he's mustered a 8.36 with a .317 opponents batting average in 14 innings pitched.
It's fair to suggest Andriese's first 12 starts tell the tale, however, posting a cool 3.54 ERA in 61.0 innings pitched. For a team looking for a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter, Andriese offers plenty of value. Some organizations may be leery of him based on his injury history. To counter this risk a team acquiring him would have 2 years of club control at an extremely reasonable cost.
For that reason, it may be a better idea for the Rays to hold onto Andriese until the trade deadline in 2022.
1. Jake Odorizzi - 8-8, 4.46 ERA, 5.72 FIP
Contract status: 2017: $4.1 million, 2018-2019: Arb. Eligible, 2020: Free Agent
Odorizzi is the most likely Rays pitcher to be traded this winter and would most likely be used to acquire mid-level prospects like they got for Jeremy Hellickson (Justin Williams and Andrew Velazquez).
Wanting Odorizzi on the team next season if the Rays aren't able to get a decent return is justifiable, as he could be due for a rebound season. However, I would much prefer to trade him now (if the deal is fair), take the savings, and reinvest into a different area of need. Being able to spend the $6 million that he would make next year probably makes the team better in 2018.
There was some chatter at the trade deadline surrounding Odorizzi but entering his July 23rd start against the Rangers he had not been the sharpest pitcher in the AL with a record of 6-4 with a 4.37 ERA; therefore, the Rays would be selling him and his 2+ years of service remaining low. Since August 25th, Odorizzi has improved his trade value and once again proved that he is a middle of the rotation starter, compiling a 4-1 record with a 3.24 ERA and a .146 opponents batting average.
Overall in 2018, he owns a record of 9-8 with an ERA of 4.46 and a FIP of 5.72. While Odorizzi doesn't offer the same value James Shields or Matt Moore did, he could certainly be used to obtain pieces that could balance out the Rays 2018 roster.
The Rays are as opportunistic as any team in baseball, which is why I believe Jake Odorizzi will be in a different jersey on 2018 Opening Day. I believe they will make this trade thinking they've already received the best years out of Odorizzi that they can afford, in addition to thinking his salary will be exceeding the value of his performance in 2018. They will get the pieces that they need and at least a young arm or two will also be involved.
If I had to guess, I think De Leon gets shipped, as he’s been crowded out by Faria, Honeywell, and other young arms in the farm. Those may be the only starters the Rays trade, however, holding on to the very reliable and cheap Matt Andriese. If the Rays do trade Andriese, that would likely mean Odorizzi is here to stay and the Rays were looking to make minor move such as an Erasmo Ramirez type deal.
Teams will make offers on Chris Archer, but none that the Rays will feel they are getting fair value in return. Remember, Archer is owed less than $14 million over the next two seasons; his contract then includes a club option, valued at $22.75 million total. That's a sweet deal for a premier starter, one that would necessitate a hefty prospect payout. For those reasons, Archer is likely to remain in St. Petersburg. at least for one more season.
The argument for keeping Faria and Snell are straightforward. They're young, promising, and cheap. The Rays are getting closer to completing their rebuild and they will be an important part of that process.
To conclude, I’m uncertain what the Rays will do this winter, but one thing is certain: this offseason is going to be fascinating.