The Rays addressed a potential outfield glut and found a catcher in an early trade, but that forty-man space will still be tight. In this second part of our look at likely roster decisions, we consider Rays position players.
Depth is important on the position side, but isn’t nearly as important as the pitching side. You’ll need some flexible players that will be able to step up in a bench role with others being pushed into a more prominent role when injuries occur.
Mike Zunino (1)
Michael Perez (3)
Nick Ciuffo (3)
Mike Zunino was acquired to serve as the primary catcher, paired with the young left handed catchers Michael Perez and Nick Ciuffo. Three catchers is typical for a 40 man roster. The Rays will likely sign a veteran to stick in Durham as injury depth much like Adam Moore did last year.
CJ Cron (0)
Jake Bauers (2)
Ji-Man Choi (1)
CJ Cron has been seen as expendable. He had a very good season as the Rays 1B/DH in 2018. He has a track record of hitting well as a designated hitter. If they can upgrade the spot the Rays should go for it, but even if the spot opens up it’s likely just replaced with a different name with a similar skill set.
Jake Bauers made his presence known early, but slumped as the season wore on. Bauers will be given every opportunity to keep his job, but the Rays will need to make sure they have a good plan in case his struggles persist and he needs to take a trip back to Durham for some work.
Ji-Man Choi is one of the most intriguing position player options for the Rays. The Rays only let him play one game on the field, so he’s likely viewed as DH only. He hit really well with the Rays after a couple cups of coffee. If the Rays get a guy that is going to lock up the designated hitter spot everyday then I expect his roster spot to open up.
If they went with these three players on the 25 man there could be enough playing time to get each player 450-500 plate appearances if everybody were to stay healthy.
Middle Infield/Third Base
Willy Adames (1)
Matt Duffy (3)
Daniel Robertson (2)
Joey Wendle (1)
Brandon Lowe (3)
Christian Arroyo (1)
Andrew Velazquez (3)
Willy Adames, Matt Duffy, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle, and Brandon Lowe enter the winter battling for the second, third, and shortstop jobs. There’s a lot of flexibility here. Adames is the best shortstop. Robertson and Duffy can handle third base with Wendle and Lowe being limited to second base in an ideal situation. Lowe and Wendle batting left handed make it hard to see both on the same roster unless Lowe does see more outfield time than anticipated.
Christian Arroyo is in an awkward spot. He needs a healthy season. Spending time getting everyday reps in Durham is probably the best thing for a team trying to win right now. Injuries will occur and give him an opportunity as long as one of the five previously mentioned aren’t also in Durham to start the year.
Andrew Velazquez is probably the most vulnerable position player on the roster. He can cover shortstop and center field while bringing speed to the bench, which are all positives. Things have likely gone very wrong, however, if The Squid is on the twenty-five- man roster for significant time. His ceiling is likely a bench player that can fill in almost anywhere.
Kevin Kiermaier (2)
Tommy Pham (0)
Austin Meadows (2)
Guillermo Heredia (2)
Kevin Kiermaier and Tommy Pham are locked into two of the three outfield positions. Kiermaier will hit five years of service time roughly 50 days into the season and lose his options. It would take a disaster at the plate worse than his 2018 season for that to occur.
After trading Mallex Smith the Rays have officially opened up right field for Austin Meadows. It was going to be tricky to work playing time with three left handed hitting outfielders and Pham who showed he should be playing as often as possible. The Rays could add an outfielder that would displace Meadows as the starter, but it would have to come via trade or free agency.
Guillermo Heredia is a fourth outfielder. He’s shown to be a very good defender in the corners while being very bad in center. The good thing is the Rays three starters are capable of playing center. If Heredia hit better he’d be a starter for some team, but he doesn’t. As long as his defense is good he brings value in taking lefties to give Kiermaier or Meadows a day off. The plan can’t be to have Heredia get full time plate appearances if one of the three starters hit the disabled list. For now it sounds like Lowe will be the guy to step up at least on the long side of the platoon when needed.
The trade for Mike Zunino and Guillermo Heredia was the first salvo fired by the front office this winter. There will be more moves made.
The next thing forcing action is the November 20 deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft. There is sure to be some action in the coming days to clear space either by designating players for assignment or trades. The consolidation trade of Justin Williams and Genesis Cabrera for Tommy Pham helped clear some of this clutter. Williams was already on the 40 man and Cabrera was a lock to be protected this winter. It’s likely the moves made before this deadline are smaller in nature much like the Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer trade with Seattle rather than of significance like the Pham trade.
November 30 is the deadline to non-tender arbitration eligible players. If players are likely to be non-tendered then it could happen in the next few days to help clear space for protecting players from the Rule 5 draft. Jesus Sucre and Vidal Nuno were the obvious non-tender candidates and they have already been removed to make space for those returning from the 60 day disabled list.