The Tampa Bay Rays have been rumored to have interest in many of the top trade targets this winter. The top of the market isn’t where the Rays typically shop, but with the state of the 25-man roster, adding wins now is more valuable than at other points in the win curve.
History shows that the Rays have not traded their highly ranked prospects, as John Ford recently explored by discussing the biggest prospects the Rays have traded over their history.
The difference this time is the Rays have room to work within their budget and have a farm system that is very highly ranked. The only previous year the Rays have had this much financial flexibility was in 2011 when they went into the season with a $42MM payroll even after bringing on Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.
Though the bottom of the 25-man roster is stronger than it has been in recent memory, the Rays have already made deals for Mike Zunino, Yandy Diaz, and signed Charlie Morton to a deal worth $15MM a year.
Still, names like Paul Goldschmidt to JT Realmuto to Noah Syndergaard have been tied to the Rays, suggesting they aren’t done making moves yet, and they are in the position to make a big deal.
Who could the Rays move? Let’s split the Rays players into three different groups:
Current 40-Man Roster
The Rays haven’t been afraid of moving players who are currently on the roster if it means making an improvement. They traded Mallex Smith and Jake Bauers to bring in Yandy Diaz, Mike Zunino and Guillermo Heredia.
Last winter we saw franchise icon Evan Longoria traded, because the front office thought it was the best move for 2018 and the future, proving no one is untouchable.
If somebody puts the right offer on the table anything can happen, but it seems like Blake Snell, Tommy Pham, Kevin Kiermaier, and Willy Adames are the players that are very unlikely to be moved.
With the glut of infielders on the roster (Adames, Diaz, Matt Duffy, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle, Brandon Lowe, and Andrew Velazquez), Duffy feels like the most likely to be moved due to fewer years of team control, but he also could be the MLB option with the least trade value.
The outfield of Pham, Kiermaier, and Austin Meadows seems likely to be your Opening Day starters. Heredia is the right-handed fourth outfielder that could be upgraded if possible and likely to see the least playing time with guys like Wendle and Lowe set to see the larger number of games.
On the pitching side the Rays aren’t afraid to go with a nontraditional structure, but they also realize you need arm talent to make it work. Moving more innings to your bullpen makes more depth necessary.
As starters, the Rays currently have Snell, Morton, and Tyler Glasnow penciled in with two bulk guys following openers. On the 40-man, the Rays currently have Yonny Chirinos, Ryan Yarbrough, Jalen Beeks, and Austin Pruitt who could fill the last two spots and at least one spot in the bullpen for longer stints.
The Tommy John surgeries undergone by Brent Honeywell, Jose De Leon, and Anthony Banda add a wrinkle to the equation. Honeywell and De Leon are expected to be back on the mound in May and could be in the majors sometime in June or July. Meanwhile, if Banda pitches in 2019 for the Rays it’s likely not until September.
If a team valued Chirinos, Yarbrough, or Beeks as a backend starter it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Rays move any one to make an upgrade elsewhere after the addition of Morton.
The most vaulable bullpen arms are Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado. Moving a reliever while they have significant value has merit, but if you’re trying to win the more quality relievers the better. Ryne Stanek, Chaz Roe, and Hunter Wood are likely much more valuable to the Rays than others.
Many recent trades have included multiple MLB players for teams to bring in an impact player. The Pittsburgh Pirates received Colin Moran and Joe Musgrave as part of the return for Gerrit Cole. The Arizona Diamondbacks received Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver for Goldschmidt. The Rays received Glasnow and Meadows for Chris Archer.
It’s tough to see the Rays trading MLB pieces without it being an upgrade on the major league side. The goal is to improve the team in the short term more than long term.
Notable prospects already on the 40-man are Jesus Sanchez, Joe McCarthy, Christian Arroyo, Brent Honeywell, and Brock Burke.
Sanchez is the most highly regarded among the prospect industry making most top-100s around 40-60 range. It was reported that Sanchez was part of an offer for Goldschmidt, and he’s at the point where starting the year in Double-A he isn’t likely to help the major league club until the summer of 2020, so if you’re moving a good prospect he’s the one that makes the most sense when combined with their perceived value.
McCarthy was protected from the Rule 5 draft, and provides depth at first base and the outfield. His injury history makes it seem unlikely he could be a significant piece in a big trade despite his consistent production while moving up through the Rays minor league system.
Arroyo is in a tricky spot. He once was a top-100 type prospect, but has exhausted prospect eligibility without establishing a major league role. Unless a team like the Miami Marlins want to buy low on a player that is even more blocked now with the addition of Diaz, it seems difficult to envision him being a major piece in a trade. He has one option remaining, so this is likely the last opportunity to get anything reasonable for him.
Honeywell is likely more unavailable due to nobody willing to give up what the Rays would require for a pitcher that teams haven’t seen post Tommy John surgery. Still, Honeywell remains a top prospect.
Burke is the only starting pitcher of note. Until the players return from Tommy John surgery it’s not likely the Rays look to move players from their immediate depth.
Most of the remaining of the 40-man roster are players that aren’t of major consequence and are just as likely to be a DFA or traded for cash considerations/PTBNL later this offseason.
Players that are Rule 5 eligible next winter.
The winter is coming. The Rule 5 draft is why the Rays need to try to consolidate some of their value. They won’t be able to extract all the value from the prospects that likely will deserve 40-man roster space in the next year.
Ronaldo Hernandez, Vidal Brujan, Moises Gomez, Nick Solak, Nathaniel Lowe, Lucius Fox, Garret Whitley, and Colin Poche will need to consider protecting. A year from now some or all will need to be protected, as discussed earlier on the site.
The Rays aren’t going to lose anybody to free agency next season, so they will have to get rid of some players to make room.
Hernandez and Brujan have already made Top-100 lists. These are the most likely guys to be headliners for a significant deal. The rest of the group are more suited to become secondary pieces in a major trade.
Players that are further away
If there is one player that might be more unavailable than star players like Snell or Pham, it is probably Wander Franco.
FanGraphs has already moved him up to their #6 overall prospect in their last update. Even though he hasn’t yet turned 18, the combination of not needing a roster spot for multiple seasons and his uber-high ceiling make it difficult to see the Rays considering any deal if another team asks for Franco.
The other name you might throw in the untouchable category is Brendan McKay, the team’s fourth overall draft selection who won’t need to be protected until the winter of 2020. It remains to be seen what he can do at the plate, but he’s a major league pitcher. The Rays will be very reluctant to move him as they dream about an above average hitter and pitcher ceiling.
Also notable in the Rays system are Matthew Liberatore and Shane Baz, two high upside arms that could one day be top of the rotation arms for the Rays. They both have made top-100 lists, although the feeling is Baz has fallen some. These arms won’t be pieces that force the Rays to hold a hard no in a deal, but the Rays would likely prefer to move somebody that needs to be on the 40-man in the near future.
TL;DR - The Rays have the pieces.
There isn’t a trade that the Rays don’t have the pieces to complete if they are willing. They could likely make multiple big trades and still have a reasonable farm system remaining without moving a player that is expected to be a major contributor to the 2019 Rays.
Finding players like Pham available without giving up big pieces are few and far between, and this time the Rays will likely need to part with something much more significant to get that impact piece.
Sanchez has already been rumored to be dangled as a piece the Rays will move for a big acquisition and it seems that Hernandez and Brujan are two others that could make sense as the Rays look to put a contender on the field over the short term.
These won’t be the only pieces required, but they can be the big pieces.
I don’t know who or if the Rays will find their deal for a big addition, but they should continue adding to a team that is coming off 90 wins and loaded for the future.