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What would the 2019 Rays look like if they went all in?

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Let’s imagine a wild and crazy future.

Tampa Bay Rays v Texas Rangers Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

After a surprise 90-win season, the Tampa Bay Rays are approaching 2019 in a way we haven’t seen before. The front office have shown its willingness to spend both money and prospects; already agreeing to a 2-year, $30M deal with 2017 World Series game-seven closer Charlie Morton; and trading Jake Bauers, as well as dangling premium outfield prospect Jesus Sanchez in an attempt to bring in perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt. Outside of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the team have been linked to just about every impact player available.

We’ve heard the front office say this before, like when they signed Pat Burrell before the 2009 season, or when they elected to not trade former ace David Price before the 2014 season—instead agreeing to a one year, $14M deal to avoid arbitration. But this time, it’s different.

It’s possible the Rays have a few more moves to make, and it's also possible they have many more moves to make. Just for fun, let’s imagine a world in which the Rays make all of the moves they’ve been rumored to make.

Acquire C JT Realmuto

It’s been a little puzzling as to why the Rays would go after another starting catcher for a few reasons. One, they already traded for Mike Zunino. Two, they have two potential backups — both deserving of major league playing time — in Michael Perez and Nick Ciuffo. Finally, the asking price seems to be really, really high.

Nonetheless, the Rays are still in the picture:

If the Rays can pull it off without it costing Zunino, the Rays would then have two major league starting catchers on the roster, one of them, of course, being the best in the business. Cash would certainly have the daunting task of figuring out how to split the innings between them, but surely he’ll figure that out. It’s worth wondering whether the Rays see Realmuto as a player athletic enough to play multiple positions.

Rays get:

  • C JT Realmuto

Marlins get:

  • OF Jesus Sanchez
  • P Shane McClanahan
  • IF Nick Solak
  • P Resly Linares

The Marlins are motivated to unload the the last of their stars, and seem to want its next stars in return. As other teams continue to drop out of the race — most recently the New York Mets — the asking price could certainly come down, even though this is far from a light haul. Adding Realmuto would give the Rays a versatile piece who just so happens to be the best catcher in the show.

2019 payroll addition: approx. $6MM

Sign Nelson Cruz

The Rays have been transparent in their search for an impact bat this offseason. Although they may have found it when they acquired Yandy Diaz from the Indians, they are clearly betting on his upside, whereas adding Cruz would be a sure thing — he averaged 41 home runs and a .284/.362/.546 slash during his four years in Seattle.

Further, his projected 132 wRC+ (Steamer) would be tops in the Rays lineup in ‘19. His age gives many pause, as it probably should, but even as a 37-year-old, he surpassed everyone in baseball in exit velocity, except Aaron Judge. Unless Cruz runs into a lot of batted ball misfortune, it’s hard to imagine a huge drop-off in production.

Cruz could be had on a similar deal to that of Morton’s. The Rays have been deep in talks with him, and though things seemed to heat up in the Winter Meetings, attempts to sign the slugger were ultimately fruitless. Of course, that’s not to say that ship has sailed. The Rays bringing in the boomstick remains a real possibility.

2019 payroll addition: approx $15MM

Acquire 1B Jose Martinez

Admittedly, it is pretty difficult to imagine a team where Nelson Cruz and Jose Martinez coexist, as neither of them are competent defenders. But, as I mentioned before, this is just for fun, so let’s just go with it.

Martinez ranked 19th in baseball in xwOBA in ‘18. He makes a ton of contact, and good contact at that. While he’s not quite Cruz or current Ray (and former teammate) Tommy Pham in that aspect, he would still be one of the Rays best hitters pretty easily. He, too, has been linked in conversations with the front office, and I couldn’t miss another opportunity to resurface this gem of a tweet:

(still not a real website)

We all know his defense is, well, not good. It isn’t good at first base, and it’s even worse in the outfield. Now, I don’t watch him play every day, so let’s hear it from someone who does, namely Stlcardsfan4 of Viva El Birdos.

...I also pretty much just watch the Cardinals, and it’s only expanded past that whenever I’ve watched the playoffs. But Jose Martinez is the worst defender I have ever seen in my life. I am frankly at a loss as to how somebody could be worse.

The Rays would certainly take a hit in defense somewhere on the diamond if they brought in both Martinez and Cruz as everyday players. Being that the former is still pre-arbitration eligible, though, I can see (by squinting) a scenario where he’s a bench piece or fill-in bat, which is basically what the Cardinals have spelled him to anyway, so it wouldn’t be too far fetched.

Interestingly enough, the Rays also have a player without a position, and one who the Cardinals could most definitely use.

Rays get:

  • 1B/DH Jose Martinez

Cardinals Get:

  • IF Matt Duffy and cash

2019 payroll addition: Neutral

Here’s a visual

Lineup projected wRC+
Lineup projected wRC+
2B Wendle 85 (rude)
LF Pham 118
DH Cruz 132
C Realmuto 107
RF Meadows 115
1B Diaz 108
3B Robertson 102
CF Kiermaier 92
SS Adames 95
Bench
IF Martinez 117
DH Choi 109
IF/OF Lowe 110
C Zunino 99

That is quite a bit of thump, both on the field and on the bench, with tons of roster flexibility to boot (If you’re wondering where Guillermo Heredia is, I haven’t forgotten about him; he has two options remaining). The Rays could plug in any combination of these guys on any given night and have a pretty formidable lineup day in and day out, while still possessing plenty of depth on the 40-man in case of inevitable injuries.

The Rays are also looking to add some pitching, more specifically, an established closer. There’s an infinite amount of directions the Rays could go here, as options are virtually limitless.

2019 payroll addition: approx. $8MM

Total 2019 payroll addition: approx. $29MM

Total 2019 Payroll: $75MM