Despite frequent speculation, even after the Rays acquisition of Yandy Diaz, odds are that the Rays are unlikely to trade veteran third baseman Matt Duffy this offseason, and there’s a clear reason why.
The Tampa Bay Rays entered the offseason with one giant hole at catcher. The Rays then made an early, aggressive move by acquiring Mike Zunino from the Seattle Mariners for Mallex Smith, trading one of the few experienced players on the roster.
Since then, on the pitching side they added a 35 year old starter Charlie Morton via free agency, but missed out on the big free agent offensive addition Nelson Cruz.
Looking over the roster, it should come as no surprise that the Rays are scheduled to have a really inexperienced team.
The team lost Carlos Gomez and Sergio Romo to free agency and Charlie Morton is the only player signed as a free agent. That makes Kevin Kiermaier the only other player with a guaranteed contract, and he has under five years of service time. If he didn’t sign his extension he would be undergoing his third trip through arbitration with one final season remaining in 2020 as a super two.
Matt Duffy, Tommy Pham, Mike Zunino, and Chaz Roe are the only other arbitration eligible players. Inexperienced might be an understatement.
Here are the total MLB career plate appearances of Rays players on the 40 man roster:
Kevin Kiermaier 2,101
Mike Zunino 2,087
Matt Duffy 1,602
Tommy Pham 1,458
Guillermo Heredia 870
Joey Wendle 663
Daniel Robertson 594
Ji-Man Choi 368
Willy Adames 323
Yandy Diaz 299
Christian Arroyo 194
Austin Meadows 191
Michael Perez 80
Nick Ciuffo 44
Andrew Velazquez 12
Joe McCarthy 0
Jesus Sanchez 0
Typically in a full season a player will receive 650-700 plate appearances as a full time regular.
Only five players (Kiermaier, Zunino, Duffy, Pham, and Heredia) have more than a full year of experience, with Wendle and Robertson coming right around one year of experience. On the high end you have Kiermaier and Zunino representing about three full seasons of plate appearances.
Teams need young talent to be successful, and most of that success comes from the financial flexibility of having underpaid players. The Red Sox would not have won the World Series without their in-house contributors, but even teams with payrolls the size of the Red Sox will get broken up over time due to escalating salaries if they aren’t continuously filling the team with team controlled talent.
For a low-payroll team like the Rays, those breakups tend to come a bit early, leading to the inexperience highlighted above.
In the past the Rays have brought in veterans even if they aren’t starters whether it be Rickie Weeks Jr., Peter Bourjos, or Carlos Gomez. The Houston Astros brought in Carlos Beltran at the twilight of his career more for what he does off the field than what he provided on the field. I would be surprised if the Rays didn’t add one position player that has experience just to fill the void.
But that brings us back to Matt Duffy.
As much as some would like to see Matt Duffy traded due to the ability of in-house replacements to at least match what he does on the field, his experience matters. He’s been a good teammate — even when he spent the entire 2017 season on the disabled list, not much unlike Nathan Eovaldi — and he is one of the only players with any playoff experience, and has even been part of a World Series victory.
It’s possible that at some point Duffy loses his job to one of the youngsters, just like Gomez did last year, but I fully expect to see his name to be penciled into the starting lineup on Opening Day.
After choosing to not sign Cruz (which they certainly could have afforded), I’m not sure what the plan is for the Rays on offense, but I would be surprised if it’s not looking for a player with significant major league experience for the offense.