In case you’re just tuning in from the winter holiday, the Tampa Bay Rays lost in their bidding for veteran slugger Nelson Cruz, if they were ever really involved, and Troy Tulowitzki is heading to the Yankees, who lost Didi Gregorious to Tommy John surgery earlier in the off-season.
Whether it was ever a serious pursuit for either player is moot, the Rays missed out on adding a significant boost to their offensive output that had already been diminished by their decision to designate C.J. Cron for assignment in November.
Nelson Cruz was healthy and affordable for the Rays, and a deserved focal point for Rays fans this off-season, but the team chose a different door, and I believe the real question is not why the Rays did not sign a 38-year old slugger, but what lies beyond that other door.
So, where do they go from here?
Door No. 1: Jose Martinez, a hitting machine with a weak glove
Earlier this month, the St Louis Cardinals acquired first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rays were also reportedly involved on Goldschmidt prior to the trade, but fell just short. That trade may have opened another door for the Rays as it made Jose Martinez expendable in St Louis.
This past season was Jose Martinez’s first full year as a major league regular and he showcased his offensive capabilities by hitting .305/.364/.457 with 17 HR over 590 plate appearances, putting up 125 wRC+. Thus far,in his brief MLB career, he has a 130 wRC+.
He was the Cardinals starting first baseman, as it is the only position he is actually capable of playing on par with what’s expected of a major league ballplayer. He did spend some time in right field, but put up -6 DRS, meanwhile as a first baseman, he accrued -5 DRS.
Martinez needs to retire his glove and just stick to hitting full time as his offensive prowls are rendered moot by his putrid defensive capabilities.
Once the Goldschmidt deal was completed, speculation immediately began that the Rays would pivot to Jose Martinez. Derrick Goold of the St Louis Post-Dispatch would confirm the Rays interest, reporting that the two sides had begun trade talks for their defensively challenged slugger.
From @dgoold on @TMASTL: The #STLCards have explored trades to move Jose Martinez. They've talked with Tampa. They could make a need-for-need trade in which they do a deal with a team who needs a right-handed bat who can play OF and 1B for a utility left-handed bat.— Tim McKernan (@tmckernan) December 6, 2018
Martinez will not be arbitration eligible until next offseason and is under contract through 2022.
Door No. 2: Edwin Encarnacion, the expensive Cruz approximation
Another slugger the Rays have been connected to is Edwin Encarnacion, who earlier this month was flipped to the Seattle Mariners as part of a three team trade with the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians. There were rumors at the time that Encarnacion was actually part of the return to Tampa Bay, but ultimately he went to Seattle, along with $5M from Tampa Bay who were eager to acquire Yandy Diaz.
Encarnacion’s offensive output has been trending downward the past few seasons, but he is still a force to be reckoned with in the middle of a lineup as he still mashed 32 HR in 2018, establishing a 115 wRC+ over 579 plate appearances. He isn’t a complete black hole defensively, as he is a competent first baseman, but he was mainly relegated to DH duties in Cleveland. He is still owed $20M in 2019 with a $5M buyout following the season.
The likelihood of the Rays targeting an expensive asset like EE is low unless the Mariners eat some of the salary, which may be a possibility. Because the Rays previously sent cash to Seattle in the Yandy Diaz acquisition, it’s possibly a sign the Mariners are looking to off-load any salary they can. Paying a portion of Encarnacion’s contract may be more palatable than paying all of it for Jerry Dipoto.
Door No. 3: Unknown
According to multiple reports, the Rays are still very much in on the hunt for JT Realmuto, the Miami Marlins prized catcher. The asking price thus far has been extremely steep, with the Marlins requesting an already established or near MLB talent with plenty of team control left on their contract, such as Cody Bellinger from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Rays have reportedly been willing to use one of their top prospects, Jesus Sanchez, in potential deals, but thus far a trade has not come to fruition. The Rays might spend that asset elsewhere, and we can’t be sure where.
This has been a very active offseason for the Rays as they have already been a part of two three team trades and have handed out one of their largest free agent contracts in franchise history. They have also been in on some of the game’s premier talents, just falling short on Goldschmidt and Cruz.
The Rays are looking to add and still have plenty of budget space to work with, their offseason is far from over.