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Looking ahead: Rays 2020 roster decisions

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MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off a successful 96-win season, a Wild Card game win, and a respectable (if ultimately unsuccessful) bid to win the division series.

With the season behind us, it’s time to take inventory of what the 2020 Rays could look like.

The Rays are a very young team, so it’s not surprising that they don’t have many pending free agents. Travis d’Arnaud, Avisail Garcia, and Eric Sogard are scheduled to hit free agency.

The Rays could, if they so desired, essentially bring the 2019 team back for 2020.

Guaranteed Contracts

The Rays don’t have a lot of money committed to guaranteed contracts. There is $33.5MM on the books at present.

  • Charlie Morton: $15MM
  • Kevin Kiermaier: $10MM
  • Blake Snell: $7MM
  • Brandon Lowe: $1.5MM

Arbitration Estimates

Matt Swartz and MLBTradeRumors.com have developed the most accurate arbitration estimates available publicly. This year they have once again published their estimates.

These won’t be exact, but overall they give you a good baseline of what to expect.

  • Tommy Pham: $8.6MM
  • Mike Zunino: $4.9MM
  • Matt Duffy: $2.9MM
  • Jesus Aguilar: $2.5MM
  • Chaz Roe: $2.2MM
  • Tyler Glasnow: $1.9MM
  • Oliver Drake: $1.1MM
  • Daniel Robertson: $1.1MM
  • Guillermo Heredia: $1.1MM

The nine arbitration eligible players add up to a projected $26.3MM.

Tommy Pham is the biggest spend here. He should be back at a reasonable salary that the Rays can afford.

Mike Zunino will be the one most likely to be non-tendered. Zunino was awful at the plate this year. He still brought elite defense. He’s not a great hitter, but he’s generally better than he showed this year. Last year he made $4.4125MM so this is a very small increase. As is he’s easily one of the two best catchers in the organization (along with Michael Perez), he could well be back. If they want to replace him they would need to look outside the organization; they could use the almost $5MM earmarked for Zunino to help pay for it.

Matt Duffy has had an injury-riddled tenure with the Rays, which depresses his arbitration value. When he’s been healthy he’s been productive. He’s hit .284/.351/.357 and put up a 100 wRC+ over 809 plate appearances. In his case, however, there are internal options available for the Rays. It would therefore not be surprising to see him non-tendered or traded for a minor PTBNL.

Jesus Aguilar will present an interesting decision. He has generally hit when he has gotten an opportunity. As a 1B/DH he doesn’t offer much positional flexibility. In a year where balls were flying out of ballparks at record rates he posted a career low .153 ISO after posting .240 and .264 ISOs in 2017 and 2018. He accomplished this while walking more and striking out much less, so he’s a very interesting bounce back option. This is a reasonable gamble for the Rays to take, but they may decide they can replicate his production in other ways.

Chaz Roe had a very up and down season. He struggled throwing strikes out of the gate, but was able to correct that as the summer went on. He was one of the six relievers the Rays relied on down the stretch. His $2.2MM projected salary is reasonable. Because of his extreme splits, his value (to the Rays or anyone else) could decline next year, however, as the league implements its rule requiring relievers to face three or more batters taking effect in 2020.

Tyler Glasnow will be Super Two eligible, and probably the player whose projected numbers are most likely to be off. Glasnow was dominant this year, but the injury will limit what he makes. This is a case where I would not hazard a guess; his salary could be the estimated $1.9 million but it could also be $3-4 million. At any rate he’s a keeper and will be one of the core pieces of the 2020 Rays team.

Oliver Drake showed himself to be very good against left handed batters even though he throws right handed. Like Roe, Drake will be out of options which will give the Rays less flexibility. However there is little savings to be had here. If he’s one of the best eight relievers he’ll be back.

Daniel Robertson was very productive in 2018, but then under performed in 2019. Right now internally it’s probably a decision of Robertson vs Duffy for the RH bench utility infielder.

Guillermo Heredia is currently the fourth outfielder on the 40 man roster. That is likely too big of a role for him. The question will be whether the Rays bring in an outfielder from the outside who they feel can cover center field. If the Rays are able to improve on this roster spot then Heredia shouldn’t stand in the way, but it’s likely a very small role.

Pre-Arbitration

The Rays strengthen among early career plays gives them the payroll flexibility to pay for vets like Morton and Pham. Teams at any level of payroll need the young players making the league minimum or near it, but this is especially true of small market teams.

  • Ji-Man Choi
  • Willy Adames
  • Austin Meadows
  • Yandy Diaz
  • Joey Wendle
  • Yonny Chirinos
  • Ryan Yarbrough
  • Nick Anderson
  • Emilio Pagan
  • Diego Castillo
  • Jose Alvarado
  • Colin Poche

These are the twelve who are likely important pieces of the 2020 team and who will afford the Rays to flexibility to add elsewhere.

Ji-Man Choi is in his final year, but will make around $850k once again in 2020 due to the minor league deal he struck with the MIlwaukee Brewers before the 2018 season. Choi can hit and has become a true fan favorite.

Willy Adames and Austin Meadows were two of the best position players for the Rays in 2019.

The pitching talent is quite remarkable. Two starters and five high leverage relievers give you a strong base for a staff.

Current 26-Man Roster

2020 Projected Tampa Bay Rays Roster

Position Player Salary (MM)
Position Player Salary (MM)
C Mike Zunino 4.9
C Michael Perez 0.55
1B Ji-Man Choi 0.85
2B Brandon Lowe 1.5
SS Willy Adames 0.55
3B Yandy Diaz 0.55
LF Tommy Pham 8.6
CF Kevin Kiermaier 10
RF Austin Meadows 0.55
DH Jesus Aguiilar 2.5
BE Daniel Robertson 1.1
BE Joey Wendle 0.55
BE Guillermo Heredia 1.1
SP Blake Snell 7
SP Charlie Morton 15
SP Tyler Glasnow 1.9
SP Yonny Chirinos 0.55
SP Ryan Yarbrough 0.55
RP Nick Anderson 0.55
RP Emilio Pagan 0.55
RP Diego Castillo 0.55
RP Colin Poche 0.55
RP Jose Alvarado 0.55
RP Chaz Roe 2.2
RP Oliver Drake 1.1
RP Jalen Beeks 0.55
Total 64.9

This won’t be the opening day roster. This is making the best 26 man roster using the currently available players in the Rays system. The only player non-tender/traded in this scenario was Duffy as he lost out to Robertson as a utility infielder.

The Rays will make additions. The likeliest move is to bring in a right handed outfielder to replace Avisail Garcia.

Coming in just shy of $65MM total should give the Rays flexibility to make a medium sized addition.

There will likely be a move or two you just don’t see coming much like the Yandy Diaz for Jake Bauers move they made last winter, but even as things stand today, the Rays are set up to be a very competitive team in 2020.