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How was the Rays’ ALDS roster built?

The Rays can’t compete with big-market teams for some free agents, but they became a playoff team with smart trades and under-the-radar additions.

MLB: SEP 27 Yankees at Rays Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Small-market teams can’t rely on free agents to become contenders, and the Rays are no exception. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball, and they have an opportunity to supplement this year’s postseason team with homegrown talent for years to come.

Much of that talent hasn’t arrived yet, though, and only a handful of players on this roster were originally acquired and developed by the Rays. It’s one of the most uniquely constructed rosters I’ve seen, with a majority of players being acquired in shrewd trades — some player-for-player deals, and some just sending cash for players no longer valued by their old clubs.

Traded for as major leaguer

Nick Anderson
Travis d’Arnaud
Ji-Man Choi
Yandy Diaz
Oliver Drake
Matt Duffy
Tyler Glasnow
Austin Meadows
Emilio Pagan
Tommy Pham
Chaz Roe
Eric Sogard
Joey Wendle
Mike Zunino

If this Rays core continues to have success, July 31, 2018 will go down as one of the most important days in franchise history. That’s the day they acquired outfielders Tommy Pham and Austin Meadows and right-handed pitcher Tyler Glasnow (and prospect Shane Baz) in trades with the Cardinals and Pirates for a very modest cost. Meadows was a first-time All-Star this year, and Pham and Glasnow are both All-Star caliber players.

While some teams wasted money in the volatile market for free agent relievers, the Rays built one of the league’s best bullpens with smart acquisitions. Drake and Roe were both acquired for cash when they were no longer wanted by other organizations. A pair of their most valuable relievers also came in recent trades, first Pagan in December and Anderson in July. Both could be mainstays in the bullpen for years to come.

The Rays can build an entire infield out of players they traded for. Like some of the other key additions through trades, Diaz is not yet eligible for arbitration and can be a part of the core moving forward. Choi has been a big part of the reason why the Rays get so much production from first base.

Drafted

Kevin Kiermaier
Brandon Lowe
Brendan McKay
Blake Snell

The list of players drafted by the Rays on this roster is short, but they’re vital to the team’s success in the present and future. Snell should anchor the rotation in the coming years, and Lowe joined Meadows as a first-time All-Star this season. Kiermaier remains one of the best defensive players in baseball.

Signed as international free agent

Diego Castillo
Yonny Chirinos

The international market is a place the Rays can compete for top talent, but teams can develop players who don’t cost several million dollars to sign too. Castillo and Chirinos signed for a combined $74,000 and were each only ranked as a top-30 prospect in the organization once. Chirinos developed into a reliable starter, and a national audience saw what Castillo can do in the Wild Card game.

Traded for as prospect

Willy Adames
Colin Poche
Ryan Yarbrough

These players made their pro debuts in other organizations, but the Rays certainly had a hand in their development — particularly Adames, who was just 19 when he was acquired in the David Price trade. They’re not homegrown, but they were all considered prospects for the Rays before reaching the majors.

Signed as major league free agent

Avisail Garcia
Charlie Morton

Of course, every competitive team will have contributions from free agents. The Rays will never be big spenders, but their investment in Morton proved to be wise, as he was their best pitcher this season. For just $3.5 million, Garcia also provided value.