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Should any non-tendered players be interesting to the Rays?

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The list looks tempting. Could Tampa Bay find room for any of these guys?

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB non-tender deadline came and went on Monday, with the Rays non-tendering Guillermo Heredia while the rest of the league decided who they did and didn’t want to go to arbitration with.

The pool of players non-tendered now immediately enter free agency, where the open market will determine their value. This year in particular, the list of newly available players looks intriguing.

Most of the responses to this list has centered around the idea that a team composed solely of non-tendered players might compete for the playoffs — or at least not be terrible. That’s maybe going a bit too far, but there are certainly some names on the list who could have a role on competing teams.

As has been noted time and time again on DRaysBay this offseason, improving the Rays for 2020 is going to be a tough task, with the combination of solid depth, impending 40-man roster crunch, and a tight budget (I’m starting to feel a little tipsy). With those factors in place, let’s take a look at who should and who shouldn’t be of potential interest to Tampa Bay this offseason.

Group 1: Yeah, That’s Gonna Be A No From Me, Dawg

Players: Jose Peraza and Addison Russell

It’s starting to look more and more like 2018 was the outlier, not the new norm for Peraza. As for Russell, I wouldn’t mind him fading off into the distance.

Group 2: Don’t Totally Rule Out A Return, But Probably Not

Players: Tim Beckham, C.J. Cron, and Steven Souza Jr.

All three of these guys were on the Rays at some point since 2017, but I’d likely rule out any of them making a Rays Return. All three were reasonably popular (Bex maybe moreso immediately after he was traded than when he was on the team), but none are a good fit for what the Rays will be looking for in 2020. Beckham can’t bring anything Adames doesn’t already do; the Rays want more versatility than what Cron brings; and Souza is too much of an injury-risk to use a precious roster spot on.

Group 3: Intriguing, But Probably Not A Good Fit For The Rays

Players: Kevin Gausman, Taijuan Walker, Aaron Sanchez, and Danny Hultzen (not in tweet)

Honestly, with the pitching staff the Rays are rocking these days, unless I have a pretty high level of faith in you, I’m not interested. There’s just not room for lottery tickets.

I do not have a pretty high level of faith in any of these guys. They’re interesting reclamation projects for a team like the Orioles, but let’s not be the Orioles, folks. The Rays should be aiming higher in 2020. (Of course, as always, the caveat of: If these guys want to take a minor-league deal and the price is right, sure why not? But that’s not really the premise of this article.)

Group 4: Hmmm, Intriguing

Players: Maikel Franco, Kevin Pillar, Domingo Santana, and Cesar Hernandez

This quadrumvirate of position players has me all kinds of intrigued. Let’s go one-by-one.

Franco: God, I’m a sucker for a guy with good plate discipline. For his career, Franco has just a 15.3 percent strikeout rate, with a passable 6.8 percent walk rate to go along with that. Last season, even during his struggles, he had an 8.4 percent walk rate and 14.3 percent strikeout rate. Of course, he does this by swinging more than most, and all that swinging has led to poor contact throughout his career. He has just an 18.0 % line drive rate for his career (16.6 % in 2019) and an absolutely absurd 18.3 % CAREER infield fly ball rate. That’s nearly double the league rate, and his 2019 rate (24.1 %) was the third-highest this decade (min. 350 PA)! It seems like a pattern at this point, and because of it Franco is a pass. (Although the potential for the Rays straightening out his swing is why he’s still intriguing.)

Pillar: I mean, why not grab all the best center fielders in baseball? In all seriousness, he’d make an amazing fourth outfielder for the Rays (steady ~85 wRC+ throughout his career), but given that he’s played at least 142 games each of the past five seasons, I’m not sure he’d sign on for that role. Now, if the Rays trade KK...

Santana: Now here’s a man potentially more likely to sign on for that fourth outfielder role, and one who is two years removed from being a very interesting hitter. Even last year, in over 500 plate appearances, he posted a wRC+ of 107. He strikes out a lot (32.0 percent career strikeout rate), but his power is legit (career .194 ISO), and he’s still just 27 years old. So why was he non-tendered? Well, he makes Austin Meadows look like Kevin Kiermaier in the outfield. He posted a shocking -34 DRS for the Mariners in 2019, doing damage at all three outfield spots. And honestly, given that the Rays have an already questionable defensive outfielder in Meadows, and their most-likely-to-be-injured outfielder playing in center, I think that swings the answer to a no for Santana. Close though.

Hernandez: I was pretty shocked to see him here on this list, and if the fit were better, he’d be up even a tier higher. Here’s a 29-year-old middle infielder whose floor sits around 2.0 WAR. Of course, his ceiling doesn’t reside much higher, and that’s where the issue comes in for the Rays. If the Rays are going to move for one of these guys, it has to either come at a position of need (sadly no legitimate catchers were non-tendered, of course) or have an high enough ceiling to really improve the squad. Hernandez has neither.

Group 5: Gimme, gimme

Player: Blake Treinen

Twelve months ago, Treinen was an All-Star, finished sixth in the Cy Young, and was even receiving MVP votes, and now he’s on the open market.

Of course, there are a few factors ongoing here. First, and almost needless to say: RELIEVERS BE VOLATILE. Treinen has seen his ERA yo-yo from year to year in a manner Gentry Stein would be proud of: 2.49; 3.86; 2.28; 3.93; 0.78; 4.91.

There’s also the fact that the A’s, as smart and informed a franchise as you’ll find outside of the Rays, are deciding to non-tender him, and that is slightly troubling. Was there maybe a hints of an injury that the general baseball world didn’t know about? Do they believe 2017 and 2019 more than 2018?

Regardless, for a decent price (say, two years/$16M), it would be great to see the Rays make a move on the 31-year-old righty. Having him and Jose Alvarado as a pair of big-name positive-regression-to-the-mean candidates in a bullpen that otherwise may have overperformed last year, would be the perfect antidote for that expected negative regression. Relievers are always sketchy, but if you’re going to take a swing on one, make it one with a 97 mph fastball and nice ride. Projection systems peg him around 4.00 ERA, but I’d take the under if offered that figure.

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So what do y’all make of the options out there?