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Could the Rays sign one of the remaining MLB Free Agents?

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Chicago White Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

MLB Trade Rumors has kept an up-to-date list of Major League free agents, and it’s worth considering with two weeks left whether any of those names could still entice the Rays.

Any player about to be mentioned is attempting to wait out injuries in search of a clear road to starting in the majors, but we’ll note some that could be best had on minor league deals as well.

Catchers

  • None

Well that was an easy start. The Rays could have easily employed Martin Maldonado, but with only two weeks remaining likely didn’t see his services in a secondary role as a meaningful upgrade over Michael Perez... that or he wanted a starting role.

Maldonado’s AAV dropped from $6 million at the start of the off-season to a mere $2.5 million, which he got from the Royals to be their primary backstop. Maldonado would have been fantastic insurance for Mike Zunino, should an injury occur.

The other catchers in camp are Nick Ciuffo (who is on the 40-man), and prospects: Brett Sullivan, David Rodriguez, Mac James, and Rene Pinto.

Infielders

  • Chase Headley (35)
  • Logan Morrison (31)
  • Brandon Phillips (38)
  • Jose Reyes (36)
  • Danny Valencia (34)

The Rays have way-too-many infielders from a roster perspective and in the upper minors, but one name stands out here: Danny Valencia. Should the Rays lose Avisail Garcia to injury or need to employ Garcia full time due to an injury elsewhere, the versatile right hander would compliment the Rays roster nicely, should he be alright with beginning the year in Durham, but that might be a tall order for the veteran.

Valencia was previously paired with the Rays by Tommy Rancel at the Athletic.

Outfielders

  • Jose Bautista (38)
  • Carlos Gonzalez (33)
  • Austin Jackson (32)
  • Denard Span (35)
  • Chris Young (35)

Outfield is not a need on the Rays roster, as currently constructed, as the players on the infield are more than willing to take the outfield if called upon, and the Rays likely don’t see a strong upgrade to be had on the 25-man roster here.

Designated Hitters

  • Evan Gattis (32)
  • Matt Holliday (39)

Holliday might as well have retired by now, but Gattis is an intriguing player still available. El Oso Blanco has hit more than 20 homeruns in five of the last six years, and played catcher as recently as 2017. Should there be a back up backstop injured somewhere in baseball, I wonder if that could be his path to a 25-man roster, so long as Gattis’s concussion problems are behind him. As for now, I don’t see a fit for the Rays.

Starting Pitchers

  • Bartolo Colon (46)
  • Yovani Gallardo (33)
  • Gio Gonzalez (33)
  • Miguel Gonzalez (35)
  • Phil Hughes (33)
  • Edwin Jackson (35)
  • Dallas Keuchel (31)
  • James Shields (37)
  • Chris Tillman (31)

Let’s start by wondering if the Rays should be in on a starting pitcher, and on a one-year deal I can’t help but think the answer is yes. The Rays have Brent Honeywell Jr. and Jose De Leon progressing from Tommy John surgery quickly, and Jake Faria stretching out in the minors, but the team will still be rolling with The Opener twice in the five-man rotation.

One of those Opener slots is the Stanek/Yarbrough combination we’ve all come to trust, but perhaps the other slot is up for debate. Here are the 2018 results for the free agents above

Remaining Free Agent Starters

Name IP K% BB% AVG BABIP LOB% ERA FIP xFIP
Name IP K% BB% AVG BABIP LOB% ERA FIP xFIP
Dallas Keuchel 204.2 17.5% 6.6% 0.259 0.300 72.8% 3.74 3.69 3.84
Gio Gonzalez 171.0 19.8% 10.7% 0.252 0.301 73.3% 4.21 4.16 4.44
Edwin Jackson 92.0 17.9% 9.7% 0.219 0.240 79.2% 3.33 4.65 4.88
James Shields 204.2 17.7% 9.0% 0.242 0.262 70.6% 4.53 5.09 5.09
Yovani Gallardo 94.1 13.7% 11.1% 0.287 0.309 64.5% 6.39 5.42 5.29
Bartolo Colon 146.1 12.9% 4.0% 0.287 0.287 66.4% 5.78 5.47 4.67
Phil Hughes 32.2 21.1% 6.6% 0.312 0.337 80.8% 6.34 6.59 4.79
Chris Tillman 26.2 9.5% 12.4% 0.356 0.364 55.1% 10.46 7.25 6.43
Miguel Gonzalez 12.1 7.6% 9.1% 0.400 0.392 49.2% 12.41 8.03 6.22

If the Rays are looking for a starter for the full season, Dallas Keuchel or Gio Gonzlez are the easy go-to’s. And if the price is right on either one, a major league upgrade is a major league upgrade, and either pitcher is worth a couple wins. But there are other teams in more dire straights with their rotations, I don’t see either wanting Tampa Bay.

Given the developmental needs of the young pitchers on the Rays already, I would think the team could find a better pairing with a short-term answer for the rotation, as in a pitcher who wouldn’t mind transitioning to a bullpen role if needed down the line. You never know how long guys like Colon or Jackson will hold up, so they fit that bill, but I can’t help look to Big Game James if he’d be willing to follow that path.

James Shields is not what he once was in terms of results, but he’s still a 200+ inning work horse (if needed) and a positive clubhouse presence. The veteran was all smiles when he visited the Trop last year for the team’s 20th anniversary celebration, and spoke fondly of his time in Tampa Bay. To bring things full circle would feel great for fans if he could be used properly — and by properly, I mean a limit on the number of times Shields sees a hitter.

The obvious split for Shields is the cliff his results fall off the third time through the order, where his ERA jumps from 3.52 to 3.91 to 5.52 the third time through. I don’t believe Shields needs an Opener, but I do believe he could be better deployed in shorter outings (like all pitchers). Eventually, use in the bullpen would also help the Rays protect Shields from pitching in certain ballparks where his stuff might not play.

The key question is whether Shields is an upgrade over what the Rays have got. Would you rather have Emilio Pagan/Hunter Wood followed by Yonny Chirinos? That’s a fine use of existing resources, and Chirinos did sport a 3.51 ERA on the season, with a nifty 2.83 ERA in relief. His 97 mph stuff is alive and well in camp.

Perhaps the best answer is landing any of the names above on a minor league deal to pitch alongside Jake Faria in Durham in hopes of being the next Anibal Sanchez in 2018 success story

The other name that jumps out at me is Phil Hughes, who is an interesting buy low candidate but not as a starter.

Phil Hughes saw his ability to pitch several innings decline after Thoracic Outlet Surgery (which you may be familiar with from the stories of Alex Cobb and Nate Karns). It’s not a great prognosis for pitchers in most cases. The Twins released Hughes in May, and he pitched briefly with the Padres from May 31st to August 8th.

In total, Hughes made 21 relief appearances in 2018, pitching multiple innings on four occasions. He’s not a starter anymore, but I don’t see reason to believe his stuff has left him, despite the high ERA. His four-seam and slider still generate plenty of whiffs.

Relievers

  • Matt Belisle (39)
  • Blaine Boyer (37)
  • Santiago Casilla (38)
  • Erik Goeddel (30)
  • Chris Hatcher (34)
  • Jim Johnson (36)
  • Craig Kimbrel (31)
  • Boone Logan** (34)
  • Ryan Madson (38)
  • AJ Ramos (32)
  • Jorge De La Rosa** (38)
  • Fernando Salas (34)
  • Chris Volstad (32)
  • Blake Wood (33)

**left-handed

The big fish is still swimming, huh. We’ve written about Craig Kimbrel twice now, and there’d certainly be room for him on the Rays roster. He’s the best closer in baseball, and the Rays should absolutely be in on such an incredible, situational talent.

Ryan Madson is interesting, but he’s also retiring!

As for the rest? If you’re looking for a major league deal...