The Tampa Bay Rays are always in state of flux, always restructuring and maneuvering in attempt to field the most competitive team possible, while always remaining conscious of their bottom line.
This past offseason was no different.
During the second half of the 2018 season, everything clicked for the Rays. Tommy Pham and Tyler Glasnow came over at the trade deadline, while Willy Adames overcame some early season jitters to excel down the stretch. The Rays were just good, top to bottom at every aspect of the game. This helped them to win 90 games by the end of the year, surprising baseball pundits far and wide.
As the offseason began, there wasn’t much to address for the 90 win squad. They had money to spend, core players under contract for several years, and only a couple MLB regulars leaving for free agency. They were in an extremely enviable position.
Here were the team’s top needs at the start of the offseason:
- Starting Pitcher
- Right handed power bat
As soon as the offseason commenced, the Rays filled their catching need as they jettisoned fourth outfielder Mallex Smith to the Seattle Mariners in a five player deal, bringing in Mike Zunino as the starting catcher and Guillermo Heredia as Smith’s replacement.
Zunino immediately filled the Rays top need, and he’ll tandem with Michael Perez to kickoff the 2019 season.
The calendar then turned to December, and the Rays made the somewhat surprising move to designate arbitration eligible slugger, CJ Cron, for assignment. He would eventually be claimed by the Minnesota Twins, leaving the Rays to fill another void left by their former first baseman, who mashed 30 home runs during the 2018 season.
The Rays were very active in the free agency market, at least according to the pace of the offseason. At various times they were connected to the likes of Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, and Craig Kimbrel. However, the Rays would only make two major league signings over the course of the offseason, but addressing each of their remaining needs.
In December, the Rays made the largest free agent signing in franchise history agreed to terms with RHP Charlie Morton on a three year deal that could potentially pay Morton $45M over the course of the deal. He is guaranteed $30M over 2019 and 2020, with a team option in 2021 that could pay Morton up to $15M. Later on, the Rays were able to secure Avisail Garcia at a bargain guarantee of $3 million for a former 4-win outfielder coming off injury.
The Rays could have stopped there, but remained active by wheeling and dealing through several trades over the course of the offseason. There was already the aforementioned deal with the Mariners, that landed Zunino and Heredia. Later on, the Rays made another trade involving Seattle, and also the Cleveland Indians.
The Rays sent 1B/OF Jake Bauers to the Indians for INF Yandy Diaz and RHP Cole Sulser, the Rays also sent $5M to the Mariners in the trade with INF Edwin Encarnacion going from the Indians to Seattle, and DH Carlos Santana heading to Cleveland from from the Mariners.
Just over a week later, the Rays were involved in another three team deal, this time involving the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers. The Rays received RHP Emilio Pagan and the 38th overall selection in the 2019 draft from the Athletics by sending three minor league pitchers to the Rangers, including helium starting prospect LHP Brock Burke. The Rays also received RHP Rollie Lacy from the Rangers, while the Athletics sent 2B Eli White to the Rangers and received INF Jurickson Profar to complete the trade.
Catch all that?
While there was no addition of a strict DH for the 2019 roster, the Rays did lock up 2B Brandon Lowe and move Ji-Man Choi to first base, and the two will likely share time at those positions. And with the versatility available to the Rays on the infield, a strict DH was likely a roster-clogging move. If a DH is the real answer, the Rays could always get active on the trade market mid-season as well, but there’s still much to learn about the players the Rays already have.
Meanwhile, there were no immediate upgrades to the bullpen, but the Rays returned significant depth from the 2018 team, and added Pagan and Sulser to the Triple-A side, as well as various minor league free agents along the way in LHP Ryan Merritt, RHP Casey Sadler, and RHP Luis Santos.
Here’s a summary of all the comings and goings at the major league level.
- Avisail Garcia, OF (free agent)
- Charlie Morton, RHP (free agent)
- Yandy Diaz, INF (trade)
- Mike Zunino, C (trade)
- Guillermo Heredia, OF (trade)
- Mallex Smith, OF (trade)
- CJ Cron, 1B (released)
- Jake Bauers, 1B/OF (trade)
- Jesus Sucre, C (free agent)
- Sergio Romo, RHP (free agent)
- Carlos Gomez, OF (free agent)
How would you grade the Rays 2019 offseason?
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Daniel Russell contributed to this article.