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A different lineup every game? Projecting the Rays starting nine

Trades for Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena give Kevin Cash yet more options

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After a month of inactivity following their signing of Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the Tampa Bay Rays made a couple of trades of Thursday night, acquiring outfielders Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena from the St Louis Cardinals for prospect Matthew Liberatore.

Later on in the evening, the Rays also parted ways with pitcher Austin Pruitt, who was sent to the Houston Astros for minor leaguers Cal Stevenson and Peyton Battenfield.

The small flurry of moves has a massive impact on the Rays projected opening day roster. Martinez slides into the everyday lineup and Arozarena should figure in as the team’s fourth outfielder with the potential to become a starter depending on how he plays.

The Rays now face an enviable dilemma: too many decent to very good players who need to find playing time. Kevin Cash will get to be creative in configuring these lineups.


Behind the plate, not much has changed this offseason. Travis d’Arnaud received a well deserved payday from the Atlanta Braves and the Rays haven’t gone out and replaced him. Instead, they have signed Mike Zunino to a two year extension and seem content to roll with Michael Perez as the backup. Meanwhile, in the hours that followed their trading frenzy, the Rays also signed Chris Herrmann to a minor league deal, so he’ll serve as catching depth in the minor leagues.


At first base, after a fantastic 2019 campaign, the jubilant Ji-Man Choi figures to be the starter. He may share a platoon with several players on the Rays roster; Yandy Diaz figures to get the bulk of plate appearances against LHP as he had a 158 wRC+ against them in 2019 (117 PA). However, Diaz could also receive starts over at third base, while Jose Martinez could start at first against southpaws. Martinez has been phenomenal against lefties over his career, managing a 160 wRC+ against them over 298 plate appearances.

Brandon Lowe is slated to be the Rays starting second baseman. Backing up will be the likes of Daniel Robertson or Joey Wendle, both of whom should be in rotation all around the infield to give the starters the occasional day of rest, as well as serving as late game defensive replacements.

A breakout campaign may be in store for Willy Adames, who successfully improved his defensive capabilities during the 2019 season as he led American League shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved. Adames struggled against left-handed pitching (51 wRC+), but his past performance against opposite handed pitches suggests that should improve in 2020.

Third base will be a bit of a question mark. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo came to the Rays because their offer included giving him the opportunity to play every day. While in Japan, Tsutsugo’s defense wasn’t very highly regarded, but with Jose Martinez on the roster, the designated hitter role will be filled on most days. Yandy Diaz spent most of his time — while healthy — in 2019, manning the hot corner for Tampa Bay. It remains to be determined how the Rays will sort the playing time between Tsutsugo and Diaz, along with the rest of the Rays roster.


After his breakout season in 2019, Austin Meadows will be the Rays starting left fielder. And despite an unimpressive offensive performance in 2019, Kevin Kiermaier is going to be the starting center fielder. Backing him up will be Arozarena, who Baseball America says can play adequately all over the outfield and can even play some infield in a pinch as well.

Hunter Renfroe is the other main addition to the Rays roster and he’ll bring his solid defensive capabilities to right field. He should also slot into the Rays every day starting lineup.

Potential starting lineups

vs RHP

  1. Austin Meadows, LF (L)
  2. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, 3B (L)
  3. Hunter Renfroe, RF (R)
  4. Ji-Man Choi, 1B (L)
  5. Yandy Diaz, DH (R)
  6. Brandon Lowe, 2B (L)
  7. Mike Zunino, C (R)
  8. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (L)
  9. Willy Adames, SS (R)

Bench - Randy Arozarena, Michael Perez, Jose Martinez, and Daniel Robertson

vs LHP

  1. Austin Meadows, LF (L)
  2. Jose Martinez, DH (R)
  3. Hunter Renfroe, RF (R)
  4. Yandy Diaz, 1B (R)
  5. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, 3B (L)
  6. Randy Arozarena, CF (R)
  7. Mike Zunino, C (R)
  8. Willy Adames, SS (R)
  9. Daniel Robertson, 2B (R)

Bench - Kevin Kiermaier, Michael Perez, Ji-Man Choi, and Brandon Lowe

With their assortment of Major League caliber players, the Rays lineup will be a fun puzzle to solve entering each game of the season. Is it possible that we’ll see 162 different lineups over 162 games?