The Winter Meetings are happening now, virtually, and while the format may mean less chaos for the baseball world, it seems likely to lead to many trades all the same.
These are the Rays players most likely to be offered in trade by Tampa Bay this week:
1. 1B/3B Nate Lowe
The Rays have finally developed a first base prospect that’s ready to take the majors by storm, and as fate would have it, he’s blocked at the major league level by one of the most popular Rays players in years: Ji-Man Choi.
Choi is not an expensive asset and has proven to be a quality defender, enough so that the Rays have tried N. Lowe at third base in 2020 to see if he could break into the majors at what is currently Joey Wendle’s corner.
The Rays do not need two of the same thing, so Nate Lowe seems likely to go. That is, unless it turns out Austin Meadows has reasonable trade value on the market this offseason. I’d say that’s a year too soon, but you never know! Without DH or 1B free, Lowe deserves playing time somewhere else.
Possible Destinations: Rangers, Nationals, Rockies
You might be better off kicking the can down the road with Lowe, as the Rays are running out of time to utilize his value. I would love to see Neander & Co. turn this roster spot into an opening on the 40-man by matching up prospect values for someone younger. If it’s the Rangers, a good match could be their 2018 first rounder RHP Cole Winn, who has very little mileage on his arm over the last two years.
2. CF Kevin Kiermaier
The Rays have dedicated approximately $15 million and three roster spots to one position, under the current roster construction: center field.
Kevin Kiermaier is one of two Rays players making eight figures and has a contract with two years remaining with a club option. That’s pretty cheap for the best defensive outfielder in baseball, but pretty expensive if you’re the Tampa Bay Rays.
You would need to find a trade partner that could take on salary and also values his defense like the Rays do, which makes this a tough sell in 2020.
Possible Destinations: Astros, Giants, Phillies, Nationals, Red Sox, Rockies
San Francisco is lacking a center fielder, are not afraid to spend, and need a place holder for Heliot Ramos, so I call them first. If they think they can compete, KK makes their roster better. If the Phillies want to get wild, I can’t help but dream of a KK for McCutchen and Velasquez swap, but the Phillies don’t seem likely to kick in the cash needed to make a deal.
The easiest path may be to just call the losers of the George Springer sweepstakes.
3. 3B/LF Yoshi Tsutsugo
The Rays signed Yoshi last year as the Tommy Pham replacement on the roster, but the pandemic shortened season kept Tsutsugo from getting settled in at the plate. Meanwhile, the Japanese star saw Randy Arozarena lay claim to his roster spot throughout the playoffs. With the ALCS MVP here to stay, Yoshi is redundant for the 2021 Rays.
To facilitate moving Tsutsugo’s $7 million contract the Rays might need to include a prospect to sweeten the deal, but there could be teams interested in his services.
Possible Destinations: Nationals, Rangers, Cubs, Twins, Astros
Other than center, Houston doesn’t have many weak points but where they could use help is the long side of a left field platoon. The Astros have the salary room with or without Springer to take on a $7 million contract, so perhaps a Tsutsugo swap for a high minors catcher like Garrett Stubbs could ease Tampa Bay’s concerns at the position of need (and which effectively replaces Mikey Perez, who was cut for roster space earlier this offseason).
4. RHP Yonny Chirinos
Rays roster spots are at a premium right now; a consequence of having a loaded farm system. And among the four pitchers on the 40-man roster to undergo the knife, only one has already reached salary arbitration: Yonny Chirinos.
By moving his contract to another team, the Rays could free up a roster spot to add to the team while also getting out of $3M+ in commitments over the next two seasons that would not benefit the 2021 or possibly 2022 rosters.
Possible Destinations: Angels, Athletics, Giants, Mets, Nationals, Reds
Those destinations are in alphabetical order because it really comes down to who wants to take on the project. Chirinos is good enough to work out of a rotation, but the Rays need a contributor today. The return would need to be something in the low minors.
I’d like to hope that a young, 45 FV prospect is a reasonable ask, but that might not be the case in pandemic off seasons. If it were Oakland I’d be targeting OF Brayan Buelvas, but if you can’t get something that good, a piece rounding out a top 10-15 list like 2-way youngster William Holmes from LAA would be fun.