The Rays have moved on from several faces of the franchise this offseason, despite winning the American League in 2020, but that should come to us as no surprise at this point, right?
Charlie Morton was allowed to test free agency and signed with the Braves, Blake Snell was shipped out to the Padres. The previous season it was top hitter Tommy Pham and closer Emilio Pagan. The Rays sell high, and mostly when there’s a plan for another piece to step in to fill the void.
That filling in may be what pre-empts the Rays next move. The future of the Tampa Bay Rays may be built on an infield we have yet to see: baseball’s top prospect Wander Franco, switch hitting elite defender Taylor Walls, and the long running promise of Vidal Brujan all loom large for the future of this franchise. It’s the very reason why we asked earlier this offseason if this could be the time to sell high on Brandon Lowe.
So where does that leave Willy Adames?
Earlier this week R.J. Anderson mapped out for CBS Sports, “MLB hot stove: Who will be next star traded? 10 big names on the block before 2021 season” — among those candidates was Willy:
The Rays have a number of quality infield prospects nearing their arrival in St. Pete: Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan, Taylor Walls. Sooner than later, they’re going to have to create space at the big-league level. That’s why Willy Adames’ situation is worth monitoring. (Ditto for Brandon Lowe’s, who has other factors working toward a deal.)
As the Snell trade indicates, the Rays prioritize maximizing their return. Adames, who just missed out on Super Two status this winter, will enter the arbitration stage of his career after next season. That, plus the presence of Franco and Walls, points toward Adames being dealt over the next 12 months. The Rays might even want to accelerate that timeline as a means of undercutting a soon to be oversaturated shortstop market.
Next year’s free-agent class is projected to include Lindor, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Story. The odds are one or two of those players will re-sign before they reach that point (Lindor and Seager, maybe), reducing the class’s star power. Regardless, the Rays can offer teams a chance to save some coin and heartache by focusing their energy instead on acquiring Adames at the deadline or early next winter.
The ability to pre-empt the crowded short stop trade market of next offseason, and maybe the ability to swing for another starting pitcher (should the Rays be out on Corey Kluber), or other MLB contributors the Rays think they can maximize, certainly may align the Rays organizational goals of clearing the path for their top prospects.
As with all things Rays, it all comes down to the return and balancing the future against today at a cost-controlled level, but the Rays have enough at the major league level today to place hold for the future while still competing for something like 90-ish wins.
Admittedly, fan service this is not, but if the Rays have already committed to not running it back, then 2021 was a transition year either way. If that boat has already left the dock, you might as well lean into the coming waves.