As we head into the final weeks of the offseason, I’ve been giving some thought to what the Rays will do to fine tune their 2021 roster before the season starts. This is how I see it:
1. Trade KK – KK had a good 2020, but he will be 31 in a couple months and his value is mostly tied to playing elite defense. When his speed and quickness go, it will probably happen quickly. The Rays have prepared to move on from KK through their signing of Phillips and Margot. I believe their single biggest priority the rest of the offseason is finding a buyer for KK. As far as the return goes, I don’t expect anything more than unproven relievers or lotto ticket pitchers. The pipe dreams I see in comments about KK returning 45 FV prospects is just crazy to me.
2. LHRP – The Rays really can’t go into the 2021 season without adding 1-2 LHRP. Their bullpen from 2020 is largely intact, except that they’re down Loup and Alvarado (both LHRPs). I expect Loup to be resigned, and I would love to see the Rays trade with the Brewers for Hader (more on that below).
3. Middle Infielders – The Rays will be calling up Walls, Padlo, Brujan and Franco in 2021. There are others who might also be ready to be called up beyond those 4 (e.g., Gray and Quiroz). Point being, the Rays would probably like to start that process by the end of ST by trading one of the following - Wendle, Brosseau, Diaz, Padlo, Choi - and starting the season with Walls as the super utility infielder. A trade with the Brewers makes a ton of sense, given their need for middle infielders and desire to trade LHRP Hader. Hader’s salary might be an issue if the Rays are super focused on having the most minimal payroll possible, but otherwise it should be fine if the Rays trade KK.
4. Rotation – Yes, adding another pitcher to the rotation makes sense, but it’s WAYYY down the list of priorities. I believe the Rays are willing to head into 2021 with Glas, Yarbs, Wacha, Fleming and Patino/McClanny/Honey to start the season. Hell, they might start the season with Richards in the top 5 and Honey in the Pen. I would like them to sign someone like Taillon or Weaver like everyone else, but only at a reasonable cost (more on that below).
5. Future – This is where things get interesting. What are the holes on this team in 22 and beyond and can we fill any of them before the season starts.
· Rotation – Things change and sometimes quickly, but I feel good about the rotation over the next half decade. Glas will be anchoring the rotation for the next 2 years and he will be followed by 4-6 of the following (in order of proximity to the Majors): McKay, Patino, Honey, McClanny, Ryan, Strotman, Baz, Wilcox, Goss, Johnson, Bradley, and Doxakis. The Rays should quickly have a top rotation again. Further, as the younger guys get to AAA, their trade value will increase considerably if they continue to be top prospects. Guys who are 5-10M prospects now could be 20-50M prospects in a year’s time. For now, this is not a position of need, but the Rays should always be interested in adding to the rotation. As stated, if they can acquire Taillon or Weaver for reasonable cost, they should do it.
· Bullpen – It will be interesting to see how the Rays handle the Pen over the next few years. I’ve stated more than once that I don’t expect Anderson to still be a Ray in his second arb year. He will get expensive quick, and at a time when others are getting expensive too (e.g., in particular, Glas, Meadows, Adames, Castillo, and Yarbs) . If the Rays elect to trade Anderson this year, at the height of his trade value, the Rays will still have a decent pen, both this year and in the future, led by Castillo and Fairbanks.
· Catcher – Talk about a position that went from a huge negative to one with plenty of promise. The catcher position is no longer a blackhole of hope, with Mejia, R.Hernandez, Hunt, Proctor, Driscoll, and Betts in the system. I don’t expect H.Hernandez to remain a catcher with the Rays. I wouldn’t object to adding a truly top prospect to the system, but I think the Rays are done here.
· 1B – Unless H.Hernandez is the answer at 1B, the Rays have a problem at 1B now and in the future. Choi is below average and Diaz’s lack of power is concerning. Surprisingly, none of the defensive measures (Fangraphs, UZR and OAA) love Choi’s defense, which I thought was one of his strengths. Diaz isn’t loved either, but that’s not surprising. So anyway, improving 1B strikes me as the biggest need right now, and I would love to see us add S.Beer from the D-Backs.
· 2B – I think we’re good here. Whether you like B.Lowe, Brujan or Edwards at 2B long term, the Rays have this position covered.
· SS – I will be curious to see how the Rays handle this position. Could they possibly trade Adames before or during the 21 season to make way for Franco? If they move Franco to 3B, would Adames be the "long-term" answer at SS (ie: is an extension possible), or would Walls be a possible starting option with Franco at 3B? After these guys, there are plenty of other long term options in the system.
· 3B – Is Franco or Brujan the long term answer at 3B? What about Padlo? I expect Diaz to move to 1B by the end of 2021 or be traded, and I see Brosseau only as a utility player given how the Rays used him last year (or didn’t use him). I can easily see B.Lowe move to COF, Brujan at 2B, Franco at SS and Adames traded. If that happens, there would be a hole at 3B if Padlo, Diaz or Brosseau isn’t the long term answer. So, I see 3B as a position of minor need.
· COF – Aroz, Aroz, Aroz!!! I hope/expect to see him manning LF for the next 5-6 years. RF looks decent too, with either B.Lowe or Brujan likely headed there for the next half decade. Pretty much everyone else in the system is a CF prospect with a weak bat, so I wouldn’t mind if the Rays pursued a true COF prospect (unless you believe Gomez is going to work out). Meadows is fine in a pinch, but he should be a DH (surprisingly, the defensive measures don’t hate Meadows defense, even if the eye test says he’s really bad).
· CF – KK gets traded and Phillips/Margot start the season in CF, with J.Lowe the immediate future. I worry about all their bats though and would be interested in acquiring a top CF prospect if one became available. CF is just too critical to the Rays overall strategy to not have a top player at the position. Not a huge need for the Rays, given my expectation for J.Lowe to be the answer, but a position to strengthen if possible.
· DH – Meadows is the answer in 2021-23 and H.Hernandez might be the answer after that. I’ve given up hope of signing someone like Cruz.
· Summary – The Rays have a really good team and a great Farm system, but there is room for improvement, specifically the re-allocation of assets from positions of strength to positions of weakness. From my viewpoint, I expect the Rays to trade KK (and possibly a $3-5M prospect and/or $2-6M cash) for 1-2 unproven relievers and/or lotto pitchers, and I expect 1-2 infielders to be moved before the start of the season. I would also trade Anderson for the right return, because I don’t expect him to be here for more than 2 more years, one of which will be the 21 transition year. So what trades would l like to see:
o KK Trade – Rays trade KK and Pie to the Mets for Ryley Gilliam (RHP) and Daniel Zamora (LHRP). Zamora would be available to help the Rays in 21, while Gilliam is at least 1 year out. With the Rays’ pitching prospects, Gilliam is probably a reliever for the Rays too. If the Rays can do better than this trade, great!
o Middle Infielders – Rays trade Diaz and Wendle to the Brewers for Hader and Andrews (LHRP prospect). This trade is best viewed in conjunction with the Anderson trade below, as it swaps Anderson (RHP) for Hader (LHP), while also moving superfluous infielders for players at positions of need. The Brewers trade allows the Rays to really see what they have in Brosseau, as it frees up playing time for him, while also allowing Walls and/or Padlo to start the season with the team. Walls is a switch-hitting defensive dynamo who can play all the same positions as Wendle. Padlo is a bit redundant to Brosseau, but the Rays could use more RHB on the team, which Padlo, Brosseau and Walls can provide. If Brosseau can show he’s more than a bench player, his value to the Rays could explode.
o Anderson – I have considered a number of destinations for Anderson, specifically the Angels and Padres, but if I’m putting together a trade that marries the Rays needs with an Anderson trade, I think I like the Diamondbacks best. The proposed trade is Anderson and Ryan for Weaver (SP), Henry (SP prospect), Beer (1B prospect), and Patino (COF prospect). Beer and Patino could be special and Weaver fills an area of need. The loss of Anderson is offset by the trade for Hader.