With the conclusion of the World Series, the off-season officially begins for major league baseball, and that means players whose contracts ended in 2021 are now free agents.
The Tampa Bay Rays have seven players who became free agents today, with most if not all unlikely to return. They are:
- Chris Archer
- Nelson Cruz
- Tommy Hunter
- Collin McHugh
- David Robertson
- Chaz Roe
- Michael Wacha
Archer and Wacha were two starters signed as part of the diversification the Rays attempted in the starting rotation following the decision to not retain Charlie Morton. Archer made just six appearances as he battled injury; this means that James Shields’ franchise strikeout record, which Archer might have surpassed had he remained healthy, remains safe. Wacha failed to retain a starting role after poor showings early in the season; he was able to reinvent his pitch mix for a more effective late season run. Should either Archer or Wacha want to stay in Tampa Bay, it would likely need to be in a relief capacity, which likely comes at a pay cut from the already paltry salaries in St. Pete.
McHugh and Robertson are two key pieces of the 2021 bullpen that the Rays would likely prefer to retain, but their strong performances this season likely mean they can find higher paying gigs outside the state of Florida. It would not be surprising to see them land with any other team in the AL East.
Hunter and Roe are two veterans of the Rays bullpen, with Roe being the longest tenured member of the staff. Neither helped the Rays last season due to injury, with Roe making only one appearance and Hunter none. Hunter will likely not factor into the team’s plans next season due the loaded nature of the Rays pitching depth, while Roe has been effectively replaced by Matt Wisler and will likely need to pursue a new opportunity.
And then there is Cruz — the first recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award to play for the Rays in franchise history — who reaches free agency as a costly trade deadline acquisition. Injured down the stretch, he did not contribute as much to the Rays postseason as expected, but remains one of baseball’s best hitters.
In 2021, the designated hitter was in the 99th percentile of max exit velocity, 94th percent for HardHit%, and 93rd for Avg Exit Velocity, barreling the baseball in the 85th percentile and with an 84th percentile xwOBA. Should he choose to play again in 2022, Cruz will have more than enough suitors and should have no problem replicating his salary of $13M, especially if baseball adopts the DH in the National League.
Only one player in franchise history has been paid more money for a season of work, and that’s Charlie Morton. When the Rays had the opportunity to retain Morton’s services for another $15M they declined the option and allowed him to walk, leading Morton to the Atlanta Braves, a dominating post season run, and a the World Series ring. If you are wondering whether the Rays will try to re-sign Cruz, well, let history be your guide for what is likely to happen next.
In a recent ranking of the Top-50 free agents this winter at CBS Sports, R.J. Anderson placed Nelson Cruz at No. 25 and Collin McHugh at No. 33.