The Definitive Blueprint for a Successful Tampa Bay Rays Offseason
The offseason for the Tampa Bay Rays must seem like Groundhog Day. General Manager Andrew Friedman must feel like he is living the same process each year.
The questions about how much payroll is available, what pitchers will round out the bullpen, and how the team will replace the star player who is no longer on the team have become an annual occurrence. Not to mention the age-old question of who’s on first.
It is remarkable to think about what the Rays have accomplished since 2008, making the postseason four times, including two division titles and a World Series appearance. It is even more incredible when you consider the operating environment, competition in the AL East and financial constraints.
The blueprint for success has not changed for the Rays and will likely remain the same this season. That blueprint includes not paying market value for starting pitching, signing position players to low cost one-year-deals and building a roster of players who have flexibility to play in multiple roles.
Here are four results that need to happen in order for the Rays offseason to be successful.
All statistics and salary information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Sign Delmon Young
The Tampa Bay Rays need to bring back Delmon Young for the 2014 season. Young had a .258/.329/.452 line in 23 games with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013.
Young fits the Rays mold and blueprint. He has postseason and World Series experience to bring to the clubhouse as well as he is very economically friendly.
Young’s 2013 salary of $750,000 was $2 million less than the $2.75 million the Rays agreed to with Luke Scott to be the team’s DH.
Sign a Closer
Fernando Rodney is a free agent.
This leaves the Tampa Bay Rays without a closer, a situation they have been in before.
Even if the Rays bring back the 36-year-old pitcher, it does not necessarily mean that he will be taking the mound in the ninth inning.
Rodney’s 2013 was a stark contrast from his record-setting 2012 season where his 0.60 ERA set the record for lowest ERA by a relief pitcher. In 2013, his ERA was 3.38 and he recorded a career-high eight blown saves.
He could still have value for the Rays from the bullpen.
If Rodney is not the closer, the team could look internally at Joel Peralta or Jake McGee to fill the role.
Another option for the team could be to look at bringing back Jesse Crain.
The Rays must have a lot of interest in Crain, considering the team traded for him while he was injured and he ultimately never played a single game for them in 2013.
If none of those scenarios play out, the Rays will have to go to their tried and true method of bringing in a free-agent pitcher on a short-term contract.
It has worked previously with Rafael Soriano, Kyle Farnsworth and Rodney.
Sign James Loney
The Tampa Bay Rays have played musical chairs at first base over the past four seasons. They have rotated through two instances of Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman and most recently James Loney in 2013.
Loney had a disappointing 2012 season where he only managed a .230/.264/.310 line. The Rays were able to sign him to a budget-friendly one-year $2 million contract. Loney responded in 2013 hitting .299/.348/.430 for the Rays. He also had 46 extra-base hits, his most since the 2010 season.
He also finished as a finalist for the AL Gold Glove at first base.
It is expected that after having the season he had that there will be a lot of teams interested in signing the free-agent first baseman. There is one thing his game is lacking.
First base is traditionally a position that teams expect to generate some power on offense. Loney's mere 13 home runs in 2013 ranked him tied for 30th among first basemen. It would be one thing if it was a down season, but his career high is 15 home runs.
His 33 doubles were good enough to finish 10th among first basemen but may not be enough for a lot of teams to pursue him, even with the top-caliber defense.
This should give the Rays a reasonable opportunity to put a competitive offer on the table to bring Loney back.
All four players in the 2013 Rays infield of Loney, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Evan Longoria were finalists for the AL Gold Glove Award. The other three pieces will be back in 2014; Loney needs to not be the exception.
Trade David Price
David Price has to be traded in order for the Tampa Bay Rays to sustain success beyond 2014.
The Rays have said on numerous occasions that they cannot go to market for starting pitching. Instead, they have to develop their starting pitching prospects and trade them away while they still have two years remaining on their contracts for multiple pieces for the future in return.
Since 2008, the Rays have traded away Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson, Matt Garza, James Shields and Wade Davis from the starting rotation. In return, they received players who comprise a key portion of their roster, including Sean Rodriguez, Alex Torres, Matt Joyce, Chris Archer, Sam Fuld, Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi.
It will be interesting to see what the price will be for their latest ace on the trading block.
The two pieces they could use the most are a catcher and a starting pitcher who can help eat innings.
Last season was the first time since 2007 that the Rays did not have a pitcher compile at least 200 innings pitched. That level of production was something that Price, Shields and Garza were able to provide the team.
There is not a single remaining pitcher in the rotation who can be counted on for a high number of innings in 2014. Matt Moore is coming off of injury, Jeremy Hellickson coming off of a very poor season and Alex Cobb’s career high is 143.1 innings.
The remaining pitchers at the Rays' disposal are too young to be expected to consume the amount of innings the team needs to replace.
One possible trade partner could be the New York Mets.
With their All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey due to miss the entire 2014 season following Tommy John surgery, they have a huge gap to fill in their rotation.
If the Mets are willing to trade 23-year-old pitcher Zach Wheeler and top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud there may be enough in return for Price.