Hot-Stove: Rays Pick Up Ben Zobrist’s $7.5 MM Option, Cubs Fire Rick Renteria

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The Rays officially announced that they have exercised their one-year, $7.5MM club option on All-Star utility-man Ben Zobrist.

Suffice it to say, this move was clearly one of the easiest for any team with an option over a player. Zobrist, again, turned in an excellent campaign and proved to be a tremendously valuable for Tampa Bay. In 654 plate appearances for the Rays, Zobrist slashed .272 BA/.354 OBP/.395 SLG/.749 OPS in the middle infield and outfield, with team leading 4.2 oWAR.

The upcoming season will mark the final year of control over Zobrist, who signed a four-year, $18MM contract extension that contained a pair of club options back in 2010. Zobrist earned $7MM in 2014 — the first of the two option years — and will earn $7.5MM this year, bringing his total earnings on the deal to $30MM over six years. He’s averaged a staggering 5.4 fWAR and 5.8 rWAR per season over the life of that deal.

Zobrist drew considerable interest at the 2014 trade deadline and would figure to do so again this offseason had Matt Silverman made Ben available. It should be noted, they — could at some point — approach him about an extension as well, or look to shop him next July should they again fall out of contention. The Rays could also simply retain Zobrist through season’s end next year and extend him a qualifying offer, guaranteeing themselves at east a compensatory draft pick at the end of the 2015 season.

“The Rays have until Monday night to decide on their $2.5-million option on RHP Joel Peralta, who has no buyout,” writes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Topkin went on, “Agent Mark Gilling said he had not yet heard from the Rays but was confident Peralta, 39 in March, could still pitch effectively, better than his 3-4, 4.41 record this past season showed.”

In other news, the path for former Rays manager Joe Maddon to complete his deal with the Cubs was cleared Friday with news that the north-siders fired Rick Renteria to officially create an opening.

In the statement announcing the move, the Cubs publicly acknowledged becoming aware last Thursday that Maddon left the Rays — the day before it was announced publicly. The statement (in its entirety below) stopped short of saying Maddon had been hired, saying the former Rays manager “may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us.”

For Maddon, the Cubs will hold a press conference on Monday to announce the hiring the former face of the Rays as their next manager, finalizing the move we have all expected.

The full statement from Epstein:

Today we made the difficult decision to replace Rick Renteria as manager of the Chicago Cubs. On behalf of Tom Ricketts and Jed Hoyer, I thank Rick for his dedication and commitment, and for making the Cubs a better organization.

Rick’s sterling reputation should only be enhanced by his season as Cubs manager. We challenged Rick to create an environment in which our young players could develop and thrive at the big league level, and he succeeded. Working with the youngest team in the league and an imperfect roster, Rick had the club playing hard and improving throughout the season. His passion, character, optimism and work ethic showed up every single day.

Rick deserved to come back for another season as Cubs manager, and we said as much when we announced that he would be returning in 2015. We met with Rick two weeks ago for a long end-of-season evaluation and discussed plans for next season. We praised Rick to the media and to our season ticket holders. These actions were made in good faith.

Last Thursday, we learned that Joe Maddon – who may be as well suited as anyone in the industry to manage the challenges that lie ahead of us – had become a free agent. We confirmed the news with Major League Baseball, and it became public knowledge the next day. We saw it as a unique opportunity and faced a clear dilemma: be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization. In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual. We decided to pursue Joe.

While there was no clear playbook for how to handle this type of situation, we knew we had to be transparent with Rick before engaging with Joe. Jed flew to San Diego last Friday and told Rick in person of our intention to talk to Joe about the managerial job. Subsequently, Jed and I provided updates to Rick via telephone and today informed him that we will indeed make a change.

We offered Rick a choice of other positions with the Cubs, but he is of course free to leave the organization and pursue opportunities elsewhere. Armed with the experience of a successful season and all the qualities that made him our choice a year ago, Rick will no doubt make an excellent major league manager when given his next chance.

Rick often said he was the beneficiary of the hard work of others who came before him. Now, in the young players he helped, we reap the benefits of his hard work as we move forward. He deserved better and we wish him nothing but the best.

We have clung to two important ideals during our three years in Chicago. The first is to always be loyal to our mission of building the Cubs into a championship organization that can sustain success. The second is to be transparent with our fans. As painful as the last week was at times, we believe we stayed true to these two ideals in handling a sensitive situation. To our fans: we hope you understand, and we appreciate your continued support of the Cubs.

Noteworthiness

  • Daniel Russell of DRaysBay wrote of the imminent hiring of Maddon, saying, “Joe Maddon built this team and this organization, the face of the franchise for nearly a decade, and openly spoke about his commitment to the Rays — then made the business decision to dart out the door Andrew Friedman left open. Now it’s starting to let in a draft.”
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  • Source, Joe Maddon Is In the Final Stages of Inking A Deal with the Cubs

    (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

    (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

    The Twitterverse exploded this afternoon with news that Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs are in the final stages of inking a contract to make him manager of the club.

    CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported that both the Cubs and Joe Maddon’s agent Alan Nero denied a deal is done, however sources familiar with the dealings say a deal is imminent and to be completed in coming days – Maddon would indeed be the next Cubs manager.

    Heyman went on,

    The contract, once finalized, is expected to make Maddon one of the highest-paid managers in baseball and quite likely the best-paid in the National League. Mike Scioscia’s Angels deal pays him $5 million annually, so he sets the standard.

    Cubs president Theo Epstein has long been an admirer of Maddon, according to people close to the team. The Cubs intend to make a big splash in free agency, and this represents a big start.

    A couple of things stand in the way of the move; current manager Rick Renteria, and the potential for the Rays to file a tampering grievance against the Cubs.

    As it relates to the former, per Heyman, Rick Renteria was told that the team was exploring the possibility of hiring Maddon, who became a free agent after recently opting out of his Rays deal. It should be noted, Renteria has two guaranteed years left on his three-year deal with the Cubs.

    As for the latter, Major League Baseball’s tampering rules state,

    There shall be no negotiations or dealings respecting employment, either present or prospective, between any player, coach or manager and any club other than the club with which (the player) is under contract or acceptance of terms.

    In short, a team is not allowed to discuss employment with a player — or in this case, a manager — while he is under contract with another team. If there is evidence of tampering, it should be assumed the Rays front office will file an official grievance with Major League Baseball. While the consequences fail to be seen at the moment, there is the possibility that it could negate any associated move.

    And just when you thought the offseason would be quiet…

    Noteworthiness

    • We’re awaiting the official end of the season to put together our analysis of what to expect in 2015. Until then, DRaysBay knocked the proverbial ball out of the park with this piece titled, Rays payroll set to decrease in 2015.

     

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    Hot-Stove: Rays Release Minor Leaguers

    Robby Price with the Durham Bulls.

    Robby Price of the Durham Bulls.

    As is common for this time of year, the Rays released a number of minor-league players with an eye toward shaping their rosters and the organizations depth chart. Per Baseball America, the following players have been let go:

    Pitchers
    Kevin Brandt
    Ben Griset
    Andrew Hanse
    Brandon Henderson
    Marcus Jensen
    Tommy Lawrence
    D.J. Slaton
    Stone Speer

    Catcher
    Chris Talley

    Infielders
    David Garcia
    Robby Price

    Outfielders
    Willie Argo
    Clayton Henning

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    A Vote For Greenlight Pinellas is A Vote for the Future of the Rays

    Pinellas-rail-map-1

    Here’s something that’s a bit different from what we typically post. While we at X-Rays Spex Industries have covered the Rays and the Stadium Saga, most of us have shied away from politically minded hot-button issues/topics. That changes here and now, at least for the time being.

    I wanted to take a moment to publicly advocate for Greenlight Pinellas. Beyond the fact that Pinellas County is projected to grow by more than 200,000 people (and 148,000 jobs) in the next 25 years — growth that will put more pressure on the existing transportation system as most of the roadways — most metropolitan areas with a professional sports franchise have something in common: the residents are able to depend on quality public transportation. While Pinellas County currently features public transportation, Greenlight Pinellas would vastly improve the current system, ultimately adding quicker and more efficient means of getting from place-to-place, and eventually culminate in a light-rail system that would span the county and connect with Hillsborough County.

    The improvements would almost be instantaneous, adding:

    • 30 minute bus service on weekdays
    • 60 minute bus service on weekends
    • Bus service until 11:00 p.m. most nights
    2014-2015

    Limited Improvements in 2014/15

    Local and regional improvements from 2016-2019.

    Local and regional improvements from 2016-2019.

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    The addition of regional bus corridors between 2018 and 2021.

    The addition of light-rail in 2024.

    The addition of light-rail in 2024.

    A vote for Greenlight Pinellas is a vote for the Tampa Bay Rays. I’m personally excited by the prospects of catching a bus close my house (as early as next season), and taking a reasonably priced trip to The Trop — especially when I don’t feel like paying $30 (both ways) for a cab. For those of you who share hope for a new stadium on this side of the bay, Greenlight Pinellas bolsters the prospects. After all, Rays pricipal owner Stu Sternberg called mass-transit “real difference-maker,” and acknowledged it is, “A foregone conclusion: wherever we end up (with a new stadium)…there will be a stop there.” Pinellas is, currently, the only county in the region with plans for an improved mass transit system. It goes without saying, improved mass-transit would connect downtown St. Petersburg effectively with other areas in the county.

    You can find out more here. Get out and vote for Greenlight Pinellas if you haven’t already!

    Noteworthiness

    • Fear the Boogeyman… News broke recently that Stu Sternberg was eyeing Montreal as a potential relocation candidate for the Tampa Bay Rays. In turn, the Rays vehemently denied the claims (see the series of tweets below), going as far as to say the organization is committed to making baseball work in the Tampa Bay area.

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    Hot-Stove: The Preliminary Case for Dave Martinez (Updated)

     Photo courtesy of James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times

    Photo courtesy of James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times

    Update: The Rays  The Rays are compiling a list of managerial candidates have set a hiring deadline of Thanksgiving, with the hope of announcing their shortlist of managerial candidates by the end of this week. The Rays are taking the unusual step of asking their players on the qualities they would like in a new manager. “We don’t really bother ourselves with what is the norm,” Silverman explained in a piece by Roger Mooney of the Trib. “We do what we think is right for our ballclub. They’re an important voice into who leads our clubhouse.”

    While the shock of Joe Maddon’s sudden exit from his longtime position as Rays manager lingers on, a question begs to be answered between now and Spring Training 2015 – who will take over in his wake? On the short list; former Ray and current MLB consultant Gabe Kapler, one time Rays minor league coach Tim Bogar, John Flaherty, Joe McEwing, Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoya, Alex Cora, Sandy Alomar Jr., Eduardo Perez, and — last but not least — Rays bench coach Dave Martinez.

    First, something should be qualified before I move on. If we take Maddon at his word, and in all fairness we have no reason not to, Friday’s shocking debacle could be attributed to a pair of scenarios:

    1. The Rays didn’t have enough money to pay Joe what he thought he was worth — a reported $5MM annual salary.
    2. The Rays didn’t want to pay Maddon a sum total of $25MM over five years.

    That is, whoever they hire will be earn significantly less than what Matt and Stu were willing to offer Joe — a figure in the ballpark of $3MM per year. If you’re under the impression that Maddon will end up with the Dodgers, and Don Mattingly will miraculously end up with the Rays, wipe that notion from your mind.

    Two names, from the short list above, piqued my interest: Martinez and Montoya. Both presumed managerial candidates are familiar with system and personnel, however, one thing separates Charlie from Dave — experience in coaching/managing at the major league level.

    Martinez has served as the Rays bench coach since the 2008 season, making him the longest tenured bench coach in franchise history. He has been a part of each of the Rays’ four postseason runs, with the club posting a 550-423 record under the watchful eyes of Martinez and Maddon.

    An oversimplification sorts, partially because neither Silverman nor Sternberg have made public what they want out of a manager, Martinez could be the perfect fit to take over Joe’s role with Rays. Thanks to his experience of working under Maddon, Martinez knows how he likes to work and what makes him successful at what he does. It should be assumed that Dave would apply many of the same principals as Maddon while also putting his own spin on things in the clubhouse and on the field.

    Yet the peripherals surrounding the search for a new manager could prove to be one of the biggest determining factors of who will be hired.

    Maddon’s departure puts in limbo the coaches, all of whom are signed for next season but won’t necessarily have jobs under the new manager. For example, if (under a new regime) the current coaching staff is free to look for employment elsewhere, Derek Shelton could end up as the top candidate for the hitting coach position with the Yankees. And while the loss of Shelton may not seem detrimental to the future of the organization, the loss of someone like Jim Hickey could. With Martinez or Montoya at the helm, an overhaul of the entire coaching staff could be avoided.

    Martinez is ready to manage, and has been wanting to for several years now. If the Rays don’t allow him the opportunity, he could very well be the next member of the coaching staff to seek employment elsewhere.

    Noteworthiness

    • “Before Matt Silverman comes up with a list of candidates to talk with about replacing Joe Maddon as Rays manager,” wrote Marc Topkin in his latest piece for the Tampa Bay Times, “he has to decide what type of person he is looking for.” In doing so, the Silverman is listening to the players about the type of manager they want. One thing is certain, the Rays front office hopes to “keep a lot of things the same,” indicating someone with at least some of Maddon’s traits. Per Topkin, one priority will be the ability to maintain the positive clubhouse atmosphere. Openness to incorporating analytics and advanced statistics will be important, as may be similar ideology in roster construction. Relishing the small-market challenge will be a boost philosophically. If Ben Zobrist and Chris Archer’s comments (quoted below) speak to anything, it’s that Dave Martinez may be the best option going forward.
    • “He might be our best option… “It would be really weird if somebody completely at the opposite end of where Joe was at came in and everything changed,” — Ben Zobrist, on Dave Martinez
    • Chris Archer would also prefer less change, “The person I want to see get the job is somebody who’s going to help us make a seamless transition from new upper management, which isn’t really new to new management in the clubhouse.”
    • In a piece for the Tampa Bay Tomes, Marc Topkin noted, “Though a new manager typically brings in at least some of his own coaches, the Rays seem intent on maintaining as much continuity as they can. That could bode well for bench coach Dave Martinez, considered a strong candidate for the manager’s job. That plan could change if Martinez, who has been on the staff for seven years, doesn’t get the job and opts to leave.”
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