Rays acquire Kluber, Raley, and Misner, and trade Wendle

The Rays acquired free-agent Corey Kluber on Sunday.

It’s been a busy few days for the Tampa Bay Rays, who acquired right-hander Corey Kluber on Sunday, left-hander Brooks Raley on Monday, and outfielder Kameron Misner on Tuesday. In so doing, they traded Joey Wendle to Miami for the aforementioned outfielder.

The Rays inked a one-year, $8-million contract (plus incentives) with Kluber which could take the value of the deal as high as $13-million. The right-hander will earn $500-thousand bonuses for hitting the 10-start and 15-start thresholds, $1-million if he makes 20 starts, and $1.5-million for making 25 starts and 30 starts. While it would seem reasonable to assume that Tampa Bay could deploy Kluber as a bulk guy, given his recent track record, his contract structure implies that he will be normally deployed as a starting pitcher.

This is the second consecutive one-year deal for Kluber, who was signed by the Yankees in January. Back then, Kluber had been limited to fewer than 40 total frames across two previous seasons due to various injuries. And he, again, was limited due to injuries in 2021, although he did rack up 80 innings, and he was able to manage a 3.83 ERA/3.85 FIP with a 24% strikeout rate.

Kluber had been one the best pitchers in all of baseball prior to his injury-marred seasons. He had five consecutive campaigns of at least 200 innings from 2014-2018, and never posted an ERA above 3.50. All told, he threw 1091 1/3 frames and punched out 1,228 batters. In that time, Kluber performed to a 30.3 fWAR and won the AL Cy Young Award in 2014 and 2017.

Kluber has a much higher ceiling than Chris Archer, Micahel Wacha, and Rich Hill — all of whom inked one-year pacts with Tampa Bay last season — although he comes with a high degree of uncertainty based on his recent injuries. Still, if the right-hander is healthy, he adds a veteran presence and experience into this mix.

Raley, 33, signed a two-year, $10-million deal with the Rays. He was one of the top southpaw relievers on the market this offseason, posting a 31.8 K% and 7.6 BB% across 69 innings for the Reds and Astros in 2021.

Raley devastated same-handed batters, posting a 40.5 K% against them in that time. While he isn’t a hard-tosser, he boasts excellent fastball and curveball spin rates, resulting in the second-lowest average exit velocity in all of baseball, as well as the game’s best hard-hit percentage.

Raley, however, has struggled against right-handed batters, allowing six home runs against the 120 batters he faced from that side this season past. That’s something Tampa Bay will have to navigate carefully with the three-batter minimum. Even so, with his impressive strikeout rates and terrific batted-ball profile, it’s no surprise that Tampa Bay would look beyond his pedestrian ERA.

Raley will join a bullpen that consists of Andrew Kittredge, Pete Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen, and Matt Wisler, to name a few. As with the aforementioned bullpen arms, the Rays will look for ways to improve his numbers against righties.

Raley made his big-league debut on the north side of Chicago in 2012 but was rocked for a 7.04 ERA over 38 1/3 frames (across two seasons). That led to a DFA and a pair of waiver claims by Minnesota and Anaheim, although Raley never pitched in the big leagues for either team. The Angels released him in 2014, which led to a deal with the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization.

Raley spent the next five seasons as a starter in South Korea, pitching to an ERA in the upper-threes or low-fours. He accumulated 910 2/3 innings in the KBO before he returned to the U.S. on a one-year deal with the Reds in 2020. Yet, Raley again was designated for assignment. The Astros picked him up in a trade that sent minor-league reliever Fredy Medina to Cincinnati, and his career took off from there.

Tampa Bay had been exploring the trade market for Wendle in advance of the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Rays needed to open a spot on the roster to accommodate Kluber, hence the trade with Miami. While Wendle is much beloved in Tampa Bay, the Rays are deep in terms of infield options — Brandon Lowe, Wander Franco, Yandy Díaz, Taylor Walls, and Vidal Bruján give them cover a plenty on the infield.

Misner, 24, was the No. 35 overall draft pick in 2019. He split last season between the Class-A Advanced and Double-A levels, slashing .253 BA/.355 OBP/.433 SLG/.788 OPS with 12 home runs, 29 doubles, three triples, and 26 steals (in 30 attempts).

The left-handed-hitting Misner touts raw power, plus speed and slick defensive tools. He, however, struck out 29.4% of the time in 462 of his minor league plate appearances this season, which he offset with a 12.3% walk rate. Expect big league pitchers to expose holes in his swing if he continues to strike out nearly 30% of the time.

Be that as it may, Misner boasts a relatively high-upside which pairs nicely with the Rays stockpile of prospects. Given that Misner reached Double-A in 2021, he could make his MLB debut at some point next season.

Rays extend Wander Franco to a record-setting contract

Your starting shortstop for the foreseeable future, Wander Franco.

Seventy games into his big-league career, the Tampa Bay Rays and shortstop Wander Franco have agreed to a precedent-setting 11-year, $182-million contract extension that will keep him in a Rays’ uni for the foreseeable future. The contract comes with a $25-million club option for an additional season as well as a series of $3-million escalators based on MVP voting that brings the contract to a maximum value of up to $223-million over 12 years.

The extension is both a franchise record for Tampa Bay — topping Evan Longoria’s previous $100-million guarantee — and a record for any player with less than one season of Major League service time.

Franco, 20, ranked as the consensus No. 1 prospect in each of the previous three offseasons and slashed .288 BA/.347 OBP/.463 SLG/.810 OPS with 30 extra-base hits (seven homers, 18 doubles, and five triples), and a pair of stolen bases, and a 3.5 WAR (according to Baseball-Reference) across 308 plate appearances. From July 25 to September 29, Franco set about a historical spate of play, reaching base in 43 consecutive games, surpassing Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Al Kaline, and Mick Mantle, and tying Frank Robinson. Over that stretch, Franco posted a combined .329 BA/.398 OBP/.545 SLG/.943 OPS batting line with more walks (9.1%) than strikeouts (8.1%).

The shortstop received split marks for his defensive work in 2021, posting a six DRS and an average 0.1 UZR, but a -3 mark in Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA). Be that as it may, he is projected to be at least an average shortstop. That, in addition to his offensive profile, not to mention power and plus speed, aligns with the .331 BA/.399 OBP./535 SLG/.934 slash line he posted through 215 minor league games.

Any instances of Tampa Bay spending money brings about the typical comments wondering how long until the player on the receiving end of the deal is traded. In all fairness, those comments are justified due to the Rays’ history of trading away players — such as Longoria, Blake Snell, and Chris Archer — in the waning stages of their extensions. Yet, that’s unlikely to happen to Franco anytime soon.

Over the short term, the Franco extension will have only a minimal impact on the club’s payroll. The extension likely won’t push Tampa Bay’s payroll $80-million; Franco may receive an up-front signing bonus, although his salaries through the first six seasons will likely be considerably lighter.

At the end of the day, Franco will receive a generational amount of money and retain the ability to reach free agency in his early 30’s, while the Rays secure control of a franchise cornerstone whom they hope, and believe, can be an all-time great. The contract extension contains positives for all parties involved.

Randy named the AL ROY, Cash named AL MOY

Your 2021 American League Rookie of the Year, big RAAAAAAAANDY Arozarena.

The offseason accolades for the Tampa Bay Rays began to roll in this week. Outfielder Randy Arozarena and Rays skipper Kevin Cash walked away with the 2021 American League Rookie of the Year, and the 2021 AL Manager of the Year, respectively.

Arozarena — who is the fourth player in Tampa Bay history to be named Rookie of the Year — slashed .274 BA/.356 OBP/.459 SLG/.815 OPS with 32 doubles, 69 RBI, and 94 runs scored in 141 games this season. He also put up a 20-20 season, becoming just the third Ray in franchise history to do so. Wil Myers (2013), Jeremy Hellickson (2011), and Evan Longoria (2008) were the other three Tampa Bay players to win Rookie of the Year, while Tommy Pham and BJ Upton were the other two Rays to reach the 20-20 mark.

I think I was the one that screamed the loudest. I’m very happy and honored to have gotten the Rookie of the Year and very happy to have the support of my family next to me. …I know the hard work that I’ve put in for these achievements that I’ve had this year. And I’m going to continue to work hard and continue to push that for the future.

— Randy Arozarena through translator Manny Navarro.

Tampa Bay had three players in the running for the award: Arozarena, who received 22 of 30 first-place votes (124 total points), Wander Franco who earned two first-place votes (30 total points) and came in third, and Shane McClanahan who received a second-place vote which put him seventh of the eight players in the voting.

Arozarena is the sixth Cuban-born player to win the award in either league, joining Yordan Alvarez (2019), Jose Abreu (2014), José Fernández (2013), Jose Canseco (1986), and Tony Oliva (1964).

Rays manager Kevin Cash joined exclusive, Hall of Fame company by winning his second consecutive Manager of the Year Award.

Cash is the first AL manager to win the award twice in a row. He and Bobby Cox (2004 and ’05) are the only managers to be named Manager of the Year in back-to-back years.

I shouldn’t be in the same sentence, shouldn’t be in the same conversation, none of it. Very humbling. When you think of Major League managers, or really the greats in this game, Bobby Cox is going to find himself at the top of many lists.

— Kevin Cash

Cash joins Joe Maddon (2008 and ’11) as Rays managers to win the award multiple times. Cash led Tampa Bay to a franchise-record 100 wins in 2021, in spite of having to use a record 61 players, including 38 pitchers, as 33 players were placed on the Injured List over 43 total stints (excluding the COVID-19 related IL). In August, the Rays had a club-record 17 players on the IL three times. Even so, Cash led the Rays to 100 wins in a season where four of five AL East teams had at least 90.

Cash, who also led the Rays to back-to-back AL East titles and three straight postseason berths, received 109 points in the voting while appearing on 27 of 30 ballots. He received 19 first-place votes. The Mariners’ Scott Servais came in second with 71 points, while Dusty Baker was third with 33 points.

Rays trade Brosseau to Milwaukee, and Head to Miami

The Rays traded Mike Brosseau to Milwaukee on Sunday.

With the roster crunch looming, thanks to the November 19th deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft, the Tampa Bay Rays dealt infielder Mike Brosseau to the Milwaukee Brewers for minor league relief pitcher Evan Reifert. They also dealt right-handed reliever Louis Head to the Miami the Marlins for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The Rays 40-man roster now includes 38 players.

Brosseau was one of many multi-positional players that made his way through Tampa Bay’s farm system. He was an undrafted free agent who rose through the ranks and appeared in 143 games over the last three seasons. Brosseau slashed .284 BA/.343 OBP/.500 SLG/.843 with 11 home runs across 240 plate appearances from 2019-20. Because of it, he appeared to be on the verge of becoming a regular in the Rays’ infield mix before scuffling in 2021.

Brosseau never seemed to get on track though, and found himself frequently shuttled back and forth between St. Petersburg and Triple-A Durham. Overall, Brosseau hit just .187 BA/.266 OBP/.347 SLG/.613 OPS over 169 PA for the Rays in ’21. Because of it, Brosseau became an expendable piece for a Tampa Bay ballclub that already boasts deep infield depth.

Reifert was a 30th-round pick for the Rangers in 2018, although he opted to attend college rather than begin his pro career at that stage. Instead, he signed with Milwaukee in 2020, as Reifert wasn’t selected in the shortened five-round 2020 draft.

The 22-year-old Reifert does not need to be protected for a few seasons, and the Rays were impressed by his first professional season in which he went 3-3 with a 2.10 ERA and 103 strikeouts (15.45 K/9 IP) in 37 relief appearances between Low-A Carolina and High-A Wisconsin in 2021.

Reifert was named the Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Month for August when he boasted a 2.51 ERA with 24 strikeouts across 14.1 innings of work. The right-hander also culled an impressive 40.23% strikeout rate over 60 combined relief innings with the Brewers’ high-A and A-ball affiliates.  Those missed bats came with some shaky control, however, as His high punchout numbers also came with a concerning 14.06% walk rate.

If the Rays can improve the command on his upper 90’s fastball, the team will have yet another hard-throwing bullpen weapon at their disposal in a season or two.

Meanwhile, Head, 31, made his big league debut in ’21 after signing a minor league deal in the off-season. Prior to that, the right-hander sold solar panels while looking for a new opportunity in baseball.

Head traveled between St. Pete and Durham a total of 12 times, and he went 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA over 27 appearances and 35 innings. Head allowed 21 hits and nine walks while striking out 32 in largely low leverage appearances.

As of now, Tampa Bay has not moved any players that were on the team’s postseason roster, aside from those that became free agents at the end of the season.

On the 19th the Rays have to add players to the 40-man roster or risk having them selected by another club in the Rule 5 draft.

Rays Roster Moves: Zunino to return in ’22

“Gator” Mike Zunino will again be the Rays primary catcher in 2022.

After making a series of moves last week, the Tampa Bay Rays made the easiest decision of the offseason on Monday, picking up “Gator” Mike Zunino’s $7-million team option.

Left-hander Ryan Sherriff, who had been placed on waivers early last week, was claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies. The southpaw performed to a 5.52 ERA and a 3.65 FIP across 14.2 innings with Tampa Bay in 2021.

The also Rays placed four pitchers on outright waivers — all of which cleared. Oliver Drake and Cody Reed — both of whom were plagued by injuries the last two seasons — elected for free agency. Meanwhile, right-handers DJ Johnson and Chris Mazza were outrighted to Triple-A Durham and also chose free agency.

The four hurlers could still sign minor league deals with the Rays at some point in the near future. For context, Tampa Bay passed Andrew Kittredge through waivers before inking a minor league seal with the righty last season, and it worked out well for both sides.

Meanwhile, 24-year-old catcher René Pinto was added to the 40-man roster on Sunday. To make room on the roster, the Rays designated left-hander Adam Conley for assignment.

Tampa Bay subsisted with just two catchers on the 40-man roster in 2021 — Mike Zunino and Francisco Mejía — and had they not put Pinto on the roster on Sunday, he would have become a minor league free agent.

Pinto was on the postseason taxi squad with Tampa Bay after putting up his best campaign since signing with the Rays. In 93 games between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, hitting .274 with 20 home runs, 60 RBI, and a .825 OPS.

Pinto is also a good defensive catcher with a cannon for an arm. He has thrown out 40% of would-be base stealers in his minor league career, including 38% in 2021.

Aside from those moves, pitchers Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow, Colin Poche, Jeffrey Springs, and Ryan Thompson were reinstated from the 60-day Injured List. The 40-man roster is currently full. Beeks, Chirinos, Poche, Springs, and Thompson are all expected to return at some point in 2022.

As for Zunino, after a poor showing in 2020, the Rays declined his $4.5-million club option for 2021. They re-signed him to a new deal that paid him $2-million for the season, which included a $1-million buyout on a club option for the following season.

Last season, Zunino clubbed 33 home runs and slashed .216 BA/.301 OBP/.559 SLG/.860 OPS. On top of that, Zunino posted strong defensive numbers and boasted a 4.5 fWAR — just shy of his personal best of 4.6 from 2017. All of this combined to make it a no-brainer to keep Zunino around.

I’m really excited, Alyssa and the rest of the family are extremely excited. Just the whole atmosphere, from top to bottom, the openness. Just the family aspect of it, it’s a no-brainer.

…It’s cool to be part of a process for a long period of time. There’s so many times in this game where you’re for just a year or so. So to be able to see something through for multiple years and hopefully try to continue the next step every year, it’s fun to be a part of and I’m looking forward to hopefully making that jump again.

— Mike Zunino

The next important date on the Hot-Stove calendar is November 19th, when the Rays must protect other minor league players who would be eligible for the Rule-5 Draft.