Tasked with improving on a 96-win 2019 campaign, Tampa Bay Rays officials — including manager Kevin Cash and GM Erik Neander — arrived in San Diego on Sunday for the start of the 2019 MLB Winter Meetings. Sunday is typically a quiet day in terms of wheeling and dealing since many of the teams are still in transit.
Austin Meadows, Yandy Diaz, Ji-Man Choi, and Brandon Lowe are expected to return to Tampa Bay in 2020, barring a trade, and they will join newcomer Hunter Renfroe. In addition, the Rays retained Mike Zunino and acquired Brian O’Grady, who is a first baseman that is also capable of playing all three outfield positions, from Cincinnati to add more depth. The team, however, lost three key offensive players in Tommy Pham, Travis d’Arnaud, who signed as a free agent with Atlanta, and Avisail Garcia, who remains a free agent. Tampa Bay also passed on Jesus Aguilar, Matt Duffy, and Guillermo Heredia.
Neander and company head into the Winter Meetings looking to improve the team’s offense. And while Tampa Bay had the lowest team ERA in the American League last season, the offense struggled at times, finishing 18th in the big leagues in runs scored per game.
There’s a lot of time between now and Opening Day, and I think I anticipate some twists and turns in terms of what our team will look like by the end of March when we get going. We really like the position group we have. (I’m) interested to see what that looks like, and we really like our pitching staff.— Erik Neander
Several right-handed-hitting options remain on the free-agent market. That list includes several former Rays such as CJ Cron (would have to accept a limited role), Steven Souza Jr. (finally healthy after missing all of 2019), and Garcia. A few other names have popped up, such as 37-year-old Edwin Encarnacion, the ever-unpredictable Yasiel Puig, and the powerful yet defensively limited Domingo Santana. And as Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) noted if Tampa Bay adds a left-handed bat there are less of those available as free agents, and more likely may require a trade of some sort.
To that end, the Rays are expected to study the catching market in order to try to improve at the position.
The catching position is something we’ve talked about and that’s pretty clear. I think bringing back (Zunino), we’re betting on Mike to bounce back some offensively, but we can certainly continue to look for ways to strengthen that position further.— Erik Neander
As of now, no beneficial moves have come out of San Diego. That could change over the next four days though.
On the docket for Monday, Kevin Cash will address local and national media members at 7:20 Eastern Standard Time (4:20 in San Diego).