As the 2019 season came to an end on Wednesday, the busy 2019/20 hot-stove period commenced. Erik Neander, Kevin Cash, and the Tampa Bay Rays front office are now tasked with putting the final touches on a roster that can get the franchise back into the World Series after the wildly successful 96 win 2019 campaign.
There are several key dates during this roster-building period, which MLB Trade Rumors listed on Thursday.
- Eligible players officially file for major or minor-league free agency
- End of “quiet period” during which teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents
- Deadline to issue qualifying offers ($17.8MM) to eligible free agents
- Deadline to exercise or decline options and opt-outs (unless sooner by operation of contract; Stephen Strasburg & Aroldis Chapman reportedly must decide by November 2)
- General Manager Meetings (Scottsdale, AZ)
- Deadline for qualifying offer recipients to accept or reject
- Deadline for adding Rule 5-draft eligible players to the 40-man roster
- Non-tender deadline
- Winter Meetings (San Diego, CA)
- Rule 5 Draft
- Deadline to exchange arbitration filing figures if an agreement has yet to be reached
- Arbitration hearing period
- Spring Training commences
- Opening Day
The Rays already made a couple of moves to clear space on the 40-man roster, outrighting LHP Hoby Milner and speedy OF Johnny Davis. Meanwhile, Travis d’Arnaud, Avisaíl Garcia, and Eric Sogard are now officially off the books, which has lowered the roster to 35 players. With the Rule-5 Draft approaching, Neander and Co. will have to figure out how many players will need to be protected.
Tampa Bay is also reportedly interested in re-signing Sogard, Garcia, and d’Arnaud, although any new deal would have to come at the right price.
Re-signing Sogard to the infield mix could push Yandy Diaz into the role as the right-handed complement to Ji-Man Choi and Nate Lowe. Garcia could see some time at DH or in right field, allowing for Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham, or other players to cycle through the DH slot on partial rest days.
d’Arnaud might have priced himself out of Tampa Bay’s range after his initial 92-game stint with the team. He was both productive and healthy in 2019 and now looks to be the second-best option on the free-agent catcher market after Yasmani Grandal. If d’Arnaud were to sign, elsewhere Mike Zunino would more than likely need to be retained as Michael Perez would be the Rays top in-house choice as the starting backstop.
As for other needs, the Rays might look at adding a big bat that can play every day. The first base/DH spot is the most logical space for such a player, particularly a consistent right-handed bat with pop. The team, which values roster flexibility, would likely seek a player with multi-positional versatility, of which there could be some interesting options on the free-agent market, namely World Series hero Howie Kendrick. Should they be content with a strict first baseman/DH, a free-agent like Jose Abreu could potentially be in play.
The Rays’ bullpen pitched well last season, and the team will likely bring back most of the arms for another season of restocking and reshuffling between the big league squad and Triple-A Durham. A healthy Jose Alvarado should also return to the mix. Expect Neander to add at least one veteran arm to the ‘pen even if just on a minor league contract.
The team’s playoff success isn’t likely to lead to any uncharacteristic moves, although the team will have more money to play with thanks to increased revenue by way of the updated TV contract with Fox Sports Sun, among other things. Neander could have another set of bold moves in-store in order to put the Rays over the top in the AL East.
As what promises to be an intriguing offseason continues to unfold, X-Rays Spex will continue to be on top of things.