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.