On the precipice of the 2017 MLB Winter Meetings, in Orlando, the Tampa Bay Rays face a lot of questions, for example are they in for a complete roster rebuild, or will they simply retool the roster ahead of the 2018 season? Moreover, who may be headed elsewhere as the team continues to trim its payroll from an estimated $80-million at the end of 2017, to an unspecified amount set by the ownership who appears not to have any regard for those of us willing to plunk down money for season tickets?
What can we expect from this meeting of the Major League Baseball brain trust? Sadly, that is an unknown quantity. Yet undeterred by the unknown, what follows is our Rays/MLB 2017 Winter Meetings primer.
Who May Be On the Chopping Block?
In short, Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, Alex Colome, Wilson Ramos, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Adeiny Hechavarria and Brad Miller all have had their names bandied about in the previous weeks leading up to the meetings. Who they trade could signal the team’s direction for the upcoming season and potentially the next few years.
Should the Rays deal Longoria, Archer and Colome, as well as several other high dollar players, the organization will send a clear signal it will take a step back and rebuild. On the other hand, the team could deal just a couple of the more easily replaceable players — Odorizzi, Dickerson, Colome or Miller for example — and find creative ways to add to a team that fell five just games short of a postseason berth, starting with the glaring holes at first base and in the bullpen.
We have to be open,” Erik Neander said in a media briefing before the Winter Meetings. We have to be considering anything and everything. A lot of that depends on where there’s interest and what we believe is in the best interest of our club.
In other words, any deals are imminent unless they are not; try reading those tea leaves.
We’re going to keep as open of a mind as possible, Neander said. I think we have a lot of different plans laid out that depending on kind of the way the market unfolds and how things progress will dictate our path.
No teams have been in serious direct conversation on Longoria, although there has been some media speculation about the Cardinals and Mets, especially now that Shohei Ohtani has signed with the Angels, and Giancarlo Stanton will not waive his no-trade clause to approve a deal to St. Louis.
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Realistically though, there probably are fewer than a dozen teams willing to take on his contract, and fewer who have an opening at third base. Once the hitters’ market opens, other teams could see the remaining remaining balance on Longoria’s contract more appealing than signing a free agent.
As for pitching, the Rays will trade a starting pitcher this off-season as they previously have done (courtesy of Topkin):
Edwin Jackson (to Tigers, for Matt Joyce, December 2008)
Jason Hammel (to Rockies, for Aneury Rodriguez, April 2009)
Scott Kazmir (to Angels, for Sean Rodriguez, Alex Torres and a minor-leaguer, August 2009)
Matt Garza (to Cubs, for Sam Fuld, prospects Chris Archer, Robinson Chirinos, Brandon Guyer, Hak-Ju Lee, January 2011)
James Shields (to Royals, with Wade Davis, for Jake Odorizzi, prospect Wil Myers, two minor-leaguers, December 2012)
David Price (to Tigers, for Drew Smyly, prospect Willy Adames, Nick Franklin via Seattle, July 2014)
Jeremy Hellickson (to D-backs, for prospects Andrew Velazquez, Justin Williams, November 2014)
Nathan Karns (to Mariners, with two minor-leaguers, for Danny Farquhar, Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, November 2015)
Matt Moore (to Giants, for Matt Duffy, prospect Lucius Fox and a minor-leaguer, August 2016)
Drew Smyly (to Mariners, for Mallex Smith, prospect Ryan Yarbrough and a minor-leaguer), January 2017
Erasmo Ramirez (to Mariners, for Steve Cishek, July 2017)
It is a question of who will be traded, Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi, or both?
Archer would bring a higher return given, as Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote, his high-end stuff, sexy strikeout totals, more impressive resume with two All-Star appearances, and a team-friendly contract that, including two option years, pays him $33.75-million over the next four seasons. Yet the same elements that make him a trade possibility are reasons for the Rays to keep him. Moreover, his value is down following a rough September when he went 1-5, 7.48 in six starts.
Odorizzi had some injury concerns in 2017 as well, and the right-hander comes with only two years of team control before he hits free-agency. But his projected $6.5-million salary is a bargain for most teams in the market for a mid-rotation starter, and there’s the potential to sign him long-term. Plus, Odorizzi’s career numbers are fairly appealing — 40-38 with a 3.83 ERA over 129 games (705-1/3 innings). St. Louis and Minnesota have been mentioned as potential landing spots.
Then there’s Alex Colome, who the Cardinals have spoken to Tampa Bay about. Colome’s MLB-leading 47 saves may hide his regression from a breakout 2017, writes Andrew Gould (Bleacher Report). His ERA and FIP rose from 1.91 and 2.92 to 3.24 and 3.37, respectively, on account of registering more walks (3.11) and fewer strikeouts (7.83) per nine innings. Yet he’s still an affordable closer who turns 29 on New Year’s Eve, so he’s an appealing option for those who miss out on top free-agent relievers.
The Rays could also create a few fillable holes up the middle if they were to trade away Adeiny Hechavarria or Brad Miller.
Hechavarria, a quality shortstop who likely will draw interest from other teams, is projected to make around $5-million next season. Given the Rays’ depth at the position, they could afford to trade him.
As for Miller, the maligned infielder is projected to make somewhere around $4.4-million in 2018. Other teams value what Tampa Bay does about him, his versatility and that he’s a year removed from a 30-homer season.
A Trade During the Winter Meetings Is Not A Given
Bill Chastain (MLB.com) wrote Monday that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Neander and Bloom could use the meetings as an opportunity to gather information, “Meanwhile, in the background, Rays executives explore their options, listening to agents about their free-agent players and other teams about possible deals.”
I think generally speaking, our past behavior is a pretty good indicator of our behavior as we move forward here, said Neander There are situations, like Wilson Ramos, which came together around last year’s Winter Meetings. But for the most part, trade conversations tend to be more active earlier in the winter, but not always.
We have trade partners in January, as well. But I think probably in a nutshell, trade conversations attempting to resolve as much of that as possible in the early going can be helpful before turning our focus to free agency. But you really have to be prepared for trades and free agency whenever they might come up. Sometimes it’s in November. Sometimes it’s in February, and anywhere in between.
But just because they are historically quiet during the Winter Meetings, that doesn’t mean the pattern couldn’t be altered.
I think perhaps as much this year as any year, really we’ve got a lot of plans that we’ve put together in terms of which path to go down, Neander said. I think we’ll be dictated by the market, the interest and how things shape up.
The GM meetings, that was a time for us to collect information and get a better sense for where teams are. And I think leading up to the Winter Meetings … will probably be a continuation of that process. Not sure it will be the catalyst for action.
Stadium, Stadium, Stadium
Stu Sternberg relishes the opportunity to castigate the fanbase he holds responsible for the team’s assumed financial woes. I say assumed because Sternberg has never been willing to open the books and show that the team truly is hurting in the pocket book.
The stadium saga is superficially about attendance because that narrative is low hanging fruit. It’s easy to cast the fan base as uncommitted, while also blaming it for the team’s financial misgivings, low payroll, the reason the team needs a new stadium, etc. Attendance also makes for great radio fodder for local sports media pundits. It, however, is an irrelevant narrative.
Sternberg wants a new stadium because it will increase the corporate revenue stream of cash flowing in, not because it will improve the attendance over the long-term. The Rays Principal Owner said as much during a conference hosted by SportsBusiness Daily:
We never had real growth at the box office, he said. We’re going to have to see what Tampa Bay has, because I can’t completely put my faith in the idea that if we just build a stadium it’s going to work.
Expect a reiteration of the same tired, old/well worn subjects, not startling revelations about a stadium deal. I wouldn’t be surprised by the continued silence on which stadium site is preferred by the team. After all, Sternberg has yet to start the ugly tug-of-war between St. Petersburg/Pinellas County and Tampa/Hillsborough County in his attempt to regain leverage in the stadium saga.