The Tampa Bay Rays made a number of moves over the last couple of days, most notably designating first baseman/DH C.J. Cron for assignment. Cron had been projected to earn $5.2-Million in arbitration. Relievers Oliver Drake and Hoby Milner were also designated, while right-hander Jose Mujica was outrighted.
The moves allow the Rays to add talent to the 40-man roster: southpaws Kyle Bird and Brock Burke, right-hander Ian Gibaut, and outfielders Joe McCarthy and Jesus Sanchez.
Cron led the team with 30 home runs while slashing .253 BA/.323 OBP/.493 SLG/.816 OPS with 74 RBI and a strong 122 wRC+ splitting time between first base and DH. He seemed likely to go at some point this offseason as the Rays are expected to consider free agents like Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, and Andrew McCutchen and pursue trades, with Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks among those considered available.
This was a tough call obviously because of what C.J. did this past year and what he meant to our group, senior VP Chaim Bloom said. We certainly haven’t closed off the possibility of a return. But with as many deserving players that we have on our club that need playing time and also the number of possible paths for our off-season to take, it didn’t make sense to us to commit to him right now.
Bloom told Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) the Rays wanted to both make sure to make sure there was room for some of their young left-handed hitters to get at-bats (such as Jake Bauers and Ji-Man Choi) and also to keep “a number of different options open and a number of different paths viable” for additions.
The Rays are no strangers to controversial roster decisions, designating 2017 All-Star Corey Dickerson prior to the start of last season to accelerate trade talks. According to Topkin, Bloom indicated this was a different situation in that they expect Cron to go on waivers and either be claimed or pass through and become a free agent, which would imply they felt they exhausted all trade options.
Topkin gave some information on the five players added to the 40-man roster, as well as comments from Bloom (in italics):
LHP Kyle Bird, 25
The lanky lefty reliever is somewhat of a control freak, allowing only 108 walks in 307 1/3 minor-league innings. He moved from Double-A Montgomery to Triple-A Durham in late May, posting an overall 3-3, 2.39 mark with four saves, allowing just a .198 average and recording 88 strikeouts for a 10.51 strikeouts per 9 innings ratio. He is playing winter ball in Mexico for the Yaquis de Obregon, going 1-0, 2.00 ERA in 18 relief apps. Over five minor league seasons, he is 15-7, 2.64 ERA in 185 games. Bird was a 35th round pick in 2014 out of Flagler College after transferring from Florida State, where he was a teammate of Jameis Winston. Bird is a graduate of Clay High School in Green Cove Springs.
Kyle Bird has methodically moved his way through our system and really took a step forward this year I think both physically and mentally. Showed incredible versatility pitching in all parts of the game — coming in to get a lefty out, going multiple innings, opening games, finishing games. With the success he had at Triple-A he is someone who could contribute in the big leagues in the near future.
LHP Brock Burke, 22
Earned Rays minor-league pitcher of the year honors after going 9-6, 3.08 ERA in 25 games (22 starts) between Class A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. He did better with the Biscuits after his July 9 promotion, 6-1, 1.95 ERA in nine starts, 4-0, 1.35 in his last five. His 158 strikeouts ranked 14th in all of minor-league baseball, and more impressive to be done in 137 1/3 innings. He led all Rays minor-leaguers in strikeouts while ranking fourth in ERA and tied for fourth in wins. He was a third-round pick in the 2014 draft out of Colorado’s Evergreen High.
Burke, really kind of a late bloomer who this year really started to show a lot of, to start to fulfill a lot of the potential that we’ve seen in him ever since we took him out of high school. His velocity jumped. His maturity took steps forward. That shows obviously as he was our organizational pitcher of the year for a reason. We’re really excited about his future. We feel there is still more to come with him as he progresses.
RHP Ian Gibaut, 25
Mlbpipeline.com prospect rank: 29
The hard-throwing reliever who has moved steadily through the system after being a 2015 11th round pick out of Tulane University, going 4-3, 2.09 with 14 saves in 15 chances this season for Triple-A Durham, striking out 75 in 56 innings. His 14 saves ranked first among Rays’ minor leaguers and fourth in the International League. He also was selected to the IL midseason All-Star team. Over four minor-league seasons, he is 16-7, 2.25 ERA.
This is a guy who has end-of-game stuff. Three power pitches, they’re all plus. Really a prototypical late-game reliever who was dominant at times for us last year. He has stuff that can really match anybody’s in the game. Another guy who after a really successful year at Triple-A could be in a position to impact us relatively quickly.
OF Joe McCarthy, 24
Mlbpipeline.com prospect rank: 17
Has also climbed through the minors as a 2015 fifth-round pick from the University of Virginia, known for his strike zone discipline and defensive versatility in playing first base and outfield. He moved up to Triple-A Durham this season but was limited to 47 games due to a back injury, hitting .269 with a .889 OPS, 8 homers, 13 doubles, 27 RBIs. Over four minor-league seasons, he has hit .277 with .812 OPS, 72 doubles, 23 homers, 164 RBI in 333 games. He was playing in the Arizona Fall League but a broken hand ended that assignment after 13 games, as he hit .239 with a .745 OPS, 1 double, 3 homers, 8 RBI.
His season was kind of derailed some by injuries, but when he was healthy he really showed a very well-rounded skill set. Good defensive contributor both in the outfield and at first base. Big, physical guy who can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Just a good hitter who knows the strike zone really well. But also a good athlete who plays really good outfield, very instinctive baserunner, smart player, just a very well-rounded player who had a chance to be a good big-league player for a long time.
OF Jesus Sanchez, 20
Mlbpipeline.com prospect rank: 4; Baseball America rank: 6
Is the Rays top outfield prospect, earning his fourth straight team MVP award after hitting .301 with a .793 OPS, 10 homers and 64 RBIs in 90 games for the Stone Crabs, and earning Futures Game and FSL All-Star selections, before an Aug. 3 promotion to Double-A. He didn’t fare well with the Biscuits, hitting .211 with a .627 OPS in 27 games for an overall line of .282 with a .757 OPS. 32 doubles, 11 homers, 75 RBI in 117 games. A Baseball America poll ranked him as the best batting prospect in the FSL. Over four minor-league seasons, the free-agent signee out of the Dominican Republic has hit .306 with a .824 OPS, 84 doubles, 21 triples, 37 homers, and 241 RBI in 351 games.
His name is I think probably, arguably the most familiar of any of these given how much hype he’s gotten, and rightly so, for his place on the prospect lists. His upside I think matches or exceeds just about anybody that we have. He’s always been able to hit since the day we signed him. As he’s grown into his body and gotten more physical I think some of the power has started to come. He profiles as a middle of the order hitter. Obviously he’s still progressing through the system, still has a ways to go to reach that upside. But the upside is so great that this is really a no-brainer for us to protect him.
Rays hire Rodney Linares as third-base coach
The team announced they have hired Rodney Linares as their third-base coach. He will step in for Matt Quatraro, who took over the bench coach position when Charlie Montoyo left to become the new Blue Jays manager.
Linares has been a long presence in the Houston Astros organization, functioning as the Triple-A manager last season. He, however, has not served on an MLB staff.
It would appear that Linares will eventually be joined by another new addition to Kevin Cash’s staff, with Rocco Baldelli departing to take the helm of the Minnesota Twins.