Tampa Bay Rays: Non-Tender Deadline, Free Agents and Trades

Non-tender deadline would benefit the Tampa Bay Rays as additional players fitting team needs may possibly become available.

With a deadline quickly approaching for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association and a chance of a lockout that would have put a stop to all baseball operations, came relief as a new agreement was reached and the Tampa Bay Rays can now go forward with MLB’s December 2 deadline to tender contracts.

All indications point to the Rays tendering contracts to all of their eligible players, which stand at 10. Kevin Kiermaier narrowly joined the list as a Super Two, sneaking in with 2.131 of service time, which is the cutoff for this year.

That means Brad Miller, Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno, Alex Cobb, Danny Farquhar, Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez will all go to arbitration unless a deal can be worked out prior to their hearing date. According to MLBTradeRumors, the Rays projected salaries are close to $35 million, and speculation on my part is that Smyly is probably the only player that will go to a hearing.

So far, into this offseason, the Rays have been somewhat quiet with just one trade made and it will probably stay that way until late winter and the same as far as signing free agents.

Although the Rays did make an offer to free agent catcher Jason Castro, it was nowhere close to the three-year, $24.5 million deal he received from Minnesota. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times speaking with Rays GM Eric Neander said, “It’s important for the Rays to keep perspective.”

In essence, the opportunities available later in the offseason might turn out to be better for the Rays either through trades or through free agency.

“Early offseason signings are typically the result of a very competitive market for those players,” says Neander. “Sometimes it’s difficult to contend with that, but not always. Our job is to be prepared, try to do our evaluations correctly, wait for the right opportunity to arise and be in position to strike when it does.”

Bullpen help, catcher, left-fielder and right-handed DH remain on the Rays offseason wish list and their interest continues to remain high on Steve Pearce, who they would like to bring back. Pearce continues to rehab his elbow surgery and his market value is will certainly be based on his health.

In addition to Pearce, there are other options for a right-handed DH occasional first baseman for the Rays according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Topkin writes that Trevor Plouffe formerly of the Twins or former Cardinal Matt Holliday could possibly fit. As teams begin to non-tender, the free agent list will grow and the Rays would certainly benefit the most,

Once again, the Rays need to find a catcher, however the Rays will need more than free agency to get what they are looking for – which is someone long-term until Justin O’Conner or Nick Ciuffo is ready. A trade is the only way that the Rays will get a long-term solution to their backstop problem and that is where Drew Smyly, Chris Archer and possibly Matt Andriese, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb and even Alex Colome come into play.

Currently there are numerous teams looking to add starting pitching – the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Miami Marlins, and the New York Yankees. As well, the Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees, the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals are all seeking closers.

Finding or getting a trade partner that works is difficult at times, especially for the Rays who seem to have always asked for much more in return than the value of the player they are shipping out. This offseason though all that could change as the Rays seem poised to take advantage of the opportunities.

At this time, it is also important that the Rays look to add depth to their major league roster and not land prospects that are three, four or five years away. Yes, they need to build for the future, but not now if they really want to get back into contention.

In my opinion, I doubt that the Rays would partner-up with the Orioles and Yankees as they are in the same division and neither team really has what the Rays really need which is a catcher.

Miami, Atlanta and Washington do have some interesting pieces – but not catchers. Atlanta just acquired Brian McCann and Washington is also catcher hungry as Wilson Ramos became a free agent and is injured. That leaves the Dodgers and Cubs who really seem to be the best trade partners and who have just what the Rays need.

Is there a chance that the Rays could work out a deal for Miguel Montero, or one with the Dodgers for Austin Barnes? Probably, if the price is right. Would either the Cubs or the Dodgers be interested in Smyly, Archer, Odorizzi, Andriese or Colome? Absolutely. Will it happen, could it happen and should it happen? In my opinion, yes it should.

In regards to Montero, his time with the Cubs could be numbered, as he was extremely critical of the way Joe Maddon treated him during the postseason. Montero was not happy with the lack of communication from Maddon and verbally expressed his frustrations to the media. As well, Montero was critical of Maddon’s use of closer Aroldis Chapman in the final two World Series games and that he no longer was Jon Lester’s personal catcher.

Montero’s pitch-framing ability is something the Rays would crave. Beyond The Box Score’s Matt Goldman outlined that Montero’s pitch-framing was among the best in baseball when the Cubs acquired him from the Diamondbacks.

Since the Cubs did not pick up Jason Hammel’s option, making him a free agent the Cubs have an opening in their rotation – although there is speculation that former Ray’s farmhand Mike Montgomery will fill the void. Here is where any one of the above mentioned Rays starters could fill the opening. Additionally, they need a closer as Aroldis Chapman became a free agent – here is where Alex Colome fills that void.

Even Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wonders if the Rays might be interested in pursuing a trade for Montero, assuming that the Cubs pay part of his salary.

Although we match-up as trade partners with Chicago, Montero could still be in their plans for 2017 and they may look beyond his public display following the World Series.

As for the opportunity involving the Dodgers, I would suspect that a deal is more likely to occur as Andrew Friedman had a hand in acquiring Archer, Smyly, Andriese, Odorizzi via trades when he was President of Operations for the Rays.

Archer and Odorizzi have the most value in trades. They both come with multiple years of team control and are just 28 and 26. They both have friendly contracts – so either one could be a possible match.

Then again, Smyly and Cobb are both off injuries that affected their production in 2015-2016. Smyly is still arbitration-eligible two more times and Cobb once more before hitting free agency, which brings me to Andriese who has five more years of team control, however he is the least proven and has made just 54 appearances since 2015 for the Rays.

Heading into the 2017 season, Barnes is penciled in as Yasmani Grandal backup and no closer. So, maybe a trade involving Colome along with Archer could net Barnes and outfielder Alex Verdugo, the Dodgers No. 8 prospect.

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This is a reasonable starting point, however I would expect the Rays to want more and the Dodgers to give up less.

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