The offseason has just begun for the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of baseball. But to get an idea for what the Rays’ objectives will be this offseason, let’s get an idea of what the competition for roster spots would be like if spring training was starting tomorrow. For this exercise, we’ll remove all free agents from the roster and I’ll use my discretion when discussing players with 2013 options.
Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton saw the most time at catcher for the Rays in 2012, but Chris Gimenez had a 2012 season at Triple-A and played well at the end of the year in the big leagues and Robinson Chirinos is finally back from the discussion that sidelined him for the entire season so the competition would be interesting. Molina is a guarantee to make the roster because he’ll be making 1.5 million dollars, and the other three will be competing for the second catcher spot. Lobaton wasn’t a complete disaster in 2012, playing solid defense and walking at a good clip but doing nothing else. Gimenez has the most big league experience of the non-Molina crowd, may have the best chance at being a halfway-decent all-around hitter, and he can also play third base, first base, and left field in addition to catcher, but his defense behind the plate is nothing special and he’s about to be 30 years old. Chirinos, meanwhile, has the most upside both offensively and defensively but is almost completely unproven. Chirinos would almost assuredly start the season at Triple-A with the Lobaton versus Gimenez competition getting pretty interesting. The problem is that your realistic best-case scenario for the Rays with these four guys is a barely passable situation at catcher.
Good luck trying to figure this one out. With Carlos Pena and Jeff Keppinger being free agents and Luke Scott‘s option surely to be declined, Gimenez actually leads the remaining Rays with 21 games played at first base. The Rays’ best organizational options for the position are Henry Wrigley and Leslie Anderson, but Wrigley needs continued work on his patience and Anderson doesn’t have anywhere near the power you want at the position. By the way, both of them have not a single game of big league experience. Anderson might have a chance to make the roster as a backup. You also have Stephen Vogt and Sean Rodriguez who could hypothetically start at first base, but the most realistic option has to be Matt Joyce sliding over from right field after he worked out at first base in spring training of 2011. As long as he doesn’t go into another mega-slump like he did in 2012, he has the ability to hit for enough power and be a good enough pure hitter to give the Rays’ their best situation at first base since Carlos Pena’s last great season for the Rays in 2009- albeit at the cost of production from the outfield.
The Rays’ tendering Ryan Roberts a contract this offseason cannot be considered a guarantee, but it might as well be because it’s not like the Rays want Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, or Reid Brignac starting for them on a regular basis again. He’s nothing too special but a solid all-around player and although he struggled offensively in his time with the Rays’ last season, bizarrely not hitting left-handed pitching after destroying them previously, the Rays could expect at least average offensive production from Roberts next season to go along with above-average defense.
Ben Zobrist can play anywhere, but the Rays need him at shortstop and that’s where he’ll play. His defense at shortstop isn’t quite as good as at second base or right field, but he’s more than passable and he profiles as a well above-average offensive shortstop.
Evan Longoria better stay healthy. The Rays need him more than ever.
With B.J. Upton gone and Matt Joyce at first base, the only guaranteed starter is Desmond Jennings in either center or left field. After him, you have Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer, Vogt and Anderson (I guess), and… the Rays need to make a trade or sign someone because that is not working. I guess you would have Jennings in center, Guyer in right, and Fuld in left, and if Jennings can rebound from a tough sophomore season, Guyer can live up to his power-speed potential in his rookie season, and Fuld can stay healthy and find a little more magic, that would not be so bad, but Guyer is unproven and Fuld is better as a fourth outfielder.
Who do you have here? I guess Vogt with some competition from Anderson and Wrigley. Who else is there? That is not happening.
Now we get to the good part. We have a starting rotation of David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and then a competition between Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, and Chris Archer for the last rotation spot- although the Rays might have to seriously consider something of a 6-man rotation. Even if Shields is traded, the Rays’ rotation picture is still incredibly crowded.
Fernando Rodney‘s 2.5 million dollar option for 2013 has to be one of the best team options in the history of baseball. Jake McGee and Wade Davis and their electric arms would be forced into bigger roles next season based on the Rays’ current alignment, with Burke Badenhop getting another guaranteed spot. After that, there’s Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke, and whichever starting pitchers don’t win rotation spots competing for the remaining slots. That still would probably be a pretty good bullpen, but it would be extremely inexperienced and the middle relief sounds very iffy.
So far, the guaranteed roster spots are Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, Matthew Joyce, six starting pitchers (with maybe one heading to the bullpen), two catchers, Rodney, McGee, Davis, Badenhop, and Sam Fuld. That leaves 8 spots for everyone else. Two of Rodriguez, Johnson, and Brignac have to make the roster and there is no conceivable way that Brandon Guyer could be left off based on the players the Rays currently have. The fourth outfielder would be… I guess Vogt, Anderson, or Wrigley. That leaves four more pitchers for the bullpen, likely Ramos, another starting pitcher, and two of Gomes, Lueke, and starting pitcher #8.
Obviously, the Rays have a ton of work to do. That roster sounds pretty pathetic outside the starting rotation. The major needs are… bats. The Rays need another outfielder, a first base/corner outfield type, and an arm or two for the bullpen, and another catcher would be nice. The Rays will work this offseason to plug up their holes and find another group of 25+ players who will deliver another great season. They’re certainly nowhere near there yet, but Rays fans can be confident that by the time spring training really starts, the Rays’ roster picture will be much clearer and once again there will be confidence in the air that the Rays will find a way to return to the postseason and possibly more.