A total of eleven Rays may be eligible for the 2014 arbitration class. Eight are locks. Three are projected to be eligible as super 2’s. If they are a super 2, they get a fourth year of arbitration. As always, the Rays face three choices. They can non-tender the player and not offer him a 2014 contract, negotiate a contract with the player and avoid arbitration or go to arbitration with the player. It’s a tricky game and let’s see how the Rays might play it.
David Price (2013 salary $10.1125 million): This is Price’s third time to arbitration. Even though he had somewhat of a down year in 2013, he will likely receive about a $5.0 million increase, making him the highest paid player in Rays history by a wide margin. But nevertheless, he’s David Price–there’s no question that you tender him a contract. A much better question is going to be whether the Rays or another team will be the hook for that money next season. TENDER
Jeff Niemann (2013 salary $3.0 million): 31 starts with a 3.84 ERA and a 139-49 strikeout to walk ratio in 173.1 innings pitched. That sounds like a pretty nice season. But those are Niemann’s numbers for the last three years combined. Niemann didn’t throw a pitch in 2013 as his injury problems have progressively gotten worse the last four years. He missed 20 games with a shoulder injury in 2010, then 41 games with a back injury in 2011, then 136 with leg and shoulder injuries in 2012 before upping it to all 162 games in 2013 after shoulder surgery. As the Rays are stingy with medical reports, we have no idea where he is in his rehab. Even if he was healthy for spring training, his days in the rotation are probably over and we all know how it turned out when they tried to move him to the bullpen . The Rays can’t cut his salary more than 25% and $2.25 million is too much money for a severe injury risk. NON-TENDER
Matt Joyce (2013 salary $2.45 million): The Rays have spent four years trying to make a complete ballplayer out of Joyce and only in 2011 did he come anywhere close to that expectation. Joyce has two problems. He couldn’t hit left-handed pitching for his life and he’s a boom-or-bust guy at the plate even against righties. He has some talent, but he’s an unreliable hitters and doesn’t provide much in the field or on the basepaths as well. He will probably see a raise in 2014 and that would be lot of money for the Rays to pay a glorified platoon player. NON-TENDER
Wesley Wright (2013 salary $1.03 million): Coming over late in the season from the Astros, we didn’t get to see a lot of Wright but from the small sample, he looked pretty good. He’s a situational lefty, but as long as his salary remains reasonable, he’s a good deal. He’ll probably get a modest raise in arbitration. TENDER
Sean Rodriguez (2013 salary $1.0 million): The Rays have been trying to develop Rodriguez into at least a poor man’s Ben Zobrist and they haven’t been very successful. Versatile in the field, he just doesn’t show much at the plate. A supposed lefty masher, Rodriguez’s .745 OPS against southpaws was just average and certainly didn’t make up for his inability to hit righties. The Rays need a right handed bat off the bench and Rodriguez isn’t that. He will get under $2.0 million this offseaosn, but even for that money you can get a more capable utility man. NON-TENDER
Sam Fuld ($2013 salary $725,000): What would a Rays season be like without Fuld stealing a base, scoring from first or making a diving catch in the outfield? I don’t care if he hits below the Mendoza line–he’s the heart and soul of this team. He’ll make barely over $1 million next year, and that money doesn’t come close to matching what he provides the Rays. TENDER
Jeremy Hellickson (2013 salary $503,000): First time to arbitration for Hellickson, and the timing couldn’t be worse for him . But even though his 2013 season did not go well, he’s got too much talent not to keep him around and try to straighten him out. If the Rays can get him back on track a salarly of a couple million dollars will look like a steal. TENDER
Cesar Ramos (2013 salary $501,300): Another player going through arbitration for the first time, Ramos is one of several relatively young Rays relief pitchers that just can’t put it together. Sometimes he looks in control and the next times he can’t get anyone out. He lost Joe Maddon’s confidence to use him in tough situations and was relegated to the job of mop up man most of the year. Nevertheless, though, he should still make a six-figure salary next year. next year, and the Rays will at least give him a chance to stay around. TENDER
Jake McGee (2013 salary $506,000): Arbitration eligible for the first time as a Super Two player, McGee is an easy decision based on his awesome fastball alone. You just wish he threw any type of secondary pitch. He’ll upwards of $1 million next year, but he should be worth it. TENDER
Jose Lobaton (2013 salary $497,000): Joining the parade of first-time arbitration-eligible players is Lobaton, who is another Super Two. Lobaton made great strides behind the plate and with the bat in 2013. Even after tailing off offensively to end the year, he still finished with some of the best offensive numbers ever by a Rays catcher, particularly against right-handed pitching. And behind the plate, his pitch blocking was particularly impressive. Lobaton ins the best the Rays have right now and finding a decent catcher at a reasonable price is next to impossible. A low seven-figure salary will secure the Rays their likely primary catcher for next season. TENDER
Chris Gimenez (2013 salary $.499 million): The player on this list you would be least likely to think of, Gimenez spent most of 2013 at Triple-A but is still important in this organization. The Rays have no catchers in the system that are ready if Lobaton or Molina go down, meaning Gimenez has to be retained at least through spring training. Current out of options, Gimenez’s versatility gives him a chance to be the Rays’ 25th man next season as well. Get hi a modest raise over the minimum and make sure he stays with the team for now. TENDER
In the end, four players–Price, Hellickson , McGee and Lobaton–will definitely receive tender offers. The other seven are up in the air and it’s going to be a tricky game. Let’s see how Andrew Friedman handles it.