On Thursday, first baseman Chris Marrero was outrighted off of the Washington Nationals 40-man roster. This means that upon the conclusion of the World Series, he will become a free agent, free to sign with any team. Could Marrero be an option for the Rays moving forward?
Marrero was drafted out of high school by the Nationals with the 15th overall pick in 2006. While moving slowly through the system, he managed to put up solid numbers, never posting an OPS under .778 from 2006-2011. Marrero finished the 2011 season in the big leagues after posting an .825 OPS in Triple-A, with his future looking brighter than ever. However, Marrero tore his hamstring playing in the Dominican Winter League, and was limited to just 53 Minor League games in 2012. While the Nationals could have handed Marrero the reigns at first base in 2013, they instead opted to resign Adam LaRoche, making Marrero the odd man out. He spent 2013 primarily in Triple-A, posting a .270/.331/.402 line in 111 games, and he made just 16 plate appearances in teh big leagues. The Nationals showed that they obviously did not view Marrero as an important part of their future by outrighting him on Thursday. But Marrero could provide value to a team moving forward, and that team may just be the Rays.
The Rays go into the offseason finding themselves fairly thin at first base and designated hitter. James Loney, the primary first baseman in 2013, is a free agent and will seek a multi-year deal after a solid year. Luke Scott and Delmon Young, both who saw time at DH for the Rays this year, are also free agents. Even journeyman Leslie Anderson, who might have at least been worth a look in spring, is a free agent. Thus, the Rays will be looking outside of the organization to acquire options at first and DH.
Marrero would provide the Rays with yet another reclamation project. After being a top prospect most of his career, Marrero fell off the radar after his injury prior to the 2012 season. Marrero will also come cheap for the Rays, likely only requiring a minor-league deal in order to bring him into camp. Bringing in Marrero would be a fairly risk-free move, the type of move the Rays love to make. While he will likely never hit 25-30 home runs in the major leagues, Marrero still can provide some pop and average from either the first base or designated hitter spot. He has never been considered a great defender, mainly due to a lack of range, but at the same time his glove does not significantly drop his value. The Rays have been more willing than other teams to start first basemen without the big-time power the last several years, and Marrero may not find another organization that appreciates his skill-set more.
This offeason, he Rays could bring Marrero to spring training in order to compete for a starting spot at either first base or designated hitter. At 25 years old, he is not the prospect he used to be, but he still has time to continue to grow as a player and potentially make an impact in the big leagues this season. And if a Marrero project was a success, he would not reach free agency until 2019 and would play for around league minimum from 2014-2016. For the budget-constrained Rays, he would give them a big league option that would not take much out of their budget at all. What do they have to lose? If the Rays inked Marrero to a minor-league deal, the worst-case scenario would see him providing depth from Triple-A, something that a team can never have too much of. A Marrero signing would come with little risk and he remains a player with upside. He won’t be the only first baseman the Rays sign this offseason, but agreeing to terms with him sounds like exactly the type of move the Rays like to make.