Another year, another exodus of free agents. This time, Fernando Rodney, James Loney, and Kelly Johnson seem sure to leave, with Jamey Wright another candidate to leave town. Luke Scott and Roberto Hernandez will not be missed as much, but they will not be returning either. All of that, though, will pale in comparison with the likely departure of David Price through a blockbuster trade. What is funny, though, is that even if Price is traded, the Rays’ offseason needs are not so expanisve.
Now that the Rays signed David DeJesus and said they’ll keep Matt Joyce, the Rays have very few open spots in the field. Most of the pieces of the team that won 92 games in 2013 are returning, and the Rays may even end better in 2014. Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar, and Ben Zobrist provide Gold Glove-caliber defense, and both Longoria and Zobrist are elite at the plate as wel. Longoria led the Rays with 32 homers and 88 RBI, and finished 6th in MVP voting even in a year where he was somewhat up and down. Longoria is only 27, and if he stays healthy is a good bet to increase his RBI total in 2014.
The outfield features rookie of the year Wil Myers in right, DeJesus in left, and Desmond Jennings in center. Jennings has not yet made Rays fans forget Carl Crawford, but still he achieved personal highs in homers (14), doubles (31), walks (64) and RBI (54) in 2013, and he’s only 26 years old. The only thing missing from the outfield is a right-handed platoon mate for DeJesus, but Sean Rodriguez and Brandon Guyer are two internal options to fill that role. Matt Joyce and perhaps Delmon Young will share DH duties. That leaves only two positions uncertain: first base and catcher. Jose Lobaton made some big hits for the Rays last season, but the team could use a better defensive catcher to pair with him. Perhaps Reds catcher Ryan Hannigan will fill that bill. Hannigan’s a strong defensive catcher who, despite batting under .200 last year, has a lifetime .359 on-base percentage.
First place remains the only big question mark. They may not be able to outbid other teams for James Loney, although most Rays fans would like to see them try. Still because they are set at other positions, the Rays can put on laser-like focus on the first base problem to identify potential acquisitions that won’t break the bank–the New York Mets’ Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, for example, or perhaps even Kevin Youkilis, the former All-Star coming off some injury-plagued years. The options are there, and the Rays simply have to sort through them to decide which direction to go.
The Rays’ rotation would look different without Price, but they have all the pieces there to make the transition without necessarily going beyond the organization. Alex Cobb and Matt Moore are coming off tremendous years, Chris Archer was great as a rookie, and we all know how good Jeremy Hellickson can be when he gets on track. For the fifth spot, Jake Odorizzi was excellent at Triple-A and then when he resurfaced in the majors in the second half of the year, and if he doesn’t grab hold of the spot, Alex Colome, Mike Montgomery, and Enny Romero could start pushing him immediately. If the Rays’ young pitchers keep taking steps forwards, there’s a chance that the Rays could actually lose Price and see their rotation improve.
Meanwhile in the bullpen, Rodney is leaving but the Rays have a better homegrown bullpen framework in place than they ever have before. What a luxury it is for the Rays to enter the offseason with Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Alex Torres, Wesley Wright, and Brandon Gomes emerging as five legitimate options signed beyond 2014 and just one piece missing from having a great bullpen once again.
A full year of Wil Myers, and continued improvement from Jennings, Escobar, and Longoria could significantly increase the Rays ‘run total in 2014 as long as they can find decent from first base. Of course, if the Rays trade Price and receive a great hitter in return, the offense could improve even further. Meanwhile on the pitching side, the Rays have plenty of talent and are just a few pieces away from retooling for another playoff run. Astute planning and savvy deal making from Andrew Friedman the Rays front office have set them up for 2014 and beyond, and even if a few players leave, get ready for more excitement in the years to come.