This offseason has been very exciting for the Tampa Bay Rays. A team that won 92 games last season, the Rays have added players such as Grant Balfour, Ryan Hanigan, Heath Bell, Logan Forsythe, and Brad Boxberger, and they will also get a full season from Wil Myers and David DeJesus. On top of that, the Rays re-signed James Loney , Jose Molina, and Juan Carlos Oviedo. Craziest of all, the Rays retained David Price. The only significant losses from the 2013 team are Fernando Rodney, who will be seamlessly replaced by Balfour, and Alex Torres, who the Rays also have the depth to replace. Overall, it seems like the Rays will be a better team in 2014. But this offseason the Rays have gone away from the normal Rays’ way of doing things. What does that mean?
Andrew Friedman has made a number of moves this offseason that have been especially surprising. First of all, James Loney was resigned for 3 years and $21 million, which is very significant money to the small-market Rays. The past few years, the Rays have largely relied on patchwork at first base, with the likes of Carlos Pena, Loney, and Casey Kotchman all providing production at the position. However, the Rays now get security at the position for the next three years. Loney may not be a flashy player, but through great defense and a solid bat, he will be a good option at first for the years to come. The Rays simply don’t give this type of money to free agents, but they saw their man in Loney, and owner Stuart Sternberg showed he was willing to shell out some money to finally have security at the position for the next few years.
The Rays have also gone against their status quo by trading away two solid prospects in Todd Glaesmann and Jesse Hahn, as well as promising young reliever Alex Torres. The Rays simply don’t trade away their young prospects, yet they gave up these players to acquire major league talent right now. In Glaesmann, they acquired Ryan Hanigan, who will be their starting catcher for the next three or four years, and Heath Bell, the type of reliever they get the most out of. Hahn, meanwhile, was paired with Torres to acquire utility man Forsythe, reliever Boxberger, and starting prospect Matt Andriese. Both Hahn and Glaesmann both come with their issues, but both have solid potential. Hahn has considerable potential, but at the same time he is a significant injury risk. At the end of the day, though, the Rays simply don’t trade guys like him. Trading Hahn is almost selling low–yes, he is a risk, but he has major upside. Torres also showed solid potential as a reliever, and had the ability to return to starting done the line. Yet the Rays elected to deal both young players, something they very rarely do, albeit from areas of strength. Glaesmann was the Rays’ Minor League Player of the Year as recently as 2012, but the Rays are also selling low on him after a rough year. Overall, the Rays gave up three talented young players, although players with some risk, and turned it into major league talent for this season.
The Rays have also retained David Price. As the offseason started, both Price himself and other players thought that he would certainly be gone. In the past, we have seen starters with rising salaries, such as James Shields and Matt Garza, be dealt in exchange for promising young prospects. Maybe the Rays’ asking price was sky-high, as it should be for an ace pitcher like Price, but at the same time, they must have received significant offers for Price. Yet, despite his $14 million salary for 2014, the Rays will hold on to him and make a run at the World Series. Of all the moves, holding on to Price is probably the one with the most “win now” mentality. The Rays can still deal him next offseason and get a solid return, but this offseason is when Price was at peak value. Instead of gaining young, controllable talent, the Rays are keeping their ace around for 2014.
One last way the Rays went against their usual offseason philosophy is by re-signing Oviedo. Oviedo has been decent in his big league career, and was a solid closer for a couple years with the Miami Marlins, but he hasn’t thrown a big league pitch in two years due to an elbow injury and a suspension for falsifying his identity. The Rays guaranteed him a big league deal at $1.5 million that includes another $1.4 million in incentives. While $1.5 million isn’t a huge risk for someone who could be a good late innings option, it is a big enough risk for the budget-constrained Rays. Oviedo comes with ability, but at the same time, pitchers who haven’t throw a big league pitch in two years are always a significant risk. Another shocking thing about the Oviedo deal is the lack of a team option. With “rehab projects” such as Oviedo, the Rays often further their upside by adding a cheap team option at the end of the deal, but that option was conspicuously absent in this case. Once again, Friedman and Sternberg showed their willingness to take a risk in order to add to the team for this year.
Overall, the Rays have taken more risk this offseason than in any offseason before. Now, in comparison to the Yankees, who gave big deals to an aging catcher (Brian McCann), an injury prone center fielder (Jacoby Ellsbury), and a pitcher who has never thrown a big league pitch (Masahiro Tanaka), the risk is very little. But the Rays simply don’t take huge risks, and they very rarely give up young, promising players like Hahn, Glaesmann, and Torres. The Rays haven’t sold out on their future, in fact they have every starting pitcher and position player under control for 2+ years. But at the same time, they gave away some future pieces to give themselves the best possible team for this season. It was an unconventional season for Andrew Friedman and the Tampa Bay Rays. Let’s see how it turns out.