We have all been waiting to see if the Tampa Bay Rays had one more exciting offseason move in them, but for now it seems as if they are done adding to a team that figures to be among the AL’s best in 2014. With the offseason a thing of the past, it is time to look back on the most exciting winter in Rays’ history. Here are my grades for all of the Rays’ major offseason moves.
OF David DeJesus re-signed to a 2-year, $10.5 million with a $5 million team option. B
I really like DeJesus as a player, but to me the money seems a little bit too much, which keeps this from being a higher grade. Regardless, DeJesus is a player who is going to help the Rays over the life of his contract. He hits righties really well (career .812 OPS), and also plays good defense in left field. Not only that, but he is a veteran presence in the outfield, something that will surely help Rays youngsters Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers. DeJesus will play left and likely bat leadoff against all right handed hitters this year. He provides some security in the Rays’ outfield after a season in which the defensively-challenged Matt Joyce and middle infielder by trade Sean Rodriguez primarily manned the position until DeJesus was acquired. The Rays’ outfield defense can now be considered a good one with DeJesus, and they should score more runs with him in the lineup. Overall, a solid move by Andrew Friedman, even if he slightly overpaid.
C Jose Molina re-signed to a 2-year, $4.5 million deal. B
When Molina re-signed with the Rays, fans had a collective sigh as it seemed another year of having a mediocre starting catcher was in the cards. However, the deal about a week later that brought Ryan Hanigan made the move look a lot better. The starting tandem of Molina and Jose Lobaton was now a thing of the past, and Molina would only need to be relied on in a backup role. He can’t be relied on to provide offensive production and he lets by a few too many passed balls. However, he is the best pitch framer in baseball, something that the Rays value more than any other team in baseball. Molina doesn’t look great as a starting catcher, but if he is only required to catch 50-60 games in 2014, his pitch framing will play very will in a backup role.
Once again, Andrew Friedman managed to make a trade that was very one-sided for the Rays. Hanigan had a poor season offensively in 2013, hitting just .198/.306/.261 (53 wRC+), but this was due to an oblique injury and a hand injury, both very tough injuries on hitters. He did manage to maintain his reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball by throwing out 45% of potential base runners (which lead the league), allowing only 3 passed balls, and being one of the best pitch framers in baseball. He should rebound with the bat in 2014, which paired with his defense makes him a great player. He was also signed to a 3-year $10.75 million deal with a team option, giving the Rays their starting catcher for years to come. The Rays got Bell in the deal as well, and while he has posted a poor 4.59 ERA in the last two seasons, he is not too far removed from being one of the best relievers in baseball. In fact, he posted a great 9.9 K/9 and a solid 2.2 BB/9 in 2013, which combined with a .337 BABIP against suggest that his 4.11 ERA should have been much better. The Rays normally get the most out of relievers with good stuff like Bell, so look for him to rebound in 2014.
The best part of this deal is what the Rays gave up to get these players. Choate is an undrafted free agent with 16 minor league appearances under his belt, and is a non-prospect. Glaesmann was the Rays’ 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, but a poor 2013 left many people with doubts about whether he would ever reach his potential. Glaesmann then unexpectedly retired a couple of days ago, which makes this trade look like even more of a steal for the Rays- although I would still have given the same grade to this trade if Glaesmann had not retired. Overall, Friedman outdid himself once again.
RP Juan Carlos Oviedo re-signed to a 1-year, $1.5 million deal with another $1.4 million in potential incentives. C
Of all the Rays’ offseason moves, this is my least favorite. Oviedo hasn’t thrown a big league pitch in two years thanks to a suspension for falsifying his identity and then a torn UCL that resulted in Tommy John surgery. At his best, Oviedo was a “closer” for the then Florida Marlins, but in fact he has only posted under a 3.50 ERA in two of his five full big league seasons. Why give a guaranteed deal to Oviedo, let alone one that could potentially net him almost $3 million? To put this in perspective, LaTroy Hawkins, who posted a 2.93 ERA in 72 appearances last year, signed for $2.5 million and Chris Perez, a former All-Star closer who suffered from poor performance last year, signed for just $2.3 million. I would like Oviedo on a minor league deal, but as a guy who hasn’t thrown a big league pitch in two years, and who wasn’t even that great when he was healthy, he doesn’t deserve a guaranteed deal.
1B James Loney re-signed to a 3-year, $21 million deal. B+
I really like Loney, and thus I really like this deal. Other than a horrendous 2012 season, Loney has been right at or slightly above league average at the plate every season in his career. He may not hit .300 with 30 home runs a year, but he is the type of hitter that is going to consistently contribute from the bottom half of the lineup. Where he really adds value though is with glove. He is among the league’s best defensive first baseman, something that his 2013 Gold Glove nomination can attest to. Even if his bat slips a bit, his defense is so good that he will always add value to his team. The Rays rarely dish out this kind of money on the free agent market, but when they do they try to minimize their risk. Loney’s great defense, as well as consistency at the plate, make him a much lower risk than someone who is a bat-only first baseman. Loney is well worth the $7 million average annual salary that he will be paid.
The second of three major offseason trades, the Rays acquired quite the haul in this deal. Forsythe should be a solid utility man with the Rays this season, and he also has a chance to take over the starting second job if Ben Zobrist leaves via free agency following the 2015 season. He hits lefties very well, and has big league experience at third base, both middle infield positions, and the corner outfield spots. He wasn’t great at the plate in 2013, hitting to just a 73 wRC+, but he did struggle with plantar fasciitis, a very pesky injury, and was much better in 2012, when he hit to a 110 wRC+. Andriese is a good depth option, and could develop into a number 3 starter as soon as late this season. Boxberger has setup man potential in the bullpen, and could make the Rays’ relief corps out of spring training. Lollis is a project, but at 6’9”, 250 lbs the Rays could turn him into a quality reliever. Tissenbaum is a fringe type of prospect right now, but a potential utility role down the line is entirely possible.
The Rays gave up Torres, a very good young reliever who posted a 1.71 ERA in his first full big league season. He might start for the Padres, where his command struggles don’t play great, but to the Rays he was nothing more than a good reliever–something they have a knack of finding without much of a problem. Hahn has tremendous upside thanks to great stuff, but he can’t stay healthy, and is likely ticket for the bullpen at this point, where he could develop into a solid high-leverage pitcher if can ever stay healthy. The Rays gave up a decent player in Torres and a project in Hahn, but managed to get back some useful pieces. The Rays win this trade easily, as they give up one good reliever and another potentially good one, but acquire a good utility player, a potential number 3 starter, a useful reliever, and two players that could be of some value. I’ll take that any day.
RP Grant Balfour signed to a 2-year, $12 million deal. A+
The Balfour signing is my favorite of the offseason, as the Rays get one of the most reliable relievers in baseball to stabilize their bullpen. $6 million per year is a steal for a guy who has put up a 2.47 ERA in the last four years. The Rays have plenty of questions in the bullpen, with Bell, Oviedo, and whoever gets the last two spots being no sure thing. Balfour, though, gives some certainty at the end of games, and helps everyone settle into a fixed role, rather than a closer-by-committee. People undervalue how helpful this is to a bullpen, but it allows a manager certainty, and ensures that players are mentally prepared on how they will help the team each and every day. Overall, this is a great signing, and Andrew Friedman deserves praise for getting the deal done on the cheap after Balfour’s previous agreement with the Baltimore Orioles fell through.
I am trying hard, but I keep finding it hard to get excited over this deal. Karns is a decent pitcher, and could become a number 2 or 3 starter if he can develop his changeup, but generally I don’t like 26 year old pitchers who still need significant refinement on their secondary stuff. It is hard to argue with his results, as he has put up a great 2.66 career minor league ERA, including a 3.26 ERA in Double-A in 2013. However, his lack of a quality third pitch behind his fastball and curveball could ticket him for the bullpen. If he was 23 years old it would be much different, but at 26 years old he is running out of time for his changeup to develop. Maybe he is a number 2 or 3 start in the future, but maybe he just becomes a good reliever.
In return, the Rays give up Lobaton, a backup catcher at his best who no longer had a place with the Rays. By giving up Rivero, the Rays are letting go of a player who could potentially be a number 3 starter. However, as he has risen up the ladder his strikeout and walk numbers have continued to get worse, and the Rays have soured on him. Vettleson is another player the Rays have soured on. He has power potential, but it has not shown up much yet, and the Rays were worried it might stay that way. He could be an average outfielder in the big leagues one day, but he also has a lot of work to do. If Karns indeed becomes a number 2 starter, this trade is a lot more conceivable. However, if he only is a reliever in the big leagues, I find it hard to justify trading away three potentially decent players. This is one we are going to have to wait a few years to truly judge after we see how all the players involved pan out, but for now it at least has the potential to turn out solidly for the Rays.
As you can tell, the Tampa Bay Rays had a huge offseason. They rarely make significant trades, let alone three of them that all involved young players departing the Rays’ system. On top of that, four players were re-signed, and one key player was signed off of the free agent market. There is no question that this was an exhilarating offseason. The Rays are much improved over the team that won 92 games in 2013.