Looking At The Rays’ Free Agents
By Robbie Knopf
The offseason is here for the Rays and it has yet to be determined which direction they will choose to go. Trades may lead to the most exciting parts of the Rays’ offseason, but they have ten potential free agents who were on their 2012 roster and make decisions on who they will try to re-sign and who they will let go.
Players With Options
The Rays have four players with 2013 team options: James Shields (whose option is worth 9 million dollars), Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million), Luke Scott ($6 million), and Jose Molina ($1.8 million). Picking up the options on Shields and Rodney is a no-brainer. For Molina, he certainly is not the player the Rays want to receive the majority of their starts at catcher moving forward, but his pitch-framing ability helped the Rays win some games and 1.8 million dollars for a good backup catcher is a fine deal. For Scott, it seems like his option will be denied and he will become a free agent after a streaky and on the whole disappointing year.
B.J. Upton spent 10 years in the Rays organization, and the Rays appreciate him as much as anyone. But it will come down to the money, and the Rays don’t have it. The Rays will offer Upton a qualifying offer at 12 to 13 million dollars for one year so they will receive a draft pick when Upton signs elsewhere.
The Rays have three lower-level free agents who could receive a good amount of interest on the free agent market this offseason: infielder Jeff Keppinger, right-hander Joel Peralta, and lefty J.P. Howell. Keppinger is coming off a career year, posting a .325/.367/.439 in 418 plate appearances including a ridiculous .376/.402/.521 line in 127 plate appearances versus lefty pitching. Keppinger has a real chance to turn his breakout season into a multi-year deal, but the value of the contract will not be so high because of Keppinger’s age, 32, his .269/.321/.358 career line against right-handed pitching, and the fact that his breakout 2012 came along with a .332 BAbip, astronomically higher than his .281 mark from 2008 to 2011 despite a line drive rate that was basically the same. The good news about this is that Keppinger remains in the Rays’ price range if they’re willing to commit to say a 2 year, 10 to 12 million dollar contract. Of course, one overpaying team and the Rays are out, but as long as things don’t get too crazy, the Rays will try to bring Keppinger back thanks to his hitting ability, his ability to make contact on a team that otherwise strikes out like crazy, and his defensive versatility.
The Rays are also getting a break regarding Peralta, 36, who went 2-6 with a 3.63 ERA, an 11.3 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 1.2 HR/9 in 76 relief appearances this season. If Peralta became a free agent after his shinier 2.92 ERA in 2011, he could have been a more sought out commodity. Nevertheless, his strikeout to walk ratio was outstanding and he was a valuable pitcher for Joe Maddon given just how much he was used (he could have made over 80 relief appearances if it were not for his 8-game suspension following the famous Glove Check Game). The Rays like to build their bullpen out of complete unknowns, and Peralta doesn’t fit the profile anymore. But he should remain pretty cheap, maybe making 3 to 4 million dollars on a one-year contract, and after the Rays showed complete faith in him following that glove incident, there’s nowhere Peralta would rather play. The Rays will offer him a reasonable contract, and there’s a really good chance he will return to the Rays next season.
Howell may have a leg up on Peralta as a potential free agent given his age, 29, his track record, his left-handedness, and his great performance from mid-June to the end of the season as he posted a 1.15 ERA, a 7.5 K/9, a 3.7 K/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 32 appearances. Even then, his strikeout, walk, and homer rates were unimpressive. Another asterisk is that he wasn’t used too often in high-leverage situations, managing just a 0.7 aLI, meaning he pitched under 30% less pressure than the league average, and this is from a pitcher who pitched to a 1.45 aLI (45% above average) from 2008 to 2011. You can add in his injury history as another complicating factor. Howell is unlikely to get a multi-year deal and could end up around the same as Peralta, maybe a little less. The Rays have stuck with Howell since 2006 and you have to think he wants to stay as well. He’s probably a candidate for a one year, 2-3 million dollar contract, and the Rays would be happy to give that to him.
Only On Our Terms
Carlos Pena came on strong at the end of the year but was abysmal most of the season. Kyle Farnsworth was supposed to be the Rays’ closer in 2012 and instead was enigmatic, walking 4.7 batters per 9 innings, his most since 2000. Both may return to Tampa Bay next season, but it will be on contracts with extremely low guarantees. Pena made 7.25 million dollars in 2012 while Farnsworth made 3.3 million. It seems like a longshot that either of them makes more than a million dollars in base salary from anyone next season if they even get major league contracts, although there may be performance-based incentives. The good question is going to be whether Pena and Farnsworth want to try to rebound in Tampa Bay or whether they hope a change of scenery could do them better, and if they decide that staying with the Rays is the best option, they better accept whatever the Rays offer them.