Welcome to another edition of the RCG Mailbag. Today’s question comes courtesy of Joe Grimes, who sent a well thought out e-mail inquiring as to what the Rays may look like next year, given a number of players whose contracts are expiring. He broke down a number of players and what he felt their expected contracts next season would be, and asked what it would take to bring these players back. Below is a paraphrasing of the e-mail:
"Looking at the potential free agents coming up at first, DH, short and the bullpen, particularly closer, along with a salary increase for David Price in arbitration, the Rays may be looking at a payroll increase of approximately $12Million to keep everyone. Do you think management will increase the payroll that much next year or will they need to move Price to make room for all or some of these pieces?"
Thanks for the question Joe. The Rays likely will have shortstop locked up for next year, since Yunel Escobar has two team options at $5Million each for next year and 2015. Considering how well he has fit in with the Rays and their clubhouse, as well as Hak-Ju Lee‘s injury this season, it would seem as though Escobar is all but a given to return.
Designated hitter and first base may be interesting next year. Luke Scott has been on a tear as of late, and may finally be fully healthy from the shoulder injury he suffered back in 2011. James Loney has completely revitalized his career, escaping the pressure of Los Angeles and Boston. It’s likely that the Rays may want to bring both back; however, Loney may be in line for a hefty pay raise on the open market. Of the two, it would seem more likely that Scott would return on a similar contract to what he had this season, leaving a hole at first base.
There, the Rays could have some options in free agency. As they have aggressively promoted Cameron Seitzer through the minors, they may regard him as the first baseman of the future, with that future possibly arriving as soon as 2015. If that is indeed the case, the Rays would be looking for a one year stopgap, and there maybe some intriguing lost cost options. Players such as Corey Hart and Kevin Youkilis would be coming back from injury, and may be interesting options on a low cost deal.
Price is going to be interesting. His struggles at the start of the year and his injury may decrease the amount he could get in arbitration where he could remain with the Rays, but there may also be financial incentive to trade him after the season. With the way his contract for this season is structured, roughly $4Million of his salary is due to him in 2014. That amount would become the responsibility whatever team acquires Price, which would leave the Rays paying just over $6Million for his performance this year. However, Price has said several times that he would like to remain a member of the Rays, and would like a contract extension. It will be quite interesting to see how this plays out in the offseason, but the injury makes it more likely that Price remains.
The bullpen is likely to have some questions as Fernando Rodney, Kyle Farnsworth and Jamey Wright all all free agents next season. Rodney made some noise about wanting an extension this offseason, but the Rays decided to wait to see how he pitches this year. Given his struggles over much of the first half, and the volatile nature of closers, it seems likely that he will not be back next year. Fortunately for the Rays, they appear to have internal candidates to take over the closer spot. Jake McGee appeared as though he may be the closer of the future at the end of last season, but he may have been surpassed by Alex Torres, who has been phenomenal for the Rays since being called up. In all likelihood, it may end up as a competition for closer between these two candidates.
To replace Wright and Farnworth, the Rays may look to the minors. Josh Lueke has been solid when he has had opportunities this year in Tampa, but has been excellent for Durham, posting a 0.45 ERA. The Rays would likely bring him back if there was an injury in the bullpen, but they just do not have room for him presently. Another pitcher in the same situation is Brandon Gomes. Gomes has been injured, and may not return to the majors when he is ready to come off the disabled list since he ha a minor league option left. However, both pitchers could play an integral role in the bullpen next season.
The Rays may end up having their work cut out for them this offseason, but their shopping list could potentially be a bit shorter than it would seem at this point.
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