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Tampa Bay Rays: The 40-Man Roster Situation Entering the Offseason

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After a few days off, we are finally set to begin breaking down what the Tampa Bay Rays need to do to return to the postseason in 2016. Let’s start with an overview of sorts as we delve into the team’s 40-man roster situation. Some players will obviously be back with the team next year, but before we even get into trade possibilities, there are some players right on the line between keeping their roster spots or not and several prospects who need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.

The easiest part of this analysis is the free agents. Asdrubal Cabrera, John Jaso, and Grady Sizemore will all hit free agency, and while the Rays may look to re-sign them, they will not be part of the 40-man roster equation for at least few months pending a last-second extension. In lieu of that, all three of them will reach the market, with Cabrera and Jaso pursuing multi-year contracts while Sizemore searches for a good fit on a minor league deal.

With those three gone (at least for now), the Rays are left with 41 players on their 40-man roster counting the four that will need to come off the 60-day disabled list. Here are the players whose spots are safe pending a trade.

Pitchers (14): Matt Andriese, Chris Archer, Andrew Bellatti, Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno, Alex Cobb, Alex Colome, Steve Geltz, Nate Karns, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, Erasmo Ramirez, Drew Smyly

Catchers (1): Curt Casali

Infielders (5): Tim Beckham, Ryan Brett, Logan Forsythe, Evan Longoria, Richie Shaffer

Outfielders (4): Brandon Guyer, Kevin Kiermaier, Mikie Mahtook, Steven Souza Jr.

There are a few of these guys that arguably belong in the next tier, but all of them have shown enough to profile as solid big league options for next season or (in the case of Brett) have the talent to get there before long. In total, there are 24 such players, accounting for all five of the Rays’ starting pitchers, their bullpen if they choose to put extra starters there in addition to the better relievers, and every starting spot other than first base, shortstop, left field, and DH. We also have three solid bench bats in Guyer, Mahtook, and Beckham and two good prospects in Shaffer and Brett.

In the next tier are the players who have been less than impressive but will likely receive enough benefit of the doubt to stick around. It would be surprising if more than one of these players is designated for assignment or non-tendered this offseason.

Pitchers (4): Brandon Gomes, C.J. Riefenhauser, Enny Romero, Burch Smith

Catchers (1): Justin O’Conner

Infielders (2): Nick Franklin, James Loney 

Outfielders (1): Desmond Jennings

If we add in these eight players, we get up to a total of 32 players out of the 40 that will be on the Rays’ roster next year. Jennings and Loney could be traded at the nadir of their values–the Rays would have to give up  a prospect to deal Loney at this point without taking on much cash–but neither will simply be cut unless the prognosis on Jennings’ knees gets even worse this offseason. If we add them in, we are up to starters at every position but shortstop and DH, and Beckham and Franklin are two mediocre stopgap options for short if the Rays go that route.

It is worth saying a bit more about Franklin. He was a train wreck in his first stint with the Rays, but he was a top prospect not that long ago and looked better at Triple-A and in September. His stock is way down, but he probably has at least one more year to prove himself before the Rays cut him or throw him into a trade.

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The two less familiar faces on the list above are Smith and O’Conner. Smith was acquired in the second Wil Myers trade along with Souza before undergoing Tommy John Surgery prior to throwing a single regular-season pitch with the team. He has thrown just 19.2 innings combined the last two years and it is certainly worth asking how his rehab is progressing, but he still possesses considerable potential. With a fastball that has reached the mid-90’s in short stints along with a good changeup, he has the ability to profile as a setup reliever even if he can no longer start games.

O’Conner, meanwhile, entered 2015 as the Rays’ top catching prospect before struggling through a miserable season at Double-A. Even so, his defense remains excellent and we have to think that the Rays will be as patient as possible with his bat. There is certainly fear that O’Conner will end up being another catcher in the Rene Rivera mold–great defense and power potential, but no plate discipline and little contact skills–but he is another guy who will get a chance to rebound.

That brings us to the relievers Gomes and Riefenhauser. Gomes finished the year with a 4.27 ERA in 63 big league appearances, showing off two new approaches to which the league eventually adjusted. Given that he is an inconsistent reliever who is out of options, it may be worthwhile to finally cut ties with him. At this point, the Rays may be able to get a prospect of some kind in exchange for him, and if such an offer comes, we have to think that he will be traded.

Riefenhauser, on the other hand, pitched well at Triple-A this season but struggled again at the big league level. The good news is that he posted a 2.16 ERA in September (in admittedly a small sample) and possesses a plus slider to go along with his low-90’s fastball. The Rays would like to give him a more extended MLB chance, but we will have to see if that is possible. It is worth asking whether the Rays would place a higher value on Gomes’ decent big league track record or Riefenhauser’s solid arsenal if their decision comes down to these two players.

Finally, we have Romero, who looked like a clear DFA candidate for a while but looked good at the end of the season in the major leagues. He got lit up in his last three appearances of the year, but it seems highly unlikely now that the Rays will let his high-90’s fastball get away.

Now we are up to the players who are likely to be either designated for assignment or non-tendered.

Pitchers (3): Jeff Beliveau, Grayson Garvin, Kirby Yates

Catchers (3): J.P. Arencibia, Luke Maile, Rene Rivera

Infielders (1): Jake Elmore

Outfielders (2): Joey Butler, Daniel Nava

The classic DFA candidates in this group are Yates, Elmore, Butler, and Nava. None of them played particularly well–Elmore didn’t even do enough to earn a September call-up–and they can’t keep 40-man roster spots that will be occupied by more talented players. The Rays would be glad to have any of them back as depth, but if they end up with other teams, the team can’t be upset.

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Beliveau and Garvin are unfortunate situations since Beliveau missed nearly the entire year with shoulder surgery while Garvin didn’t pitch in a single game due to a lat strain that wound up being a tear.  The most probable outcome is that both are cut but then quickly re-signed to minor league deals. Then Beliveau and also likely Garvin will be added to the 60-day DL when the Rays are allowed to do so again in the spring. To be clear, both left-handers are talented enough to be worth keeping.

The complicated part of this equation is the catching core. The Rays would like to have all three of the above catchers back, but they need the 40-man roster space between now and next spring. There is also the money factor. Arencibia is set to make at least $1.8 million through arbitration, and despite his strong play to end the year, there is no way that he deserves that much. Less of you would argue with me that $1.2 million or thereabouts is too much for Rivera.

Then we have Maile, who was added to the 40-man roster as a third catcher but only out of necessity. He is a decent prospect, but we are talking about a guy who managed just a .594 OPS at Triple-A this year (and unsurprisingly didn’t hit in the majors either). It would make a lot of sense for the Rays to non-tender him and then re-sign him to a minor league deal.

It is possible that Garvin and Maile could stick around, but given Garvin’s injury issues and Maile’s poor play, it seems crazy for them to keep taking up roster spots when they don’t have to. I would expect all of these players to be off the 40-man roster in the next two months.

Lastly, we get to the prospects who need to be placed on the 40-man to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.

Pitchers (4): Jake Faria, Taylor Guerrieri, German Marquez, Blake Snell

Catchers (0)

Infielders (1): Patrick Leonard

Outfielders (4): Tyler Goeddel, Taylor Motter, Boog Powell, Joey Rickard

The Rays absolutely need to protect the top prospects Snell and Guerrieri. Then we have Faria, Marquez, Motter, and Powell, each of whom comes with more flaws but has also done enough to be added. Assuming the Rays actually cut the nine players in the previous section, they would be left with 32 players on their 40-man roster, enough to add those six prospects while still having two spots left to sign a starting shortstop and another bat.

Having those two extra spots also gives the Rays the flexibility to non-tender as many as two players that they otherwise would have had to DFA. That is important because non-tendered players don’t pass through waivers, and especially when we are talking about a minor leaguer, that makes him more likely to re-sign. The Yankees that off with former top prospect Slade Heathcott last offseason, and expect the Rays to try something similar. I would expect at least one of Arencibia, Maile, and Rivera to be non-tendered rather than designated for assignment.

Of the other three players, it appears extremely likely that both Leonard and Rickard will be left unprotected. Leonard hasn’t shown enough power or contact while Rickard is simply a low-upside player, making both unlikely to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. The one other interesting guy is Tyler Goeddel, who looked like a sure bet to join Leonard and Rickard until going on a hot streak to end the season. At this point, we have to think that he will be added because of his talent and because the Rays will have an extra spot left.

Having Goeddel be player #39 on the 40-man roster would limit the Rays’ flexibility, but given that the Rays are likely to trade a starting pitcher, that should not be an issue. Others like Loney and Jennings could also be dealt, and it wouldn’t be a catastrophe if either Gomes or Riefenhauser needs to head elsewhere. We will see how good Goeddel becomes–he certainly has tools, but he has never been the most consistent player and needs more work in the weight room–but unless the Rays think that there is no chance that he is going to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft, they have little to lose adding him to the roster.

I hope that you enjoyed this overview of the Tampa Bay Rays’ 40-man roster decisions entering this offseason. We will talk a lot more about specific positions and players in the coming days, and feel free to ask questions about any part of this piece in the comments. I am sure that at least one thing that I said was not completely clear, and I am going to elaborate on several points that I touched on just briefly here. In any event, it only takes one article to begin appreciating how much action is set to happen for the Rays in the coming months, and it will be exciting to see everything fall into place for next season.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Game 162: Joey Butler, Rays Finish in Style

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