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Tampa Bay Rays: Potential Arbitration Issues Looming

By Althea Pashman
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With salary constraints, a dozen players headed to arbitration, the offseason work bestowed upon the Tampa Bay Rays will not come easy.

Just a couple weeks removed from the end of the most disappointing season since 2007 for the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s time to take a look into the crystal ball and get a glimpse of what Rays President of Operations Matt Silverman will be facing in the coming weeks and months.

First, the salary restraints will prevent Silverman from spending big bucks or being big spenders on free agents. Payroll points to just around $68 million, with $58.2 million committed to 14 players under contract for 2017, not to mention what they will need for their arbitration eligible players, which clearly would exceed their payroll limit.

Nonetheless, that does not mean Silverman will not attempt on signing a free agent, but instead see if he can accomplish a signing with a “team” friendly contract or by freeing up salary via a trade.

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Secondly, I expect the Rays to be active in the trade market, especially during the offseason. The primary reasons are the projections of their arbitration eligible players and those under contract. Silverman has plenty of options that could work in filling some of the holes. However, he needs to really do his due diligence and not jump the gun as he did with Logan Morrison.

Finally, despite many of the players stating that there was leadership in the clubhouse it would not hurt if one or two veteran players, such as a Cliff Floyd of Eric Hinske type player is acquired. Floyd and Hinske were an integral piece to the Rays success in 2008, especially in the clubhouse where they would call out or council players.

Before going any further in regards to how Silverman could acquire players under the financial restraints of the team, it is important to look at the players that are arbitration eligible and whether or not they could receive a qualifying offer.

The Scoop on Free Agency, Arbitration and Qualifying Offers

Right off the bat, the Rays have $26 million in salaries combined to Evan Longoria ($13.1M), Chris Archer ($5.9 M) and Logan Forsythe ($7 M). Additionally, $33.2 million are projected salaries for their dozen or so arbitration eligible players.

Tampa Bay has three potential free agents – Kevin Jepsen, Logan Morrison and Alexei Ramirez. Their arbitration eligible players include: Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Brad Miller, Erasmo Ramirez, Corey Dickerson, Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno, and Bobby Wilson. As well, Kevin Kiermaier, Chase Whitley and Danny Farquhar could qualify as a Super2 eligible based on service time.

Dana Eveland had been arbitration eligible, but the Rays outrighted him last week and he elected free agency and per MLB.com Bill Chastain, Eveland expects to re-sign with the Rays.

Projected salary figures for the potential arbitration eligible players come via MLB Trade Rumors and in the years that they have been projecting such have come pretty close to the actual final figures that players have received.

Here are the projected salaries:

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Alex Cobb – $4.0M
Bobby Wilson – $1.1M
Drew Smyly – $6.9M
Erasmo Ramirez – $3.5M
Brad Boxberger – $1.5M
Corey Dickerson – $3.4M
Brad Miller – $3.8M
Xavier Cedeno – $1.2M
Jake Odorizzi – $4.6M
*Danny Farquhar – $1.1M
*Kevin Kiermaier – $2.1M
*Chase Whitley – $900K
* Super2 Eligible

Under most circumstances, teams will non-tender a player because it feels the raise he will receive in arbitration would be greater than his on-field value. Any player on the 40-man roster with fewer than six years of major league service time must be tendered a contact, or non-tendered and released into the free agent pool.

In other cases, a team can non-tender a player to clear a space on the 40-man roster, which is what the Rays did with Dana Eveland (arbitration eligible).

However, if teams choose to non-tender all it means is that they have turned down the option to negotiate a contract, but can still re-sign them since via free agency, if they haven’t already agreed to a deal with a new team.

The Trade Chips

Over the years (under Sternberg’s ownership), the Rays have been very successful signing their arbitration eligible players before heading to arbitration and as well winning any cases that have gone to an arbitration hearing. Only one player has ever won their case and that was Drew Smyly winning in 2016.

From the figures above, Odorizzi and Smyly have the highest projected salaries among the Rays eligible players. This leads me to think one or both could be valuable trade pieces that could free up payroll. As well, Ramirez could also be included.

Before the Rays traded starter Matt Moore to San Francisco, Odorizzi and Archer produced a lot of attention at the trade deadline. Archer again could draw interest, but because of his team friendly contract, Silverman could be reluctant in trading him.

At the same time friendly contract or not, Silverman is well aware of Archer’s abilities and will bury his 2016 season in hopes of a rebound in 2017.

Despite being under team control for two more years, Smyly is entering his third year of arbitration and with the potential price tag for 2017 being what it is, could be the biggest trade piece.

Odorizzi is under team control for three more seasons, but could land a hefty increase from his 2016 salary ($520K) via arbitration. What the Rays could do is offer him a multi-year deal, which would make Odorizzi a better trade candidate down the road.

Although Silverman’s main objective is to fix the bullpen, losing Ramirez would not really hurt – if anything it would be better. Ramirez had a roller-coaster season, despite eating up innings and losing a career high 11 games. In 63 relief appearances, Ramirez had 15 holds, 2 saves along with a 3.77 ERA.

If the Rays are able to trade Smyly, Odorizzi and Ramirez, that frees up potentially $15 million that could be spent on relievers, a decent catcher or corner outfielders via free agency that could fill some of the areas that Silverman is needing to upgrade.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Silverman's Off-Season Priority the Bullpen

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With Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Blake Snell already in the rotation replacing Smyly and Odorizzi will not be difficult, as Whitley would move into the rotation. One of the Rays promising arms (Dylan Floro, Jacob Faria, Jaime Schultz, Austin Pruitt, Taylor Guerrieri and Brent Honeywell) from the minors would then have the opportunity to round out the rotation.

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