Tampa Bay Rays: Seeking Final Piece of Off-Season Needs

Nov 8, 2016; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Tampa Bay Rays general manager Erik Neander during the MLB general managers meeting at the Omni Scottsdale Resort. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2016; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Tampa Bay Rays general manager Erik Neander during the MLB general managers meeting at the Omni Scottsdale Resort. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tampa Bay Rays recent trade and impending free agent signings still have not completed their off-season need of getting a right-handed bat.

Competition is good, competition for a roster spot is even better. For the first time in a long time, there will be lots of competition coming this spring among the Tampa Bay Rays outfielders as all will be vying for spots on the 25-man roster.

Tampa Bay Rays GM Erik Neander said via a conference call after the trade, that besides liking his defensive abilities and his speed, the team acquired Mallex Smith to “shake up” the group of outfielders already on the roster. I took that to mean that no spot was a given, that the players other than say Colby Rasmus and Kevin Kiermaier would compete for a spot on the roster and playing time.

It also meant that Steven Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson, Mikie Mahtook, Smith and even Nick Franklin would be put into a “bye-bye” beware mode. With the implication being that, a shakeup could include any one of the players mentioned as part of a trade.

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The shakeup, although needed to create a 40-man roster spot began on Wednesday when the Rays traded Mikie Mahtook to Detroit. The return was insignificant (cash or a PTBNL) as Mahtook’s value at this point is null – bottom line, with the depth of outfielders presumably headed to Triple-A Durham (Johnny Field, Shane Peterson, Jason Coats, Jake Bauers) their value is much more than what Mahtook provided in his brief time and what he would or could provide in the future.

While it is unlikely that any players mentioned above will be traded, there remains a possibility that one could be part of a package with a starter to fill the last part of the Rays off-season needs, which is a right-handed hitting outfielder/1B/DH player.

In addition, despite the trade the Rays will need to make another move on the 40-man roster to accommodate both impending signings of Rasmus and Shawn Tolleson as soon as their physicals and paper work are finalized.

At this point in time, the free agent market is thin in regards to adding a right-handed bat that the Rays would possibly consider. However, despite the thin pickings, it is not uncommon for the Rays to wait until the last possible minute. They have used this tactic before, coming in late with an offer to a veteran that is short on options – the Rays get the player for the price that fits the budget. Johnny Damon, Asdrubal Cabrera and Manny Ramirez were such signings as noted by MLB.com’s Bill Chastain.

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The most attracting right-handed free agent’s available for the Rays are Mike Napoli, Billy Butler and Chris Carter. Mark Trumbo is still on the market, but is out of our league financially – so I am not even going to touch on him.

Napoli had a career year for the Indians on a contract that was $7 million, so chances are he will want lots more money and a multi-year deal… FYI, he appeared in 150 games, 98-1B and 51-DH. In his major league career, he has spent very time in the outfield and that came in 2015 when he started 11 games in left for the Rangers totaling just 50 innings.

Butler finished the 2016 season wearing pinstripes with the Yankees after his release by Oakland in September. Butler was in the final year of a three-year, $30 million contract with Oakland, so it was inevitable that he would become a free agent. However, his release was not over money, but  because he and former teammate Danny Valencia were involved in a clubhouse fight. Nevertheless, he batted .276 with four home runs and 31 RBIs in 85 games over the year, his least productive year in the majors since making his debut with the Royals in 2007.

Carter is the most versatile, having played the outfield, first and of course designated hitter. He does not hit for average – never has, never will. He is a strikeout machine (avg. 206 per season), but he also hits many home runs, and will draw the walk.

After a disappointing 2015 season when he hit just .199, though he did have 24 home runs in 129 games for the Astros, he was non-tendered. Carter would sign a one-year, $2.5 million contract with Milwaukee last January where he would become an everyday player and a major force in the lineup, posting a .321 on-base percentage and smashing 41 homers, (led National League) with 94 RBI in 160 games. Despite a career year, the Brewers chose not to tender him.

FYI, signed to a minor league deal, Coats was claimed off waivers from the White Sox and made his major debut in 2016 batting .200/.298/.340 in 58 plate appearances. He has spent more time in right field than any other outfield spot in the minors, though he can play left and center and he is also entering 2017 off a monstrous year in Triple-A Charlotte, where he batted .330/.394/.519 with 10 homers, 22 doubles and a pair of triples in just 332 plate appearances.

Rays Stingers

According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the one-year, $5 million deal with outfielder Colby Rasmus likely will not be finalized for several more days due to a review of his medical records.

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted that the Astros have not given up on acquiring Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana or Chris Archer and remain in contact with the Athletics, White Sox and Rays.

The Cubs claimed pitcher Dylan Floro off waivers from the Rays, he had been designated for assignment when the Rays claimed Coates.

MLBPipeline.com lists pitcher Brent Honeywell (No. 7) in the Top 10 among the Top 100 right-handed prospects heading into 2017.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Mikie Mahtook Traded to the Detroit Tigers

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