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Tampa Bay Rays Off-Season Moves Will Be Plentiful

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BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Tampa Bay Rays starter Jake Odorizzi (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Tampa Bay Rays starter Jake Odorizzi (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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While 2017 was successful in other ways for the Tampa Bay Rays then making the postseason, the off-season will include a plethora of decisions regarding the makeup of next year’s roster.

To say that the past season was a disappointment is an understatement, as we all know that back on July 18, the Tampa Bay Rays were on a clear path to the postseason. Although they had a 12-win improvement from 2016 and ended the 2017 season on a high note, their 80 wins were not enough for the postseason and in all likelihood would not be enough for 2018.

What is certain is that Evan Longoria, Wilson Ramos, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr. are locks to be here in 2018 as the positional pieces of the roster, while questionable could be starting pitchers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi.

Another certainty is that Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will reduce payroll. On Sept. 28, talking with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times in a Q and A, Sternberg stated they are are planning to “absolutely” reduce the payroll for 2018.

"Topkin: Does that mean you will reduce the payroll, which is about $80 million now, for next season?Sternberg: Absolutely. … There’s no set number. But being we’re so far above what we’ve spent ever before and way outside of what we can spend and should spend, the first move is down."

With that statement by Sternberg, President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman and GMs Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom will have a plethora of decisions to make, as they must decide whether to tender contracts to their 13 arbitration eligible players and/or re-sign some of the potential (eight) free agents.

In addition, the will need to make decisions of players currently under contract (trades) that may not fit into their plans or those that are cost prohibitive. Nevertheless, the Rays front office has their work cut out for them.

Potential Moves Based on Projected Arbitration Figures

Alex Cobb will exit via free agency given that his forthcoming salary is cost prohibitive with a market value based over $18 million according to spotrac.com. However, however Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports writes in his AL Notes that the Rays are expected to extend him a qualifying offer ($17.4 million) with little belief he will accept it.

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times says that it’s a safe bet that Cobb will decline the Rays qualifying offer so that he could pursue a multi-year deal and in doing so, the Rays would get compensation in the June 2018 Draft.

With Cobb out of the rotation, Jake Odorizzi could be as well. MLBtraderumors.com arbitration projections have Odorizzi geared for a hefty raise to $6.5 million, is a $2.4 million raise from this past season. Last season Odorizzi won his arbitration case netting a very nice increase from his pre-arbitration season of 2016 when he earned $520,000 to $4.1 million.

The arbitrators ruled in his favor primarily based on his 2016 record (10-6, 3.69) and of course the other starters that he was comparably paired with. I speculate the Rays will not offer anywhere near the $6.5 million despite his record of 10-8 with a 4.26 ERA.

I base this on the fact he made six fewer starts, thrown almost 50 less innings and there has been a significant drop in his strikeouts with an increase in walks, home runs allowed and a 1.33 increase in RA9 (runs allowed per nine innings).

Based on this, it would force the Rays to make him available this off-season, which according to Topkin the Rays will do.

Two others could also net a hefty raise are Alex Colome and Corey Dickerson. Alex Colome is arbitration eligible for the first time and according to Spotrac.com, Colome earned $547,900 this past season. The projections from mlbtraderumors.com have him at $5.5 million, which is $75,000 less than the salary of $6.25 that Jonathan Papelbon earned in his first year of salary arbitration in 2009.

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Colome led the majors in saves with 47, despite a 3.24 ERA with only 58 strikeouts in 66.2 innings pitched. Compare that to 2016 when he recorded 37 saves with a 1.91 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 56.2 innings and you can see why he could dealt this off-season.

Dickerson’s projection of $6.4 million would double his 2016 salary of $3.025 million and despite hitting a career high 27 home runs, with 84 runs scored (team leader) and a .282 average, his production falloff in the second half should be noted.

Prior to the All-Star break, Dickerson had 17 homers with 42 RBIs while hitting .312 (85 games) and post All-Star his average dipped to .240 with just 10 homers and 20 RBIs (65 games). While it is not likely that the Rays will trade Dickerson, there remains that possibility if the two sides can’t agree and the arbitrators rule in his favor.

On the bubble is Brad Miller with a projection listed at $4.4 million, an increase of $825,000 from 2017 ($3,575,000 million). At this point in time, the Rays are likely to tender him only as a safety net for Matt Duffy. A healthy Duffy will bring a trade during spring training for Miller. This now brings me to Adeiny Hechavarria.

Hechavarria was one of the best trade deadline acquisitions and with a modest projection increase from $4.350 million to $5 million; it should be a no-brainer that he’ll be tendered as I can see him as the everyday shortstop, with a healthy Duffy at second.

In 77 games with the Rays, Hechavarria showed some pop hitting a seven home runs (eight overall) which was a career high, with 12 doubles and four triples while batting .257. However, it was his defense that sparkled.

No doubt, this off-season as in the past Archer’s name will be mentioned in a majority of the trade rumors. However, despite being under team control through 2021 his “team friendly” contract is becoming not as friendly – his salary will jump to $6,416 million in 2018 from $4,916 million this past year.

Next: Projected 2018 Arbitration Salaries For Rays' Players

I would speculate that this factor alone would have the Rays seriously listening to all offers for his services and pulling the trigger if it will benefit the Rays now and not four years down the road.

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