The Tampa Bay Rays offseason is expected to be a busy one. Many expect the Rays to be buyers this offseason, but if they plan on buying they will have to move some pieces to make space on the roster
Change is coming for the Tampa Bay Rays lefty heavy lineup in the coming months. For change to occur, they will need to move some pieces and the most likely of those pieces are C.J. Cron, unless they choose to non-tender him, Ji-Man Choi, and either Kevin Kiermaier or Mallex Smith.
With lefty Jake Bauers presumably penciled in as the opening day first baseman, the lineup will only become even more lefty-heavy. An infield that includes left handed swinging Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe and an outfield that includes fellow left handed swinging Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, and Mallex Smith will only add to the surplus of left handed hitters going forward.
Due to this surplus, the Rays will need to get creative this offseason when tweaking the 25 man roster for 2019.
C.J. Cron, 1B, LHH
C.J. Cron has presented the Tampa Bay Rays with an interesting dilemma this offseason. A dilemma that revolves around a team in need of quality right handed bats trading away the very best right handed bat they have on the roster.
Why would they trade the slugging first baseman who they took a chance on in 2018. This past offseason, they took a chance on Cron, projecting big returns if he got consistent playing time and regular at bats. Their projections were correct, with regular at bats he slugged 30 homeruns setting a career high.
But with the arrival of Jake Bauers and emergence of Nate Lowe at AAA, Cron is the likely odd man out in 2019. So, if he isn’t traded by November 30th, they will likely non-tender him. There is value in his bat though and I am sure for the right price a team will bite.
Ji-Man Choi, 1B/DH, LHH
Trading fan favorite Ji-Man Choi may sting for Rays fans, but ultimately, there just isn’t enough space for Choi on the 2019 roster. Ji-Man Choi is the most expendable left handed bat on the Rays roster going into the offseason and as a result they may trade him. He will be limited to a platoon role with Jake Bauers at first base and a match-up specific DH role. For the ever-versatile Rays, who on occasion will stick an infielder in left field, can’t afford to use a roster spot on a platoon first baseman.
If and when the Rays sign a right-handed impact bat, he will most likely play a corner outfield position or be the everyday designated hitter. Unless the Rays trade for Paul Goldschmidt to play first base, Jake Bauers will be the everyday first baseman and I simply do not see Choi taking valuable playing time away from him as he develops.
Not to mention, if the Rays were to keep Choi and Nathaniel Lowe were to get off to a strong start in AAA, the Rays will continue to welcome the future of Rays baseball to Tampa Bay and as a result Choi would be pushed out anyways. With nowhere for Choi to play, it would make sense for the Rays to trade him now. He is coming off a solid season with the Rays and the asking price, albeit low, is higher than it was prior to him playing in Tampa.
Mallex Smith, OF, LHH
I assume this would be the toughest pill to swallow for the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. In my opinion, Mallex Smith was the Rays most valuable position player in 2018 and it isn’t often that teams will trade a player of such value. This offseason, the Rays will need to part ways with one of their left-handed hitting outfielders and I can’t see them shipping Austin Meadows anywhere after the promise he showed at AAA and his short stint in Tampa Bay.
With Meadows presumably out of the question, that leaves Mallex Smith and Kevin Kiermaier. In trading Mallex, you lose speed on the bases and a trusted bat at either end of the lineup. The Mallex Effect took Tampa by storm and as a result Smith acted as a catalyst for the offense. In the field, I trust Kiermaier more, but Mallex can hold down a corner outfield position.
The asking price would be high, which is why the Rays may be willing to make him available this offseason. I sure hope they don’t though.
Kevin Kiermaier, CF, LHH
I can only assume that Kevin Kiermaier stands on thinner and thinner ice every time he misses a portion of the season due to injury. The ice may crack this offseason for the defensive magician and fan favorite, Kiermaier.
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Kiermaier, who is under a team friendly contract that runs through 2023 is still owed roughly 44 million. For most teams, that isn’t expensive, but for the cash strapped Rays, paying a center fielder who has failed to play 100 games each of the past two years due to injuries, it is rather expensive.
He might be a wizard in center, but he is far from a wizard at the plate. A career .254 hitter at the plate with a career on base percentage hovering around .300 will simply not get it done. His inconsistencies a the plate could be due to his common DL stints, and if the that is the case, the inconsistencies will continue as injuries could presumably follow him the rest of his career.
Mallex Smith showed us what a player with the speed that Kiermaier possesses could be capable of at the plate. Yet, Kiermaier still can’t seem to find his way on base nearly often enough. This past season could have been the deciding factor in Kevin Kiermaier’s fate as a Ray. If the Rays are going to trade a left-handed outfielder, I hope it isn’t Mallex, but rather Kevin Kiermaier.
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