Tampa Bay Rays: Finding the money to sign Travis d’Arnaud

As the Tampa Bay Rays begin retooling and loading up for a third consecutive 90 win season, one of their priorities should be resigning Travis d’Arnaud. But first, they will have to find the money. Here is a guess at how they will do that…

After being purchased for $100,000 from the Dodgers in May and subsequently becoming one of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ most productive hitters down the stretch, Travis d’Arnaud is headed towards free agency. d’Arnaud will be highly sought after this offseason as he joins Yasmani Grandal as one of the better free agent options behind the dish.

Sure, the Rays would love to retain Travis d’Arnaud as they await the arrival of Ronaldo Hernandez, their #7 overall prospect, but as always it will boil down to the dollars and cents. The Rays, who won 96 games and advanced to the ALDS despite having the lowest payroll (64M) in all of baseball, already have 60M tied up for 2020 leaving little room to sign d’Arnaud.

Of the 60M, 27M of it is projected across eight arbitration eligible players, some of whom, the Rays may choose to non-tender in an effort to free up money to spend in free agency, specifically on Travis d’Arnaud.

Here are the 9 Arbitration eligible players and their projected salaries:

  • Tommy Pham: 8.6M
  • Mike Zunino: 4.9M
  • Matt Duffy: 2.9M
  • Jesus Aguilar: 2.5M
  • Chaz Roe: 2.2M
  • Tyler Glasnow: 1.9M
  • Oliver Drake: 1.9M
  • Guillermo Heredia: 1.1M
  • Daniel Robertson: 1.1M

Total: 27.1M

For the Rays to create enough financial flexibly to sign Travis d’Arnaud, they will have to non-tender a handful of their arbitration eligible players. The benefit of doing this though, is two-fold as it creates financial flexibility and opens roster spots for some of their prospects who need to be protected prior to the Rule 5 draft.

Of the nine players, Mike Zunino would be the first to be non-tendered if they want to resign d’Arnaud. Following Zunino would likely be Matt Duffy, Jesus Aguilar, Chaz Roe, and Daniel Robertson. If the Rays release all five players to free agency, they free up 13.6M in projected salary.

That leaves Pham, Glasnow, Drake, and Heredia making a combined 13.5M. When you pair this with the 33.5M Morton, Kiermaier, Snell, and Brandon Lowe are owed, the Rays would have 47M tied up in eight players.

If they resign d’Arnaud, then the Rays will have 16 other roster spots to fill before opening day. Many of which will be filled by players already on the 40-man roster, making near the league minimum.

So, this is how it would breakdown:

  • 8 players discussed: 47M
  • Travis d’Arnaud contract: ???
  • 16 remaining contracts at league minimum: ~10M
  • Total: 57M+ without any outside trades or additional signings

That seems manageable, especially if the Rays choose to spend slightly more than last year. Now, the real question is how much Travis d’Arnaud could cost the Rays.

When looking for a recent signing to gauge what d’Arnaud might fetch on the open market this offseason, Wilson Ramos’ deal with the New York Mets last offseason is the ideal comparison.

Ramos, who was signed by the Rays in December of 2016 for 12.5M over two years, signed a two year deal worth 19 million with the Mets last offseason. At the time of the signing Ramos was 31 and 2020 will mark d’Arnaud’s age 31 season.

In 2018, Ramos played 111 games and was worth 2.2 fWAR which is worth roughly 17.8M in value according to FanGraphs. This season in only 92 games d’Arnaud was worth 1.6 fWAR which is worth 12.5M in value.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two catchers is their previous track records. At the time of Wilson Ramos’ signing he had won a Silver Slugger (2016) and had made a pair of all-star teams. Across nine seasons, Ramos played in 730 games, hit 109 bombs, and compiled a career batting average of .273.

Entering free agency this offseason, Travis d’Arnaud will have played in 500 games across seven seasons, hitting  63 bombs with a career average of .246. There could be concern that d’Arnaud will regress in 2020 and beyond and this will likely land him a contract a little south of what Ramos signed.

I would look for d’Arnaud to sign a 2 year contract in the neighborhood of 15-18 million. This is doable for the Tampa Bay Rays. At most, an annual average value (AAV) of 9 million would only push their 2020 salary to roughly 66 million (With the hypothetical non-tenders).

If the Rays’ front office non-tender the aforementioned five players, that would still leave them an additional 4M for other free agent signings.

The Bottom Line:

If the Rays intend on keeping Travis d’Arnaud in a Rays uniform, they will likely have to non-tender some if not all of the following players:

  • Mike Zunino
  • Matt Duffy
  • Jesus Aguilar
  • Chaz Roe
  • Daniel Robertson
Next: Check on the Rays' prospects in the Arizona Fall League

But, the Rays have the depth to account for each of the players lost if they are non-tendered. For Zunino, d’Arnaud will slot in behind the plate as he did last season. The Rays have Wendle and Brosseau to account for the losses of Duffy and Robertson. At first, the Rays would have Ji-Man Choi and Nate Lowe along with Travis d’Arnaud who played their last season. Finally, the Rays have plenty of pitching depth to account for Roe’s absence.

In essence, if the Rays want to bring back d’Arnaud they are in a position to do so. The money can be available if they make it so. This should be a no-brainer for the front office.