The Rays have made their first major move of the offseason, offloading first base stalwart Ji-Man Choi in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, according to Korean media sources. Choi, 31, had been with the Rays since a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.
While Choi hasn't been one of the better first basemen in baseball over the course of his career, he continues to be a solid option at the game's premier level. Since the trade that sent him to Tampa for Brad Miller, Choi has posted a 119 OPS+, grading 19% better than the league average over that time. His .231/.342/.400 slash since the start of the 2020 season may have left some to be desired, but the Rays have been to the postseason in every season, including a trip to the World Series, with Choi manning first over that time period. The Rays had hoped Choi would be a long-term fit after a breakout 2019 season, where he hit 19 home runs in just 127 games. In 2019, he had an.822 OPS.
The Steel City will be Ji-Man's fifth home over his first eight MLB seasons. The Pirates get a clear upgrade from Michael Chavis, while they send minor-league arm Jack Hartman the other way. Hartman, a 6'3" righty, was the Pirates' fourth-round pick in the 2020 amateur draft. Hartman's arsenal includes a plus fastball and a curveball with high spin rate. However, there is ample opportunity for concern in the arm that the Rays picked up, seeing as Hartman underwent Tommy John Surgery shortly following the draft and underperformed in A-ball his first season back. The Appalachian State graduate posted a 6.27 ERA out of the Bradenton Marauders' bullpen in 22 games.
While the Rays may see something in Hartman that they like, the move is most likely a bigger picture move. Not only does trading Choi open up a 40-man roster spot ahead of free agency, but it also opens up a first base platoon spot to go along with Harold Ramirez. Whether this means Yandy Diaz moves to first base full-time in the wake of the Rays' acquisition of a third baseman or if the Rays upgrade at first base, the corner infield seems to be on Tampa Bay's radar. Rays Colored Glasses will keep you up-to-date as the Rays' offseason continues to develop.
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