Part 3 of this series will discuss a realistic free agency outlook and conclude with an overview of the team heading into the 2022 season.
It’s safe to say that the Rays are not in a position to be active in the market for some of the premier free agents this offseason. This is where they can truly find value in guys who are overshadowed by the likes of Corey Seager and Robbie Ray. Nelson Cruz and Collin McHugh are the only realistic options to be retained. McHugh will likely demand a contract north of $8 million a year, a price that should be far too steep for the Rays. Nelson Cruz is nearing the middle part of his 40s but isn’t showing too many signs of regression. He’s likely to sign a one-year deal for around $15 million. I think the Rays should consider this option to bring back as a DH, but his limited versatility and expensive price tag do bring some worry. I believe the Rays can match a lot of his value through the production of Garrett Cooper and Jordan Luplow at a significantly cheaper cost. Leaving the payroll a little open to start the year gives them flexibility to explore other options further into the season if needed. If a guy like Jose Ramirez becomes a little more available, I think the Rays should be a primary aggressor.
A guy that I like to add to the Rays’ 26-man roster this year is Trevor Cahill. After fulfilling some needs in a few trades, I think the combo bulk-starter/reliever role is another important addition to the team. Trevor Cahill was a long-time starting pitcher who has taken on more of a relief role over the past few years. He has a FIP right around 4.00 the last two seasons in over 60 innings of work. He has a well-rounded pitch arsenal with unique characteristics that the Rays should value. Cahill has a sinker with well-above-average horizontal movement (17.2 in), a changeup with average horizontal movement (13.8 in) but is 7 MPH off of the sinker, a knuckle-curve with over 11 inches of vertical break, and an effective cutter with some SSW qualities (-31.2 axis diff). There’s even a fastball to go along with it that has 16 inches of VB. He can attack the hitter in many different ways and has an element of craft to his game that seems to be right up the Rays’ alley. Cahill seems comfortable going to any of his four primary offerings with two strikes. I think he can add great value to the Rays’ pitching staff in 2022 and could serve in both a back-end starter and long-relief role.
Tony Watson is another guy I really like in free agency. He’s been very solid over the past few seasons and is equally as tough against righties and lefties. This is reflected in his .266 wOBA and 86.3 MPH average EV over the last four seasons. Watson also has a deep arsenal with multiple ways to get hitters out. He has very good HB on his sinker (18.4 in) and his changeup (19.9) which the Rays have valued a lot recently. His fastball comes in from a decently flat VAA of -4.6 and also has some plus run into lefties and away from righties. Watson’s slider takes more of a gyro form but has some SSW characteristics (43.6 axis diff) which aid in its ability to give hitters trouble. His pitches come in from a horizontal release point around 3.4, which is in company with some of the more sidearm throwing lefties. His vertical release point of 5.0 is the fourth lowest among lefties coming from horizontal release point around 3.4. This gives him a similar look to Aaron Loup who’s also been highly successful as a unique lefty out of the bullpen.
Cahill and Watson are not flashy free agent signings by any means, but they have Rays written all over them. Neither should cost more than about $2 million per year, but may exceed that value. Cahill will provide relief to the starting rotation and the bullpen. Watson has been one of the more effective left-handed relievers over the past few years and is a valuable add to the bullpen.
Other guys I strongly considered in Free Agency:
Corey Kluber (of course this is very easy to say after seeing that he’s already been signed, but he is someone I truly considered for a while. Ultimately, I decided to go in the direction of Cahill due to the cheaper salary demand and relief flexibility.)
Raisel Iglesias (*Qualifying offer attached)
Minor League Free Agents / Spring Training Additions
Having payroll near $60 million gives the Rays the versatility to sign guys to potential minor league/major league deals once IL guys can be added again and their 40-man spot is open. Kittredge was signed to minor league deal this offseason and he turned out to be one of the Rays’ most valuable relievers. Adam Conley, Dietrich Enns, Aaron Loup are among other guys who signed to minor league deals and have had success with the big league team. The Rays should have about 2-3 spots available to fill.
Here are guys I’ve identified that could be valuable on this type of deal:
Pillar has been an above-average CF throughout career and is as tough as they get. He has a .342 wOBA against lefties since 2017 and has two full seasons with at least a .400 wOBA against lefties. This move would serve to hedge Vidal Bruján in the near term. If Bruján isn’t ready for a full-time role, particularly in the a centerfield rotation with Brett Phillips, Kevin Pillar could fill that void. With full health and an opportunity to play, Pillar could be a valuable add on a minor league deal.
Robertson is another guy that is well worth consideration for a roster spot. He looked good in 2021 where he worked a 3.67 FIP and 2.98 SIERA in 12 IP. He allowed only three barrels in 30 batted ball events and struck out 32% of the batters he faced. Robertson throws a unique cutter with tremendous VB (18.2 in), a sharp, sweeping slider with well above-average HB (13.3 in), and a knuckle-curve to back it up. He still has the makings to be an effective reliever and would be a nice add.
Castro hits lefties very well and has been a good defender throughout his career. He has a .389 wOBA vs LHP since 2017 and was a well-above average defender from 2016-2019 in terms of Statcast’s OAA. He is versatile and can play 2B, SS, 3B. He would also serve as a stop-gap if Bruján or Walls isn’t fully ready. Castro seems like a camp invite regardless of the state of Vidal Bruján or Taylor Walls.
Other guys that should receive consideration:
- Brandon Morrow (previously elite, plus fastball but has battled injury, reclamation)
- Jimmy Nelson (good fastball and plus slider with good HB and velo)
- Heath Hembree (good fastball, -VB, VAA and very effective slider)
- Bryan Shaw (lots of SSW, good cutter, plus slider profile)
This roster gives the Rays the ability to mix and match very freely throughout the season. The team has thrived on the platoon advantage and maximizing the strengths of each individual player. This is an extremely effective style of operating and is especially important for a team like the Rays who can’t go out and pay guys $30 million a year to play every day. Here is what the Rays 2022 could look like from a positional standpoint.
Available vs RHP:
C- Mike Zunino, René Pinto
1B- Garrett Cooper, Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe, Jordan Luplow
2B-Vidal Bruján, Brandon Lowe, Taylor Walls, Dylan Moore
SS- Wander Franco, Taylor Walls, Dylan Moore
3B- Yandy Diaz, Wander Franco, Dylan Moore
LF- Randy Arrozarena, Josh Lowe, Brett Phillips, Jordan Luplow, Dylan Moore
CF- Brett Phillips, Josh Lowe, Dylan Moore, Vidal Bruján
RF- Josh Lowe, Randy Arrozarena, Brett Phillips, Dylan Moore, Jordan Luplow
DH- Brandon Lowe, Garrett Cooper, Yandy Diaz, Jordan Luplow
Available vs LHP:
C- Mike Zunino, René Pinto
1B- Garrett Cooper, Yandy Diaz, Jordan Luplow, Brandon Lowe
2B- Taylor Walls, Brandon Lowe, Vidal Bruján, Dylan Moore
SS- Wander Franco, Taylor Walls, Dylan Moore
3B- Yandy Diaz, Dylan Moore, Wander Franco
LF- Randy Arrozarena, Jordan Luplow, Dylan Moore, Brandon Lowe
CF-Vidal Bruján, Dylan Moore, Josh Lowe
RF-Jordan Luplow, Randy Arrozarena, Dylan Moore, Garrett Cooper, Brandon Lowe
DH- Brandon Lowe, Garrett Cooper, Yandy Diaz, Jordan Luplow
Here is a look at the 2022 Rays’ offensive output last season. This position player group provides the Rays with the flexibility to use different hitters in all kinds of lineup configurations, depending on the strengths of the pitcher. It is yet to be seen how Josh Lowe, Vidal Bruján, and René Pinto adjust to the major league pitching. Lowe doesn’t have vast platoon splits but generally has hit right-handed pitching better. Bruján hit righties much better than lefties in the minors but his speed and defense could keep him in the lineup against any pitcher. Pinto has been relatively even across both handed pitchers.
There’s not as much green as the RHP table, but there a few things to note here. Jordan Luplow had a bit of a down year in 2021, but has crushed lefties throughout his career. Those reds should turn green in 2022. Taylor Walls has also hit lefties very well in the minors despite the red. Garrett Cooper has generally hit lefty changeups and sinkers well. Dylan Moore should add value against lefties too. The Rays should be just as strong against lefties and can execute against any pitch arsenal at a high level.
Set Rotation Guys:
Potential Back-End Starters / Long-Relief:
Josh Fleming (40-man)
Yonny Chirinos (injured until second half)
Calvin Faucher (minors, call up later)
Tommy Romero (minors, call up later)
Ryan Thompson (40-man, 3 minor league options)
Nick Anderson (60-Day IL)
Wyatt Mills (40-man, 2 minor league options)
Calvin Faucher (recent 40-man add, potential call up)
Jeffery Springs (40-man, 3 minor league options)
Collin Poche (40-man, 3 minor league options)
Colby White (Minor League Reliever of the Year, potential 40-man add/call up later)
Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz, and Luis Patiño are primed for a very strong 2022. The “Big Three” starters are young, but have gained some valuable experience over the past few seasons. Drew Rasmussen, Ryan Yarbrough, and Trevor Cahill will fight for the last 2 rotation spots but should help sure up the rest of the rotation. I’d expect those spots to be relatively fluid which gives the Rays even more flexibility with their arms. Each could appear in a bulk-relief appearance if not in the starting rotation. Yonny Chirinos is set to return from injury in the second half and Josh Fleming is still on the 40-man. Both guys should add to this rotation of “bulk guys” alongside Rasmussen, Yarbrough, and Cahill.
|Bullpen||Handedness||V-Release Points||H-Release Points||Velo||Arsenal|
|Nick Sandlin||Right||4.4||-3.45||94.5||SL, SI, FF|
|J.T. Chargois||Right||5.3||-2.2||96.3||SL, SI, FF|
|J.P. Feyereisen||Right||6.2||-1.3||93.1||FF, SL, CH|
|Alex Reyes||Right||6.2||-1.2||96.6||FF, SL, SI, CH, CU|
|Pete Fairbanks||Right||7.0||-0.25||97.1||FF, SL|
|Victor González||Left||4.8||2.45||94.5||SL, SI, FF|
|Tony Watson||Left||5.0||3.4||92.3||CH, SL, FF, SI|
The bullpen has been rebuilt and should be as good as ever next season. The Rays retain J.T. Chargois, J.P. Feyereisen, and Pete Fairbanks while adding four new quality arms. The table above shows each pitcher’s arm angle, velocity, and pitch arsenal. While varying arm angles isn’t all of what makes a bullpen successful, it is still a piece to the puzzle and is a way for the Rays to gain a potential advantage on any opposing lineup. Nonetheless, it is a well-rounded bullpen with strong and mostly unique arsenals to each other.
Here is the famous “arm angle” photo from Game 1 of the 2020 ALCS. Following the same format and gameplay from the Rays’ bullpen usage in Game 1, here is a potential pitcher sequence the Rays could use in any given game in 2022.
McClanahan (5 innings) -3/4 lefty, 96 MPH fastball with three secondaries
Fairbanks (1 inning) – vertical righty, 97 MPH fastball/slider
Sandlin (1 inning) – sidearming righty, 94 MPH sinker/slider/fastball
Watson (1 inning) – sidearming lefty, 92 MPH sinker/changeup/slider/fastball
Reyes (1 inning) – mostly vertical, 96 MPH fastball/sinker/slider/changeup/curveball
The balanced Rays’ bullpen provides them with many different possibilities to show teams different looks and give them an advantage in any given situation.
A large roster overhaul is unusual for a team that just won 100 games the previous season. Unfortunately, these trades result in the departure of a core group of players from the past few years: Austin Meadows, Joey Wendle, Manuel Margot, Kevin Kiermaier, Ji-Man Choi, Andrew Kittredge. On the bright side, the trades pave the way for three of their top position player prospects to carve out a regular role: Josh Lowe, Vidal Bruján, and Taylor Walls. Guys like Jonathan Aranda, Calvin Faucher and Tommy Romero could soon join that group if they continue their success in the minors.
I have built a team full of athletic, versatile position players from the top down. They have similar but varying skillsets that can fit many different situations, allowing for each player’s strengths to be maximized. Outside of catcher, there’s at least 3 players available at any time, at any position on the field, against either handed pitcher, for any given pitcher type. Realistically, the Rays have at least 7 guys with 15 SB potential and at least 8 guys with 15 HR potential. I think a true advantage can be gained on the base paths, and this group of position players gives the Rays an overload of opportunities to do so. It is a very deep, well-rounded group of position players with a strong combination of defense, speed, and hit ability.
The pitching staff is very deep and should continue to be a strength for the Rays in 2022. The starters are headlined by three prolific, young pitchers primed for strong careers. There is some turnover in the bullpen, but the new additions should fit in nicely with the incumbent relievers.
Despite the turnover from last season, this Rays’ roster still gives them a tremendous chance to compete with some of the other big market teams in the AL East. The versatility on the active roster along with the depth of the 40-man, the emergence of their future core, and other guys nearing the big leagues puts the Rays in a strong position to contend in 2022. The continued depth and now current flexibility with the payroll allows the Rays to add an impact piece (think Jose Ramirez type if he becomes available) mid-way through the season if needed to put them in an even better position to contend for a title. They are also able to keep Tyler Glasnow on the roster who will add to what should be a top-tier pitching staff in 2023.
- Wander Franco (SS/3B/2B)
- Vidal Bruján (2B/CF)
- Taylor Walls (SS/2B)
- Dylan Moore (2B/3B/SS/RF/LF)
- Josh Lowe (CF/LF/RF)
- Brett Phillips (CF/LF/RF)
- Randy Arrozarena (RF/LF)
Semi-Athletic, Still Versatile
- Yandy Diaz (1B/3B/DH)
- Brandon Lowe (2B/1B/DH/LF/RF)
- Jordan Luplow (1B/RF/LF/DH)
- Garrett Cooper (1B/RF/LF/DH)
- Mike Zunino (C/DH)
- Rene Pinto (C)
|Age (entering 2022)||Contract Status||2022 Salary|
|Mike Zunino (C)||31||Club Option||$7,000,000.00|
|Rene Pinto (C)||25||Pre-Arbitration||$575,000.00|
|Brandon Lowe (2B)||27||Guaranteed||$4,000,000.00|
|Garrett Cooper (1B/OF)||30||Arbitration 2||$3,000,000.00|
|Yandy Diaz (3B/1B)||30||Arbitration 2||$2,700,000.00|
|Dylan Moore (UTL)||29||Arbitration 1||$1,600,000.00|
|Wander Franco (SS)||21||Pre-Arbitration||$575,000.00|
|Taylor Walls (SS/2B)||25||Pre-Arbitration||$575,000.00|
|Jordan Luplow (1B/RF/LF)||28||Arbitration 1||$1,500,000.00|
|Brett Phillips (OF)||27||Arbitration 1||$1,200,000.00|
|Randy Arrozarena (OF)||27||Pre-Arbitration||$575,000.00|
|Josh Lowe (OF)||24||Pre-Arbitration||$575,000.00|
|Vidal Brujan (2B/OF)||24||Pre-Arbitration||$575,000.00|
|Ryan Yarbrough||30||Arbitration 2||$4,400,000.00|
|Trevor Cahill (SP/RP)||34||Guaranteed||$1,500,000.00|
|Alex Reyes||27||Arbitration 2||$3,300,000.00|
|Tyler Glasnow||28||Arbitration 2||$5,800,000.00|
|Yonny Chirinos||28||Arbitration 2||$1,200,000.00|
|Jeffery Springs||29||Arbitration 1||$1,000,000.00|
|Nick Anderson||31||Arbitration 1||$900,000.00|
|Jalen Beeks||28||Arbitration 1||$600,000.00|
*Stats / Data courtesy of Baseball Cloud, Baseball Savant, FanGraphs, and Alex Chamberlain’s Pitch Leaderboard