By: Noah Wright
Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images
The Tampa Bay Rays were a surprise this season to anybody familiar to baseball. Nobody expected them to finish with 90 wins this season. That’s 5 less wins than The Chicago Cubs, and the same amount The Atlanta Braves won The NL East Division with. The Rays have a young line-up core, so they should be a team that will compete with other big names as soon as next season if they acquire some of the following.
The biggest and most glaring hole for The Rays is starting pitching. Behind Blake Snell, they don’t really have a starter that they can rely on to give them 6 solid innings of baseball. While The Rays could just keep using an opener, I feel that if they can just get a few decent rotation guys, they could be a team to keep a close eye on next season. The first rotation option they could pursue is Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez, like The Rays, was signed by The Atlanta Braves on a minor league deal as a potential innings eater. However he’s become a reliable starting pitcher once again. This season, he’s given The Braves 136 and two thirds innings of 2.83 ERA, 3.62 FIP, and 1.083 baseball. Plus he’s lowered his homerun rate from 1.9 combined between 2016 and 2017 to 1.0 HR/9. Derek Holland is another name that I think The Rays should go after. 2017 was disastrous for Holland, but turned everything around in 2018. His ERA dropped almost 3 whole points from 6.20 to 3.57, and walks dropped from 5.0 per 9 innings, to 3.5 per 9 innings. But the most notable thing about Holland is his career high 8.9 K/9 rate. Trevor Cahill is another starter in The Rays price. Cahill started the year as depth for The A’s, but with injuries, he’s taken over a larger role in their rotation. In 110 innings, Cahill has given The A’s a 3.76 ERA, 3.54 FIP (a career low), and 1.191 WHIP. He’s also kept walks to a minimum at just 3.4 BB/9, a near career low. There’s a few other guys The Rays could get on cheap deals, and that are pretty similar. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Garrett Richards, and Clay Buchholz. All 3 starters’ durability is spotty at best, with all of them missing a large amount of time the past few seasons, which slightly bogs down their worth. But when healthy, they can pitch like mid-to-higher rotation level guys.
The next spot The Rays need to fix is catcher. The Rays started out with Wilson Ramos behind the plate, but he was dealt to The Phillies at the deadline this summer. However, The Rays don’t have an exact replacement for Ramos. They could just go out and get Ramos again since he is a free agent after the season, but there are some other options. The cheapest would probably be Martin Maldonado. Maldonado may not add any sort of bat to the team’s line-up, since he’s only had an OPS of .700 or more only once in his entire career, but he represents one of the best defensive, and framing catchers in the league. Martin has 3 DRS this season, worth .8 defensive WAR, but most impressively has caught almost 50% of runners trying to get themself into scoring position, catching 49%. In catch framing statistics, he’s been worth 6.7 framing runs. That ranks #17th in all of MLB this season. On the other hand, The Rays could decide to spend big, and go get Yasmani Grandal. Grandal, 29, has had another excellent season with The Dodgers. For the 3rd straight season, he’s hit 20+ home runs, with 24, and has an overall slashline of .243/.352/.470 in 514 plate appearances. Defensively, he’s been pretty solid behind the plate. He’s been worth .6 dWAR, and 9 DRS, plus has caught 27% of runners trying to steal off of him. But he’s bringing all the value in pitch framing. He’s one of the best in the game, ranking 2nd in framing runs with 14.1. But he’ll be heavily pursued by teams that can much outbid The Rays. On the trading market, the one guy that won’t deplete the farm is Royals’ Salvador Perez. Perez will cost The Rays at least one highly rated prospect, but it may be worth it. Perez does provide good power value for a catcher (27 home runs, 80 RBI’s, 89 wRC+), and is obviously known for his cannon arm, which has resulted in him catching 48% of runners trying to steal. However one thing The Rays would give up is some on base value. Perez is currently in his worst OBP year, at .274.
The last hole The Rays need to patch is bullpen. No, I do not expect them to go out and acquire some guy like Craig Kimbrel, but getting a closer who they can rely on for 2 or even 3 years should be doable for Tampa Bay. The first option that I want to cover that should be in The Rays price range is Justin Wilson. Wilson has had some closing experience as early as 2017, but hasn’t seen the full time role since. But even with that year layoff from the role, I feel Wilson could still handle it. However, the team could go a similar route The Colorado Rockies did a few years ago when they signed Greg Holland. With Trevor Rosenthal hitting the open market after this season, he could be the pitcher he was before undergoing the surgery. I feel they could acquire him for a similar amount that The Rockies got Holland for. Speaking of Holland, he’s also going to be on the market. The one year deal The Cardinals gave Holland at the end of spring training this year didn’t work out as they thought. For $16 million, Holland produced an ERA just north of 8 (7.92), a 4.56 FIP, and 2.240 WHIP. But since getting released from The Cards, and being on The Nationals on a minor league deal since early August, he’s looked like the pitcher The Cards were expecting. In 21 and a third innings, Holland has been a steal, with a .84 ERA, 2.98 FIP, and .891 WHIP.
The Rays were extremely unlucky this year. Even though they had a similar record to The AL East leading Cleveland Indians, The Rays were forced to 3rd place behind 2, 100 win teams in The Red Sox and Yankees, and forced to sit out of a Wild Card spot. However they’re not far out of the playoffs. They have a few holes to fill, and even though they are far from a team that has the pockets to spend big, there are still some bargain free agents out there that could really improve the team, and who knows. Maybe they’ll go out and get a game changing player.