Despite not spending a vast amount of money, the Tampa Bay Rays have been able to turn over the roster and add a bit of talent. While there will be no “winning the offseason,” they made moves to keep them competitive and put them in a much better position financially in the future.
This team went 68-94 in 2017, so as John Hart recently stated while in the middle of the Braves rebuild, “It’s not like I’m breaking up the ’27 Yankees.”
So with that, Rays fans should prepare themselves for even more turnover in 2017. Here are the next five who may not be in St. Petersburg come 2018.
This is the most obvious trade candidate, and Alex Cobb will not make it past the trade deadline. Once the heir apparent to David Price, Cobb had everything you wanted in a staff ace. Loved by his teammates, bulldog mentality on the mound, and the numbers to back it up. Hard to believe he was at the back end of a Price/Jeremy Hellickson/Matt Moore/Chris Archer pitching staff three seasons ago.
But after posting back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA in 2013 and 2014, Cobb missed the entire 2015 season to injury and posted a dismal 8.59 ERA in five starts in 2016. That does not come as a surprise, and a pitcher should be allowed some leeway as he gets back to original form. Which makes 2017 that much more important for the 29-year-old right-hander.
Set to make $4.2 million in 2017, Cobb becomes a free agent after the season, which has all the makings of a Rays trade candidate. The return will obviously be based on his numbers for the first four months of the season. But there is no reason he cannot return to his old self and hover around a 3.00 ERA and 3.0 SO/W. That should not only net a few decent prospects for the Rays, but could line up a hefty pay raise in free agency for Cobb as a $15 average annual value (AAV) seems to be the going rate.
Trade Probability (Unscientific): 98.5%
Since coming over from the Seattle Mariners in a trade for Mike Montgomery, Erasmo Ramirez has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Rays. After a dismal start to 2015, he finished the season with an ERA+ of 104 and 3.76 FIP over 163 IP.
In 2016, he was used more out of the bullpen, appearing in 64 games starting only one. As Rays starting pitchers were routinely pulled in the fifth and sixth innings, Ramirez became a bridge to the back end of the bullpen. His downfall was that he struggled when he was used in the eighth and ninth innings, finishing the season with a 6.26 ERA and 8.10 ERA in those innings, respectively.
Overall, he has accumulated 3.0 WAR in the two seasons with the Rays. He has shown an ability to produce as a starter and, when used correctly, can be an effective reliever. Making $3.125 million in 2017 and two arbitration years left, he is a prime for a trade to a team who may lose a starter late during spring training. The Rays likely will not require much in return. A mid-level outfield prospect which does not have to be on the 40-man roster would fit.
Trade Probability (Unscientific): 75%
After two impressive seasons, Jake Odorizzi has been subject to a flurry of trade rumors throughout the offseason. What’s not to like? Has averaged 30 starts, 8.43 SO/9, and accumulated 7.8 WAR over the last three seasons. The 27-year-old right-hander is entering his prime years and will not be a free agent until 2020. Any team who acquires him will have some predictable cost control.
The question is how much do the Rays really want to trade him and what will they take in return. Archer has been out there as well, but most agree that would require a massive return. This sets up Odorizzi to look a bit more affordable, but could still net the team three above-average prospects.
A move may not come as quickly as some others the front office might make this season. However, there is no rush to trade. Additionally, if a likely trade of Cobb and Ramirez is made, experience will fall dramatically.
Trade Probability (Unscientific): 35%
It may seem odd to have someone who just signed with the team on a list of likely candidates to be traded, but the Colby Rasmus signing is the perfect one-year signing.
After coming off four seasons where he averaged 20+ homeruns, Rasmus’ power numbers dipped due to injuries.
He will get a lot of playing time with the Rays as long as he stays healthy. It will help if he is part of an outfield platoon and an occasional designated hitter. He will make $5 million this year and additional $2 million based on at-bats, so there is incentive to stay in the lineup.
At the end of the day, he really is a four-month rental. He is not in the Rays’ long-range plan and if he keeps his batting average around .250 he will be an attractive left-handed bat at the trade deadline.
The Rays’ price will not be steep. A trade to the Mariners or Los Angeles Dodgers could work. Both teams should be in a playoff hunt and the front offices are very familiar with each other.
Trade Probability (Unscientific): 80%
This is the season that Evan Longoria will be traded (and all of Rays nation will go ballistic).
I am sure there have been many discussions in the past with many teams about a Longoria trade. However, the Rays probably did not give up hope that they just needed to stay healthy and have some luck to make a playoff run. That has not transpired over the last few seasons, and now will be the time to consider all the offers.
After a couple of “down” years, Longoria posted 36 home runs and 98 runs batted in with a slash line of .273/.318/.521 in 2016. All of this in a lineup that did not have much stability and did not boast anyone who could truly “protect” him. There is no reason to believe Longoria could not have a similar season in 2017.
A right-handed, power-hitting third baseman should be very attractive to any team pushing for a playoff spot. Cleveland, San Francisco, Atlanta can look to upgrade at the deadline. Also, the Yankees cannot be discounted, although intra-division trades are hard to work out.
At 31, Longoria’s contract is not astronomical. He has five years and $81.8 million ($16.3 million AAV) remaining with a club option of $13 million in 2023. From an AAV standpoint, it is very similar to what the Dodgers are paying Justin Turner, who does not have the resume that Longoria has. And with Todd Frazier going into free agency as the top third baseman, Longoria’s contract could still look very affordable.
Although not a classic teardown/rebuild in the Astros/Cubs sense, a trade of Longoria will seem that way. This move will close the book on one chapter of Rays history, but the future will still be bright.
Trade Probability (Unscientific): 75%