Here’s an idea — could the Tampa Bay Rays really be one player away from being competitive in the American League East? While they have been competitive as a team all season, they are far from competing with the big market New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays will almost surely miss the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Throughout the season Rays fans have been reminded constantly how the offense can greatly benefit from the addition of two or three offensive-minded players. This could make them a legitimate World Series contender. This of course is assuming they need very little help in terms of pitching (which they have tons of).
What would it take? BOLDNESS. And eight years, $200 million, and Jason Heyward.
Before we dive into the economics of that contract, what would the Rays look like with Heyward? The 2016 starting lineup should include Evan Longoria, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr., Logan Forsythe, Rene Rivera, Desmond Jennings, and James Loney (maybe).
Brandon Guyer and Curt Casali should also be locks to win their usual bench roles. Joey Butler could have a good chance at a roster spot, but easily replaceable. Nick Franklin will get a fair shot at the shortstop with Tim Beckham as his backup.
Could the front office bring in a veteran to bolster the bench? Sure, but with the players mentioned and Heyward they just have one bench spot to fill.
Show how does this lineup look?
CF – Kevin Kiermaier – L
2B – Logan Forsythe – R
3B – Evan Longoria – R
RF – Jason Heyward – L
DH – Steven Souza Jr – R
1B – James Loney – L
LF – Desmond Jennings – R
SS- Nick Franklin – S
C- Rene Rivera –R
How is that for balance?
The Rays like to use different lineups, but this lineup could provide stability. There is speed at the top. Forsythe has become a polished hitter. Longoria can feel comfortable with a decent hitter behind him. Heyward could have the stability in the middle of the order, where he has succeeded, and the rest of the order can contribute as well.
Perhaps with runners on base Souza Jr. will drive in more runs. Playing Jennings in LF and hitting him lower in the lineup may allow him to play with no pressure. The point is having a bat like Heyward in the middle makes everything fall into place. Also, how good can this outfield be with Heyward, Keirmaier, and Jennings on a nightly basis?
So how does the cash-conscious Rays’ front office break open the bank to pay for this?
How about using some television money and in the future years use the revenue which comes from a new stadium? Reports suggest the Rays will receive $60-$80 million a year after the 2016 season with a new television deal. In the near-term, 2016 will see the contracts of Grant Balfour and Jose Molina go away and not resigning Asdrubal Cabrera (who is playing like he wants a raise) could “save” $17 million. Also, they have already freed up some commitments by dealing David DeJesus and Kevin Jepsen and should probably move on from John Jaso. There is always the option of trading James Loney ($8 million in 2016) and letting Richie Shaffer play first, albeit hurting the defense, but adding OFFENSE.
Is Tampa Bay a potential landing spot for Jason Heyward? Why not?
An eight year, $200 million contract may be an overpay (or not), but the Rays can offer that immediately, showing they are serious. Players like Heyward will make that type of money in baseball’s current free agent market. He’s still just 26 years old and has proven his ability to hit Major League pitching for power while playing solid defense. While he may seem like more of a $15 million player, the market has become slightly irrational. A team like the Rays would likely have to open the checkbook even more to entice a big name like Heyward to come to a small market.
Florida, without a state income tax, is more attractive compared to a New York or California team. Saving one or two-percent a year on $200 million adds up more than you think it does. There is also an added benefit of being close to his home state of Georgia.
With some contracts coming off the books, some others not renewed, and maybe a Loney trade, Evan Longoria should be the only player making more than $6 million next season. The 2016 season can be a special season for the Rays. A 26-year old Jason Heyward will look like a bargain once rings are handed out. The Rays have never made a move this aggressive, but it’s a bold move like this that could finally push them over the top to the first title in franchise history.