Per usual, the Tampa Bay Rays have released and/or lost a lot of position players to free agency: Avisail Garcia, Travis d’Arnaud Matt Duffy, Eric Sogard, and Jesus Aguilar. The Rays also executed a multi-player trade with the San Diego Padres where they, most notably, sent Tommy Pham to the West Coast for Hunter Renfroe.
The Rays have the talent to be back in the playoff mix next season, but they need to fill the voids the aforementioned departures create. Keeping in mind that they’re unlikely to dish out long-term deals (the Rays had the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball in 2019 at roughly $64.2 million), here are six short-term but efficient free agent options for the Rays.
With d’Arnaud signing with the Atlanta Braves, the Rays need a starting catcher; Castillo is an affordable, low-risk-high-reward option.
Castillo hasn’t manned a consistent starting gig over the last two seasons, partially due to being on the same roster as James McCann — one of the better hitting catchers in the sport — with the Chicago White Sox in 2019. Meanwhile, the big, right-handed hitter has pop in his bat. He totaled 12 home runs across just 72 games last season and totaled 20 home runs across 96 games with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017.
With the frequency that the Rays use all of their pitchers in the regular season, having a steady force behind the plate is a must-have. Having one with power is a bonus; Castillo can at least compete for the opening day catching gig.
The Rays were 21st in MLB in home runs last season (217). Having more power on the depth chart would be beneficial, and Dietrich would help the Rays in that regard, as well as provide infield versatility.
Last season he blasted 19 home runs and posted a .790 OPS across 251 at-bats with the Cincinnati Reds; the ball explodes off his bat. Defensively, Dietrich is adept at playing first, second, and third base, as well as left field. Power and versatility is a prized combo in baseball, albeit Dietrich hits for a low average.
Outside of Joey Wendle, the Rays have few infielders who consistently play multiple positions; Dietrich would deepen their defensive arsenal.
Dozier has struggled to rekindle his All-Star ways over the last two seasons, but he’s still an exceptional defensive second baseman.
He makes several diving plays at the middle infield position, keeps groundballs in front of him, and has exceptional field awareness. In the midst of his struggles to hit for average and perform at a high level offensively, Dozier still holds a dangerous power bat. Last season he totaled 20 home runs across 135 games with the World Series-champion Washington Nationals.
How about a reunion with an old friend?
Hellickson spent the first five seasons of his MLB career with the Rays, which was the best run of his career. The veteran right-hander was limited to just eight starts last season with the Nationals due to injury. On the other hand, he’s a year removed from posting a 3.45 ERA and 123 ERA+ across 19 starts. A proven ground-ball pitcher, Hellickson can get through five-to-six innings a start.
Veteran production on a short-term deal? Hunter Pence fits the bill.
The free-swinging right-hander is coming off an impressive bounce-back season with the Texas Rangers where he hit .297, posted a .910 OPS, and totaled 18 home runs and 59 RBIs across just 83 games. In all likelihood, he’d be utilized as a designated hitter with the Rays, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Pence could open the year as Tampa Bay’s designated hitter and play the field on days Austin Meadows has a game off or is slated to be the designated hitter.
Baseball is a game of versatility: the more options you have, the better. Pence would give the Rays more options.
Need a player that holds down the fort at a corner infield and outfield position and is a steady hitter? Eric Thames can help you out.
Thames played first base and both corner outfield positions over the last three seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. At the plate, he’s a reliable power hitter. In the two seasons that he was a fixture in the Brewers starting lineup (2017 and 2019), the left-handed hitter totaled a combined 56 home runs and 124 RBIs while posting an OPS of .850 or higher and an OPS+ of 115 or higher in both seasons.
Having a player who can interchangeably play the infield and outfield is a luxury for a team that makes several in-game adjustments. The power doesn’t hurt either.