The Tampa Bay Rays battled admirably in 2013, but their horrific first few months and overall inconsistency did them in. As a popular preseason World Series pick, Tampa Bay found themselves struggling in their chase just to reach the .500 mark. Injuries played a significant role in the club's demise, but that wasn't the only factor. The Rays just simply underachieved, even though they fielded what looked to be one of the best teams in franchise history. The offseason is here, and the Rays will once again be faced with some difficult personnel decisions. Their diminishing payroll always makes this duty an arduous task.
Evan Longoria, 3B: $122.5 million through 2022
Chris Archer, SP: $24 million through 2019
James Loney, 1B: $15 million through 2016
Yunel Escobar, SS: $13 million through 2016
Matt Moore, SP: $10.5 million through 2016
Ryan Hanigan, C: $8 million through 2015
Grant Balfour, RP: $7 million through 2015
David DeJesus, OF: $6 million through 2015
Jose Molina, C: $2.75 million through 2015
Arbitration Eligible Players: (Player service time in parentheses; salaries are based on projections)
Sean Rodriguez, UTIL: (5.133) $2 million
Matt Joyce, OF: (5.123) $4.9 million
Jeremy Hellickson, SP: (4.042) $3.9 million
Cesar Ramos, RP: (4.003) $1.3 million
Jake McGee, RP: (3.127) $3.8 million
Logan Forsythe, INF: (3.113) $1.2 million
Desmond Jennings, CF: (3.101) $3.2 million
Alex Cobb, SP: (3.061) $4.5 million
Drew Smyly, SP: (2.145) $3 million
Players With Contract Options:
*Ben Zobrist, 2B: $7.5 million club option ($500,000 buyout)
**Joel Peralta, RP: $2.5 million club option (no buyout)
*Picked up by the Rays on 10/31/14
**Picked up by the Rays on 11/3/14
The first and most obvious need for this team is a new manager. Joe Maddon decided to opt out of his contract and head to the Windy City to manage the Cubs, so Tampa Bay is left without their acclaimed skipper, as well as their excellent GM Andrew Friedman, who accepted a position with the lavish Los Angeles Dodgers. New GM Matt Silverman's initial priority will be to find a replacement for one of the top managers in the game.
As far as player personnel goes, the Rays have some work to do. Not only will Silverman have his hands full making decisions regarding these contract options and rising arbitration salaries, but he'll also be forced to attempt to find inexpensive improvements to an unexceptional and power-lacking lineup. Tampa Bay will be looking for bounce-back campaigns for their two biggest run-producing threats, Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, but there's clearly a need for a power bat in the order to provide those two with some protection.
On a miniscule payroll, finding someone who fits the bill is easier said than done. Available sluggers that could potentially fit into the Rays' price range include Chris Carter, Evan Gattis, and Brandon Moss. David Price's sizable post-arbitration salary will no longer need to be accounted for, but funds will still be tight, especially with the expected budget cuts. Tampa Bay set a club record in 2014 with a payroll north of $80 million, but owner Stuart Sternberg is adamant that it will decrease a bit before the 2015 season.
In addition to a few impact bats, the Rays could desperately use some help in the bullpen. Tampa Bay's relief core struggled mightily at times last season, especially Joel Peralta and Grant Balfour, who were expected to be the club's two most reliable high-leverage relievers. Their immense hardships resulted in a decreased role for the two, but Balfour's minimal trade value and Peralta's reasonable club option are good indicators that they'll both most likely be back in 2015.
Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee are emerging stars in the back end of the 'pen, and lefty Jeff Beliveau appears to be a front-runner for one of those coveted spots. The club signed right-hander Michael Kohn on October 16th to bolster the core a bit, but they might not be done. They'll surely be actively looking on the market, but they might be able to afford to stay in-house. Kirby Yates, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Steve Geltz are already a part of the organization, and all three could be in the mix once Spring rolls around.
Overall, the Rays are in good shape as the offseason commences. They'll have to battle through a number of changes to the front office and management, but they'll once again be fielding an extremely talented team that has a chance to make a run at the playoffs next season. Their starting rotation projects to be easily the best in the division, and their lineup has significant potential if a few additions are made. As long as their able to overcome all of this adversity, they should be an awfully dangerous team for years to come.