After an incredibly hot start to the season, the Tampa Bay Rays would eventually finish second in the AL East, postseason-bound for the fifth year in a row. The Rays secured the first Wild Card spot after losing the top seed to the Baltimore Orioles and hosted the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field for the first round in the postseason.
However, the Rays struggled to generate any offense against a tough Rangers squad and mustered just one run between both games. They also made numerous defensive miscues that resulted in five errors, which didn’t help their cause against the soon-to-be World Series champions.
Looking back on the season, it was impressive to see the Rays make the playoffs and have such an impressive campaign given all the adversity the team had to overcome. They lost numerous pitchers throughout the year due to different high-level arm injuries and also had to deal with Wander Franco being placed on the restricted list (and later on administrative leave) as he is under investigation back in the Dominican Republic (with no current end date in sight).
With so many distractions and so much bad fortune injury-wise, numerous players stepped up on the diamond.
Yandy Díaz earned an All-Star nod and finished with the highest batting average in the league at .330. The pitching staff also excelled in both the rotation and the bullpen, with the Rays collectively finishing with the fourth-best ERA in the AL (3.86) while striking out 1507 (third-best).
The Rays have 16 players eligible for arbitration this offseason, with Randy Arozarena projected to earn the most at $9 million (per MLB Trade Rumors).
Pitchers Shane McClanahan, Josh Fleming, Aaron Civale, and Zach Littell are all likely going to be tendered contracts, while other relievers such as Shawn Armstrong, Andrew Kittredge, Jalen Beeks, Colin Poche, Cole Sulser, and Jason Adam are also in the mix. As for position players, it’s Christian Bethancourt, Isaac Paredes, and Harold Ramirez.
Raimel Tapia is arbitration-eligible as well but is not a lock to be offered a contract (projected $2.4 million salary). Joining Tapia on the non-tender threshold are Sulser, Beeks, and Bethancourt, but any combination of these players (and potentially some not mentioned) could be heading to free agency this winter as well, given the 40-man roster decisions looming.
Free Agency and Roster Decisions
The Rays have a particularly small group heading to free agency, led by reliever Robert Stephenson, while backstop Francisco Mejía and reliever Erasmo Ramírez are already free agents. Relievers Chris Devinski and Jake Diekeman will join Stephenson in free agency this winter as well.
With seven players needing roster spots, given that the 60-day IL window will conclude following the World Series, the Rays will need to be a bit crafty with their 40-man roster.
The likes of Tapia and Co. being non-tendered would open up a few spots (depending on the final number), but the Rays will likely have some tough calls to make over the next few weeks once the World Series is over as they bring back players from the injured list and position themselves for the offseason.
Rasmussen, McClanahan, and Springs will rejoin the 60-day IL once Opening Day rolls around next year, given their timetable to return from injury, but Tampa still has to put them back on the 40-man through the winter, which eats up some spots.
This could affect how the Rays approach the free agent market and the Rule 5 Draft. The club has already protected the likes of Junior Caminero, Tristan Grey, and Jacob Lopez by promoting them to the big leagues in 2023, but they may need to expose some higher-end prospects like Blake Hunt, Evan Edwards, Ronny Simon, Heriberto Hernandez, and Anthony Molina because of the upcoming roster crunch.
That can all change over the next couple of weeks, depending on non-tender decisions and whether the Rays decide to move a player or two, but tough decisions are still going to need to be made unless the front office is willing to risk some prospects being picked up in the draft.
Payroll and the Trade Front
Salary-wise, the Rays have eight players with guaranteed contracts starting next season; right-hander Tyler Glasnow leads the charge at $25 million (a franchise record).
Per Spotrac, the projected payroll is looking to be about $124 million as it currently stands, which is a sizeable step up from the roughly $85 million total they finished with in 2023.
Throwing a wrench into everything is Franco’s situation, as the Rays have to head into next season with their star shortstop potentially not returning anytime soon. He isn’t making much this upcoming season (~$2.5 million), but the uncertainty regarding his availability could hamper other decisions, such as free agency signing and possible trades.
With a bevy of prospects looking for more playing time, moving a player like Arozarena, Ramirez, or Manuel Margot is a possibility to free up some salary cap space, although moving Glasnow would be the biggest difference-maker in that regard (and would likely net the highest return).
The Rays don’t necessarily have to force any of these moves, but the team is not one known to spend. They have been dubbed “a small market” team and could trade away a few players to not only create space for prospect development but gain some payroll relief in the same breath. They may be one of the busier teams at the winter meetings later this year.
A New Stadium Is On the Horizon for the Rays
In mid-September, the Rays announced their plan to build a new stadium, a $1.3 billion structure located in St. Petersburg.
The commitment to build a new stadium squashes any relocation rumors for the Rays. The new ballpark will be more state-of-the-art compared to their current stadium: Tropicana Field, home of the Rays since their inception in 1998. The new park is slated to be ready for Opening Day 2028.