Rays Notes: 40-Man Roster, Trades, Choi, Kiermaier

Several teams are facing a 40-man roster crunch this winter, with the Rays in particular facing a lot of tough decisions due to the depth in their talented farm system.  As such, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (Twitter links) reports that the Rays have been “in advanced trade negotiations” and could make multiple deals before Tuesday’s deadline to set 40-man rosters in advance of the Rule 5 Draft.  The Reds, Cubs, Mets, and Angels are among the teams who have called the Rays in search of pitching.

Any number of options could be on the table for a Tampa Bay front office that is always seeking roster and payroll flexibility.  It is possible and even likely that the Rays might not swing any major deals, as Tampa might first be exploring the trade value of any players at the back end of their 40-man roster.  Before leaving these players unprotected or maybe even non-tendering them or designating them for assignment, the Rays first want to check if anything can be obtained in exchange for these somewhat expendable pieces.

A more interesting wrinkle would see the Rays discussing trades involving prospects or part-time players who might also be a bit superfluous within the organization.  Last November, the Rays dealt Louis Head, Mike Brosseau, Brent Honeywell Jr., and Tobias Myers in separate trades in the week prior to the 40-man deadline.  Of that group, only Brosseau had some success at the MLB level in 2022, posting some solid numbers in a reserve role with the Brewers.

Of course, the biggest headline-grabber for the Rays would be a trade involving a regular on their Major League roster, and this possibility certainly can’t be ruled out given Tampa’s history of aggressive deal-making.  The Rays have a very large arbitration class that they’ve already reduced to “only” 16 remaining players, after trading Ji-Man Choi to the Pirates and parting ways with Nick Anderson and Roman Quinn.  None of the arbitration-eligibles are projected to earn truly huge money, but every dollar counts for the budget-conscious Rays, and Yandy Diaz ($5.4MM in projected salary), Ryan Yarbrough ($4.2MM) and Randy Arozarena ($4MM) are the most expensive of the bunch.

Yonny Chirinos is projected for $1.6MM and Shawn Armstrong for $1.4MM, and those two hurlers stand out since Morosi reported earlier this week that the Rays were discussing Chirinos, Armstrong, and Yarbrough during the GM Meetings.  It isn’t known if the Reds, Angels, Cubs, or Mets were focused on any of this trio in particular, but any of those pitchers could be potential fits for teams with rotation or bullpen needs.  Chirinos could carry the most intrigue, as the right-hander pitched well in 2018-19 before injuries (a Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow) limited him to just 18 1/3 MLB innings since the start of the 2020 campaign.

Choi’s projected $4.5MM salary certainly played a role in his move to Pittsburgh, and the Rays were known to be talking to more than just the Pirates about the first baseman.  Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Padres and Astros also had some interest, with Houston revisiting their interest in Choi from prior to the trade deadline.

The Astros ended up adding Trey Mancini to bolster themselves at first base, but since Mancini and Yuli Gurriel are both free agents, it makes sense that the Astros would again check in on a past target.  Likewise, the Padres have a need at first base with Josh Bell hitting the open market.  Choi is scheduled for free agency himself next winter and thus probably wouldn’t have been seen a longer-term add for either team, or even a full-time option.  Either Houston or San Diego might have opted to just play Choi against right-handed pitching.

Also from Topkin’s notes column, he had an interesting wrinkle to the end of Kevin Kiermaier’s tenure in Tampa Bay.  There was no doubt that the Rays were going to buy out Kiermaier for $2.5MM rather than exercise his $13MM club option for 2023, yet Kiermaier said that he heard an unknown team had some talks with the Rays about a veritable sign-and-trade deal.  In this scenario, the Rays would have exercised the club option and then swapped Kiermaier to this mystery team.

Given that Kiermaier is coming off a season shortened by hip surgery, it doesn’t seem likely that the other club would’ve been too keen to give up an asset to absorb that entire $13MM contract.  It is more probable that the other team perhaps offered another undesirable contract in return to help offset the cost, or maybe had Kiermaier involved as part of a larger trade package.  In any case, the Rays weren’t interested, and preferred to just decline the option — perhaps with an eye towards re-signing Kiermaier at a lower price.

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