The Tampa Bay Rays will have several key losses to free agency this offseason. There are some familiar names available that might help them fill those spaces.
Although the bricks haven’t started to fall, it appears that the Rays will be headed toward a tear-down and rebuilding phase heading into next season. With any reboot for a small market franchise that relies on building from within, there will be a need for stop-gaps at the Major League level until the youngsters are ready for the big leagues.
Fortunately, there are plenty of veteran options available on the free agent market that already know their way around Tropicana. These players represent low-risk additions that might be worth a flyer on a cost-conscious, one-year contract or a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.
Here’s six players that could be dusting off their old lockers in the Rays home clubhouse next season. With a little luck they might even rediscover what made them valuable during their previous time in Tampa Bay.
Fernando Rodney, RP
Current Rays closer Alex Colome has been talked about on the hot stove more than your grandma’s Thanksgiving gravy and it this point it would be a little surprising if he didn’t end up getting moved this winter. The Rays don’t have a lot of in-house options at this point so it makes sense to add a veteran guy to the bullpen that can serve as an insurance policy if and when Colome gets dealt.
Rodney could be just that kind of guy.
Entering his age 41 season, Rodney won’t be commanding a multi-year deal. Last season as the Diamondbacks closer he proved that there was still a little fuel left in the tank, converting 39 of his 45 save opportunities. His peripheral numbers have been a bit shaky lately, including a 4.23 ERA last season, and, as many Rays fans remember well, he had a propensity for heart-burn inducing outings.
But Rodney made just $2.75 million last season with Arizona which fits well into the Rays’ budget for a guy that notched 85 saves in two seasons during his previous stint as the Rays’ closer.
Nick Franklin, INF/Utility
Franklin, a former first round pick, was a key component of the trade that sent Rays ace David Price to the Mariners at the 2014 trade deadline. The former top prospect never quite panned out for Tampa Bay. With the Rays’ infield situation already overcrowded, Franklin was DFA’d by the team after three underwhelming seasons. Franklin never found consistent playing time split between Milwaukee and Anaheim last season, batting just .179 in 66 total games.
Franklin is still just 26 years of age so he still has a chance to blossom into a post-hype sleeper but it is more likely that his future is as a super utility type, having logged time at every infield position as well as left field in his career. With uncertainty surrounding Matt Duffy‘s health and durability and Brad Miller being a defensive liability–on top of having an atrocious year at the plate last season, the Rays could use a dependable glove guy with position versatility. Franklin, a native of nearby Sanford, Fla., could use a shot at redemption.
Reunited and it could feel so good
Matt Garza, SP
Even if the Rays decide to stand pat this offseason and decide to make a run at the AL East with their existing personnel, they are still going to have to find a replacement in the middle of their rotation for Alex Cobb, who opted for free agency this offseason. Since most of the Rays’ top pitching prospects are still a few years away, the team will likely look to the free agent market to find a proven veteran guy that can eat innings. Preferably one with enough concerns to keep the price tag relatively low. The type of pitcher that is looking for a short-term contract to re-establish himself.
That’s a pretty apt description for the 34-year-old Garza, who is coming off a 6-9 season for the Brewers in which he had a 4.94 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 114 innings.
Garza, who was named the AL Championship Series MVP in 2008, was a fan favorite during his previous three-year run with the Rays. He set his career high in wins (15 in 2010) while going 34-31 with a 3.86 ERA.
Garza isn’t intimidated about pitching in the AL East either, which always helps.
Jake McGee, RP
McGee has established himself as a reliable late-inning lefty who will be in demand for a lot teams this offseason and will likely command more than the $5.9 million he made last season in Colorado. The Rays, however, have something that the hard-throwing McGee wants should Colome be shipped: a vacant closer’s role.
McGee had his best season of his career as the Rays’ closer in 2014, going 5-2 with 19 saves, a miniscule 1.89 ERA and 90 Ks in 71 1/3 innings. He served as the lefty setup guy in the Rockies’ bullpen the last two seasons but was stuck behind All-Star closer Greg Holland on the depth chart.
Should the Rays be able to convince McGee to make a return to the Trop, not only would he give the team an experienced option for the ninth, he could be a valuable trade asset that can be flipped down the road if needed.
Melvin Upton Jr., OF
Despite not appearing at the big league level in 2017, Upton recently stated that he has every intention of playing again in 2018 and that the torn ligament and shoulder issues that limited him to 49 minor league at-bats in the Giants organization are behind him. Now the big problem becomes finding a place that will give Bossman Junior a shot at a roster spot.
Barring trades, the Rays are pretty solid in the outfield with starters Mallex Smith, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. returning and Corey Dickerson, likely to get some action out there as well. The Rays will, however, have to find a replacement for Peter Bourjos, who performed well as the team’s fourth outfielder last season.
The 33-year-old Upton will probably never be the player that averaged over 40 extra base hits and 30 steals a season during his first eight years in Tampa but he still possesses gazelle-like speed and remains an above average defender at all three outfield positions, making him a viable possible replacement for Bourjos –granted with a little more pop and a few more strikeouts.
Upton also still lives in the Tampa Bay area — at least for the time being — and remains active in the community. As long as he has quashed whatever beef he had with Evan Longoria, it makes sense to take a flyer on him.
John Jaso, 1B/DH
Logan Morrison‘s monster 2017 and Lucas Duda‘s late season surge, combined with a market not oversaturated with power hitters like last season, might have put the pair of free-agents-to-be out of the Rays’ price range. Ultimately, the team will be looking for a more cost-effective replacement that can bounce between 1st and designated hitter. Although he will never have the power numbers of a LoMo or Duda, Jaso has a career .356 on-base percentage. Last season with the Pirates, he hit .211 with 10 HRs and 35 RBI in 256 at-bats. He’s had two stints already with the Rays, including his debut with the team as a catcher in 2008.
Jaso has joked that he is retiring from baseball so that he can live aboard his sailboat. Perhaps the Rays brass can work a boat slip at the St. Pete Marina, which is just a short walk to Tropicana Field, into a possible contract. If the Rays can convince “Mikey” from living the sailor’s life for another season or two, the laid-back Jaso would be a calming presence in a clubhouse undergoing a youth movement.
What former Rays player would you like to see back in a Tampa Bay uniform this season?
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