It has been a dizzying few days for the Rays. Well, for their fans, mostly. The flurry of moves began on Saturday night when the Rays acquired C.J. Cron from the Angels before designating 2017 All-Star Corey Dickerson for assignment and trading staff mainstay Jake Odorizzi to the Twins. The wheeling and dealing continued on Tuesday when the club surprisingly swapped outfielder Steven Souza to the Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade. Rather than subtract, the Rays got back to adding on Wednesday by reportedly signing veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez to a one-year, $4 million contract.
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com first reported the news while beat writer Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times added the financial details. The Rays already have a pretty good center fielder in Kevin Kiermaier, so Gomez should slide into the right field spot vacated by Souza. This leaves speedster Mallex Smith and offseason acquisition Denard Span competing for playing time in left field.
Gomez, 32, batted .255/.340/.462 with 17 home runs and 13 steals over 105 games with the Rangers last season. It can’t be ignored that he enjoyed the bulk of his production at home, putting up 12 homers and an .939 OPS compared to five homers and a .675 OPS on the road. Obviously Tropicana Field isn’t nearly as favorable for offense as his former home.
Gomez has struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances over the past two seasons, so he’s clearly not the player he was even a couple of years ago, but he’s still capable of providing some pop and speed. He could be a viable option in deeper fantasy formats.
Maybin Returns to Miami
The other Florida team also added a familiar face on Wednesday, signing outfielder Cameron Maybin to a one-year, $3.25 million contract. The deal includes performance-based incentives. It’s a return home for Maybin, who appeared in 144 games with the Marlins from 2008-2010 after coming over in the blockbuster deal that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers.
The Marlins notably traded their entire outfield — 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna — during the offseason, so they’ve been in the market for a veteran addition in recent weeks. Jon Jay and Melky Cabrera were among the names mentioned in reports before Miami announced the signing of Maybin on Wednesday.
After posting a career-best .801 OPS in 2016, Maybin dropped off last season while batting .228/.318/.365 with 10 homers and 33 steals over 114 games between the Angels and Astros. This included a .192/.255/.331 batting line after the All-Star break.
Maybin likely would have been looking at a part-time role elsewhere, but he should find himself with regular at-bats in Miami. Derek Dietrich is expected to see plenty of playing time in left field, so there should be a competition between youngsters Lewis Brinson, Magneuris Sierra, and Braxton Lee for opportunities in center field and right field. Maybin provides insurance in that regard and could be a cheap source for steals in fantasy leagues. Throw in his on-base ability and he could even hit near the top of the lineup. The ideal play for the Marlins would be turning a rebound season from Maybin into a trade before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Forrest Whitley emerged as arguably the top pitching prospect in the game last season after posting a 2.83 ERA and 143/34 K/BB ratio over 92 1/3 innings between three different levels in the Astros minor league system, but he’s going to have to wait a while to work on his follow-up. It was announced Wednesday that he will serve a 50-game suspension for a violation of the minor league drug prevention and treatment program.
It was not revealed what substance resulted in the violation. However, Whitley said in a statement that he “made a mistake” and takes “full responsibility” for his actions. The suspension means that he won’t be eligible to return until May 29. The 6-foot-7 right-hander made it all the way to Double-A last season, so a call-up at some point in 2018 has looked like a real possibility. It’s unclear if the suspension will impact the timetable, but one unintended consequence of his suspension is that the Astros will be able to limit his innings.
Selected No. 17 overall in the 2016 draft, Whitley was recently ranked within the top 10 prospects in the game by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com.
Sano Weight Gain
Miguel Sano’s weight has been a topic of conversation for quite some time, but it’s back on the radar again following an offseason where his workouts were limited following surgery in mid-November to address the stress reaction in his shin.
According to Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Twins general manager Thad Levine recently acknowledged the added weight by referring to it as “generous carriage” and also said that the young slugger needs to work on “conditioning focus.” That’s not great news for someone who has been listed at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds and is expected to be a regular at third base. He’s been cleared for normal baseball activities at this point, which should help, but the Twins plan to take it easy with him during Grapefruit League play.
Sano’s conditioning isn’t the only issue right now, as he was also accused of sexual assault in December. As of Sunday, he had yet to be questioned about the matter by MLB, but he could be facing some sort of suspension at the start of the season.
Sano turns 25 in May and batted .264/.352/.507 with 28 home runs and 77 RBI over 114 games last season.
Quick Hits: Brian Dozier (kidney stones) returned to Twins’ camp on Wednesday … Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Wednesday that he’s planning to use Yuli Gurriel all over the infield this season … While his future appeared in doubt last summer, outfielder Colby Rasmus will try to earn his way back to the majors after signing a minor league deal with the Orioles … The Angels acquired outfielder Jabari Blash from the Yankees for a player to be named later or cash considerations … The Rangers signed veteran right-hander Jesse Hahn to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Mark Bowman of MLB.com confirms that Johan Camargo is expected to be the Braves’ regular third baseman this season … Brandon Guyer required an MRI on his surgically-repaired wrist after tweaking it in the outfield on Tuesday … The Pirates signed outfielder Michael Saunders with an invitation to spring training …
After Souza was dealt, the Rays had a bit of an oddity in the outfield with the three likely starters — Denard Span (LF), Kevin Kiermaier (CF) and Mallex Smith (RF) — all being left-handed hitters. Gomez swings righty, so he’s a bit of a balance out there while also representing an option to DH.
Also of note is that all four of those outfielders have experience in center. Kiermaier is exceptional in center, but the likelihood of having great range throughout the outfield this coming season is high.
Gomez, 32, is obviously past his prime but still can be productive. He hit .255/.340/.462 (106 OPS+) with 23 doubles, 17 homers and 13 steals last season in 105 games for the Rangers. He’ll strike out plenty, and the days of posting a good average are in the rearview, but he can still get on base, hit for power and run.
Most of Gomez’s experience in his career is at the top of the order (292 starts in the leadoff spot, which is easily his high mark), but he might end up being a better fit for this Rays lineup somewhere in the middle. Before the signing, the Rays’ best 3-4-5 options were probably Kiermaier, Wilson Ramos and Brad Miller.
Gomez, who turned 32 in December, appeared in 105 games for Texas last season and was the primary center fielder after All-Star Ian Desmond left in free agency. He’s expected to play right field in Tampa.
A right-handed batter, Gomez had a .255 batting average with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs.
The Dominican Republic native came to Texas as a free agent in 2016 after being released by the Houston Astros amid a season-long slump. He rebounded to hit .284 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 33 games over the next month as the Rangers won the AL West title. His MLB resume also includes stints with Minnesota, Milwaukee and the New York Mets. He won a Gold Glove in 2013 while playing center for the Brewers.
An All-Star in 2013 and ’14 with Milwaukee, Gomez has a .257 average with 133 home runs and 504 RBIs in 10 big league seasons.
The move comes a day after Tampa Bay traded Steven Souza Jr. to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three-team deal with the Yankees. The Rays have made a series of cost-cutting moves in recent weeks, also trading pitcher Jake Odorizzi and designating for assignment Corey Dickerson.
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) — Denard Span concedes he’s hesitant to get comfortable with the idea of playing for his hometown team.
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired the veteran outfielder this winter, but are trimming payroll and building for the future.
That leaves the 33-year-old Span, who’s due to make $11 million this summer, uncertain what uniform he’ll be wearing on opening day.
”I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I can’t control that,” said Span, acquired along with infielder Christian Arroyo and two minor leaguers in a trade that sent Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants.
A native of Washington, D.C., Span moved to Tampa when he was 3 years old. He’s maintained his offseason home in Florida throughout a 10-year major league career that includes stints with the Minnesota Twins and Washington Nationals.
”It’s really surreal to be able to put this uniform on and live in my own house and stay in my own bed. I drive familiar streets that I’ve driven on since I was a kid,” he said. ”I haven’t been home in 16 springs and 18 summers, so I’m just looking forward to playing in front of family and friends.”
In 2010, in fact, he was playing for the Twins in a spring training game against the Yankees in Tampa when he lined a foul ball that hit his mother in the chest. Span went into the stands and stayed as paramedics checked his mom, who was OK and remained at the park.
But with the Rays re-tooling for the future, it’s difficult to ignore the prospect that Span could be gone by the end of spring training.
Tampa Bay general manager Erik Neander is under a mandate to trim payroll. In addition to trading Longoria in December, the Rays allowed one of their best starting pitcher, Alex Cobb, to become a free agent and have moved three more players – pitcher Jake Odorizzi and outfielders Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson – in the past week at a savings of nearly $15 million.
Tampa Bay’s on the hook for $9 million of Span’s salary for 2018, with the Giants paying the rest. There’s a $4 million buyout on an option for 2019.
”I’m taking it one day at a time. … My focus is on proving to everybody that I belong here this spring training and just trying to do my job,” Span said.
A .283 career hitter, Span batted .272 with 12 homers in 129 games in 2017, his second season in San Francisco.
A center fielder most of his career, Span said he’s more than comfortable moving to left with Tampa Bay, which has defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier in center.
”I’m fine with that at this point in my career. He can have it,” said Span, who turns 34 on Feb. 27. ”It’s fun to watch him.”
The Rays, meanwhile, think Span’s leadership can be a plus in a mostly-young clubhouse.
”Talking to Denard, he prides himself a little bit on that,” manager Kevin Cash said.
”When the whole trade went down, we do a good job of going finding out about players, and Denard Span, his image throughout the game is unbelievable,” Cash added. ”The way he carried himself whether it was the Twins, the Giants, he’s been to a lot of different places and he’s always been a team player and goes about his business the right way.”
Span wants to be as helpful as possible, noting Twins veterans such as Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau took time with him as a young player to teach him how to be a professional.
”The role’s reversed, and I take that as a blessing,” Span said. ”I’ve been blessed to have as long of a career as I’ve had, and it speaks volumes to the many blessings I’ve had.”
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
This comes one day after the Rays traded right fielder Steven Souza to the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade involving the Yankees which returned second baseman Nick Solak and left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda to Tampa Bay.
The Yankees received infielder Brandon Drury in return.
It also comes five days after Tampa Bay designated left fielder Corey Dickerson for assignment. The Rays have yet to come to a deal with another team on a trade for Dickerson. They have 10 days to either trade or release their former left fielder.
Gomez batted .255 with 17 home runs and 13 stolen bases for the Rangers in 2017. He was a two-time All-Star with the Brewers in 2013 and 2014, making the game as a left fielder in 2014.
The latest MLB tank job takes us to Florida, but not the team you expected. The Marlins made national waves this winter for their teardown, in which their best players were shipped out of town to help new owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman pay off the franchise’s massive debts. But not to be outdone in terms of a Sunshine State sell-off, the Rays have spent the last week trying to catch up to Miami in terms of surrendering the season before it even begins.
To replace all of those outgoing names, the Rays have done … well, nothing. Tampa’s transaction log is a stream of departures with little in the way of additions. The team has signed a single major league free agent, bringing back veteran reliever Sergio Romo (UPDATE: This afternoon, the Rays added a second, reportedly coming to terms with outfielder Carlos Gomez on a one-year pact). Otherwise, the Rays have settled for inking no-name players to minor league contracts. That holds for the trades, too: Span and ex-Angels first baseman C.J. Cron are the only established major leaguers acquired so far, and both are far from what you’d call difference makers.
The result is a Rays team that, a few bright spots aside, will be bad (at best) in 2018. Where Morrison and Longoria and Dickerson and Souza were, Tampa will now turn to the forgettable likes of Cron, Brad Miller, Daniel Robertson, Matt Duffy, and Mallex Smith. With Odorizzi and Cobb gone, Chris Archer is the team’s only trustworthy starter. The bullpen is equally bereft of recognizable or reliable names beyond closer Alex Colome. In the rough-and-tumble AL East, Tampa stands virtually no chance with that sorry assemblage, despite its front office’s risible claims that the Rays will be competitive.
It’s a sad end for a franchise that was, at one point, the model of how to build a winner on a shoestring budget. The Rays could never compete with division rivals New York or Boston (or really anyone else) for top free agents, but Tampa kept motoring along, somehow stringing together winning seasons despite a payroll that would’ve been a rounding error for the Yankees. That all began to come crashing down in 2014, when the Rays slumped from 92 wins and a wild-card berth to 77 wins and fourth place in the AL East; they’ve missed the playoffs the last four years running.
It’s going to be a long time, most likely, until the Rays see the postseason again. But while contention was going to be a tough task in 2018 no matter what, it’s still startling to see how thoroughly they’ve given up on the season. There are tank jobs, and then there’s what Tampa’s front office has done, stripping the team of most of its best parts and leaving nothing but Archer, Colome, Kevin Kiermaier and some fringe major leaguers. What’s galling is how little the Rays have gotten in return for their firesale. Longoria returned two pitchers with big arms but likely bullpen futures and infielder Christian Arroyo, who has potential but was overwhelmed in the majors last year. Odorizzi returned a single player, a low-minors shortstop. Souza was worth two minor leaguers, both fine but neither a star. And Dickerson, an All-Star in 2017, may get the Rays nothing if they’re unable to work out a trade.
All of those players have their flaws—Longoria is aging and expensive, Odorizzi is coming off a mediocre year, Dickerson collapsed in the second half—but it’s still a sorry state of affairs to dump all those players for what amounts to a few lottery tickets. And while the Rays’ front office has made all the requisite noises about competing now and re-tooling for later, it’s hard not to look at this winter’s moves as a franchise punting on a season simply to save money. By selling off Longoria, Dickerson, Souza, and Odorizzi, the team cut roughly $30 million off its already anemic payroll; as it currently stands, Tampa’s financial commitments for 2018 are just around $73 million, a steep drop from last year’s $91 million figure. Amazingly enough, that $73 million mark—nearly $80 million below last year’s league average payroll—isn’t even the lowest in baseball currently. The White Sox ($70 million), Phillies ($67 million), and A’s ($59 million) are all below the Rays; the Pirates and Marlins aren’t far off.
Not every team can be the Dodgers, but it’s disheartening to see how many teams have refused to open their wallets this winter—and how shameless they’ve been about it. In an era of exploding revenues and where each owner was gifted a $50 million payment from MLB as part of its sale of BAMTech, there’s no excuse for the kind of penny-pinching we’re seeing. That’s especially the case for Tampa, which despite a weak offense went 80–82 last year and had the pieces in place, both in the majors and in a strong farm system, to contend for at least a wild-card spot, if ownership had agreed to spend this winter.
Instead, Rays fans will be gifted at-bats from Cron and Span, starts from Nate Eovaldi and Matt Andriese, and relief appearances from Triple A Durham’s most unexciting arms. They’ll watch as Longoria, who should have retired a Ray, instead tries to lift the Giants out of the doldrums. They’ll wait to see where Colome and Archer end up, either sometime this spring or at the trade deadline. They’ll wonder how long they’ll get to hold on to Blake Snell and Brent Honeywell and the rest of the team’s exciting young players, their clocks already ticking. And they’ll get the sales pitch from ownership for a gleaming new stadium in Tampa’s Ybor City—one that will likely cost taxpayers in Hillsborough County hundreds of millions of dollars to house the next group of players sold off when they get too expensive.
Rays fans deserved better. So do the fans of the Marlins, Pirates, A’s, and what feels like a dozen other teams who have openly stopped trying to field a competitive squad, choosing instead to slash payroll or simply not spend. Rob Manfred may not like the word “tanking,” but that’s what this is, plain and simple: a losing product designed to save money, not compete. The players know it and don’tlike it; the empty seats at Tropicana Field will be proof enough of how the fans feel. If only the people signing the checks in Tampa felt the same way.