ORLANDO, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Rays, perennially disadvantaged by revenue restraints, are gauging interest in some of their top players, including star pitcher Chris Archer – talks that carry the potential to shake up the market, if they ultimately decide to rebuild.
“We’re listening right now,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said.
The Rays have resisted the rebuild in recent years, but it’s no surprise the low-revenue team is in a tough spot in a division with three big-market teams – the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays. After four straight losing years – they did improve to 80 wins last year, tied for the most for a non-playoff team in the AL – there is talk of payroll reduction, a seeming hint they may go the rebuild route, which carries the potential to roil a free-agent market that is somewhat light on top-flight starting pitchers.
The Rays would understandably put a huge price tag on Archer, who represents a much cheaper top-of-the-rotation alternative than top free-agent starters Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, or next-tier alternatives Lance Lynn, or even the Rays’ own free agent, Alex Cobb, who along with the other eight free agents extended the qualifying offer plans to turn it down. (While the Rays love Cobb for what he does on the field and off, it would put a real crimp on their plans if he accepted; but they shouldn’t worry, as he won’t.)
While Neander said the Rays are “just getting a sense” where things stand, other teams seeking a top starter may wait to see what the Rays do before diving into the top of the free-agent starters’ market. While one GM estimated that “27 teams” seek starting pitching, there’s also the reality that some of them simply can’t afford Darvish or Arrieta, who should both get $100 million-plus deals. Meanwhile, just about anyone can afford Archer, who has $33.75 million remaining over four years.
The Rays also could talk about star closer Alex Colome, solid starter Jake Odorizzi, emerging outfielder Corey Dickerson, brilliant outfielder Kevin Kiermaier ($63.5 million over six years) and perhaps even franchise third baseman Evan Longoria.
Colome could also bring a haul as an excellent closer at a time where closers are being re-evaluated upward, as could Odorizzi. Kiermaier would be interesting; the San Francisco Giants seem pretty desperate for a center fielder, and Kiermaier may be the best in the business.
But no one would be more intriguing than Longoria, who won a Gold Glove again in a stacked position (it takes something to beat out Manny Machado and Adrian Beltre). And as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic pointed out, Longoria is 10 days short of becoming a 10-and-5 player.
That shortage stems from the Rays delaying his callup the first year when he seemed ready, presumably to delay his free agency by a year (he eventually signed two big deals to stay, so he has six more years to go, at $90 million). Anyway, that memorable call could weigh into this winter, too.