Posted on December 18, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
In the middle of the MLB offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays remain stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s the desire of the team’s front office to make moves this offseason aimed at competing in the short term. However, putting together a team capable of competing in the AL East on Tampa Bay’s admittedly limit budget is easier said than done. This has the Rays still mulling over the possibility of trading away some of their top players and starting a major rebuilding effort.
“I think we’re at a position where we feel like we need to at least play it forward and take a crack at it,” Rays GM Erik Neander said earlier this week. “If the interest and market dictates that we go a different direction, we have to consider it and trust our evaluations. But we believe in a lot of the players we have.”
Neander adds that the team believes in the young core they have in place right now, specifically a strong rotation led by Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly. The belief is that if the Rays can stay healthy and receive a bit of good fortune, they have enough on the roster to compete in the AL East deep into the season and at least remain relevant in the wild card race.
Of course, the Rays still need to make some moves this offseason in order to put together a balanced roster that can compete in a division that sent three teams to the postseason last year. Tampa Bay has already signed catcher Wilson Ramos, although he won’t be fully healthy by opening day after tearing his ACL in September. The Rays also need to add relief help, a power hitting DH, and an extra outfielder. Right now, the market for bullpen help is not conducive to a team with Tampa Bay’s budget. There is also a smaller market for right-handed hitters who profile as a DH, which would be preferable for the Rays than adding a lefty like Ryan Howard or Pedro Alvarez.
Considering the market for hitters at the moment, it’s possible that the Rays could add a player or two who can make an impact offensively without breaking the bank. There may even be a chance that the Rays can make a move for a free agent like Jose Bautista, an addition that could potentially change the shape of their team and the outlook of their season.
At the same time, there appears to be quite a lot of interest on the trade market in several of Tampa Bay’s core players. The likes of Archer or closer Alex Colome could earn the Rays massive bounties based on the other trades that have been made this offseason. Even players like Odorizzi and Smyly have received trade interest. Trading just a couple of those players, assuming their market value remains high, could help give the Rays an infusion of young talent that could make their farm system one of the best in baseball and put them in a better position to compete a few years down the line.
That is the dilemma the Rays have right now. Tampa Bay would need a lot to go right in 2017 to make a push for the playoffs, but it’s not impossible considering what the Rays have in their rotation. At the same time, a rebuilding effort may be what’s best for Tampa Bay over the long run, and if the Rays were to begin a long-term rebuild, now may be the time. It won’t be an easy decision to make. Stay tuned.