One recurring report coming out of the 2022 Winter Meetings was that the Rays were looking to shape their roster in time for the November 15 Rule 5 deadline. On the day of the deadline, they ended up making three trades and subsequently designated three players for assignment. This opened up roster spots for five prospects the Rays value highly, including the top two from their farm system. It was a busy day for Rays management and a confusing day for fans wondering why this was all happening. This all is broken down to what were the best, worst, or nonconsequential moves in this transaction craze.
First off, there’s a reason that teams like the Rays constantly do this type of roster reshuffling. Their roster is mostly built with role players and prospect depth. The Rays do not spend much on guaranteed contracts, with the exceptions of Wander Franco and a few other players. This allows the roster to be flexible year-round in the case of injuries or new acquisitions. It also leaves management with tough decisions to make due to salary arbitration raises and non-protected Rule 5 draft prospects. Rays General Manager Peter Bendix was recently quoted in the Tampa Bay Times about the tough decisions. He said, “Ultimately, it comes down to a bit of a numbers game with regard to our roster and how we’re trying to manage things.”
It was a sad day for the fans as well. Fan favorite and longtime Rays players Ji-Man Choi and Ryan Yarbrough were caught in the roster reshuffling crossfire. After helping them contend the past five seasons, they will no longer be in Tampa Bay. Yarbrough threw the most innings for the team and Choi manned first base dutifully during this stretch. The Rays will definitely have a new look going into next season. With several young prospects ready to take over where the veterans left off, the team is in good shape.
RHP JT Chargois, INF Xavier Edwards to Marlins for minor-league RHPs Marcus Johnson, Santiago Suarez
The most notable name involved in the first Rays trade is Xavier Edwards, who needed a 40-man roster spot. Ultimately, he was a player who the Rays did not think had a position in their crowded infield. Acquired in the ill-fated deal that sent Jake Cronenworth to San Diego, Edwards profiles as a low-power, high-contact hitter who is a good defensive second baseman, but not good enough defensively to play shortstop. Edward’s lack of power limits his offensive output as he struggles to compile extra base hits.
While he could have made a serviceable backup to Franco or Brandon Lowe, the Rays plan to give top prospects Curtis Mead, Taylor Walls, and Vidal Brujan more at-bats going forward. Miami gets a former top prospect who can help their offense. Meanwhile, the Rays clear up playing time for their top prospects with this deal.
JT Chargois, a reliever acquired in the Diego Castillo trade with Seattle, had no options left on his contract. Therefore, he found himself caught up in the trade flurry. He pitched decently in his time with the squad and will make for a useful reliever in Miami’s bullpen. However, the Rays should be excited about the pitching opportunity this trade opens up for Colby White, an organizational All-Star in 2021, who has the potential to be a high leverage reliever.
The prospects they got back are fine, but they could have boom or bust potential. Marcus Johnson stands at an imposing 6 foot 6 inches out of Duke University and uses an effective fastball-slider combo, but he has yet to fully grasp how to control his pitches. His size and pitching repertoire compares similarly to 2020 top pick, Nick Bitsko. There is a good chance the Rays’ development department will tweak with Johnson this coming year to try to get more out of his huge frame.
Santiago Suarez is another prospect whose upside is easy to dream about. The Rays followed a growing trend in baseball front offices with this trade by picking up a 17-year-old lottery-ticket-type prospect. The upside for an explosive 17-year-old prospect is huge. Yordan Alvarez and Fernando Tatis Jr. were teenagers when they signed, but developed into great young star players. There’s also definitely the risk that these players could flame out by the time they reach their early twenties.
Suarez is a power right-handed pitcher who consistently touches 100 mph on his fastball and has the makeup of a frontline starter if he can find success in the Rays system. Prospects like these take time and we really won’t have a clear idea of his projected role until he reaches around 20-years-old.
INF/OF Miles Mastrobuoni to Cubs for minor-league RHP Alfredo Zárraga
Mastrobuoni was a longtime Rays farmhand who had been in the system for six years and played his way onto the Rays roster when rosters expanded in September. Although he consistently put up great numbers at each level he played for, it became apparent early on that there was never going to be a spot for him with the Rays. Franco and Walls look to get most of the playing time at shortstop, while Lowe, Brujan, and Paredes eat up all the playing time at second base. A possible utility man role could have been his role in his future, but the Rays don’t really like to make one player a utility man. Instead they prefer to have most of their position players be able to play all around.
With all of those factors in mind, it is going to really benefit Mastrobuoni to have a fresh start with the Cubs organization. It is also a move that could pay dividends down the line for the Rays. Alfredo Zarraga has all of the makings of a future reliever. He shined in his role in the minor leagues this past season, albeit in a small sample size. A sharp fastball and wicked slider combination helped his success and the Rays are surely looking to see if they can add any additional secondary pitches to make him even more dangerous.
INF Brett Wisely to Giants for minor-league OF Tristan Peters
Wisely was a prospect who would have been caught up in the Rays’ Rule 5 draft roster crunch. So this trade was more of the Giants leaping on the opportunity to get him earlier than them taking any chances that another team would draft him. It is understandable why the Giants would be so interested. Wisely has always profiled as a high on-base hitter with sneaky power, a type of player the Giants have targeted similarly with LaMonte Wade Jr. and Thairo Estrada. His defensive capability is limited to second base for now, but in the case of an injury to any San Francisco starter, Wisely will be a serviceable backup.
Meanwhile, Tristan Peters has now been flipped twice this year. He was a part of the Giants trade with the Brewers involving Trevor Rosenthal this past deadline. The Rays like him because he can be a left-handed platoon hitter who collects extra base hits and walks often. Like Wisely, he is suited for a backup role right now in Tampa Bay. With how bad the Rays fared against right-handed pitching last year, look for this trend of them buying low on left-handed hitters to continue.
The Three Rays DFA’d
The following transactions were moves that Bendix previously referred to as being the toughest to make. For Tampa Bay, these moves meant giving up on both promising and longtime players. The three players that were designated for assignment were Bligh Madris, Ryan Yarbrough, and Javy Guerra. Yarbrough’s departure was expected as his sub-par pitching performance the last few years left him without a role. However, he was a reliable arm for the Rays and will have a place in Rays history for his workload. Madris was more of a hopeful project in the farm system that the Rays simply did not have space for. However, it would not be shocking if he returns next year, since the Rays expressed interest in his left-handed bat.
The most painful DFA in my opinion had to be Javy Guerra. The former infielder-turned-flamethrower pitcher, Guerra was a bright spot for Tampa Bay and their playoff hopes in 2022. Especially at a time when a lot of their other pitchers were going down with injuries. The Rays worked hard on developing the effectiveness of his fastball. He has one of the highest graded fastballs in the league according to Baseball Savant’s data. There is no doubt that Guerra will be picked up very soon. His new-found stuff could propel him to be a top reliever in baseball one day. Tampa Bay might be regretting this move looking back.