Tampa Bay Sports Day

MLB: Six Questions Facing the Tampa Bay Rays this Offseason

By Juan Toribio 

ST. PETERSBURG –– After a positive season that ended with a Game 5 loss in the American League Division Series against the Astros, the Rays’ attention now shifts to what should be an interesting offseason for the club. The Rays will have to make some key decisions this winter, so here’s everything you need to know as we get closer to the official start of the offseason.

1. Who’s a free agent?

The Rays only have three free agents this winter: Avisaíl García, Eric Sogard and Travis d’Arnaud. Of the three, d’Arnaud appears to have the best chance at returning, but he’ll likely see an uptick in interest after hitting 16 home runs in a bounceback season.

2. Who’s eligible for arbitration?

The Rays have nine players eligible for arbitration this offseason: Tommy Pham, Mike Zunino, Matt Duffy, Jesús Aguilar, Chaz Roe, Tyler Glasnow, Guillermo Heredia, Daniel Robertson and Oliver Drake.

Pham is projected to get $8.6 million in arbitration, which leads the group. Glasnow projects at $1.9 million.

3. Of the group of arbitration-eligible players, who could get non-tendered? When do those decisions need to be made?

One of the more interesting decisions of the offseason will be what the Rays do with some of their arbitration-eligible players. Of the nine players, Duffy and Zunino are the two likely players that could get non-tendered. Zunino is projected to get $4.9 million in the process, while Duffy is projected to receive $2.9 million.

Zunino had a disappointing campaign in his first season with the Rays, so the decision will come down to whether Tampa Bay believes he’s a bounceback candidate in 2020. There’s also the possibility that they non-tender the catcher and sign him on a cheaper deal in free agency. The same could happen with Duffy, if the Rays decide to go that way.

Those decisions will need to be made before Dec. 2.

4. Which prospects need to be added to the 40-man roster?

The Rays will need to add infielder Vidal Brujan, catcher Ronaldo Hernandez, infielder/pitcher Jake Cronenworth, infielder Lucius Fox and infielder Kevin Padlo to the 40-man roster in order to prevent them from getting taken away through the Rule 5 Draft in December.

Brujan, Hernandez, Cronenworth and Fox are four of the top 20 prospects in the Rays organization, according to MLB Pipeline.

5. What 40-man moves do the Rays have to make?

Losing García, Sogard and d’Arnaud will open up three spots on the 40-man roster, with two being filled up by José Alvarado and Hoby Milner, who need to be activated from the 60-day injured list.

The Rays will have to add the four or five prospects they want to protect from the Rule 5 Draft, and that’s where decisions get tricky. Tampa Bay was aided by its depth last season, which will make the offseason that much more interesting and challenging.

Once those decisions are made, the Rays will have to continue to create 40-man roster space as they continue to sign players in free agency. Don’t be surprised to see a couple of trades that help bring in talented players, but also free up room on the roster.

6. What will the Rays look for in free agency?

A closer, infield depth, a corner outfielder and catching help appear to be the glaring needs for the Rays heading into the offseason. While Emilio Pagán pitched well in the closer role in ‘19, added insurance would only make the Rays’ bullpen that much more of a strength. But if the Rays decide to let d’Arnaud walk and non-tender Zunino, they’ll be searching for at least one catcher in free agency, possibly two. Michael Perez could slide back into a backup catcher role depending on what moves are made.

The arbitration decision on Duffy will also help clear up what the Rays want to do with their infield depth. They could decide to bet on Robertson and Michael Brosseau to take a positive step in their development, or they could add a veteran infielder to replace Sogard.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.