There’s still plenty of baseball left, but there’s now over two months of data about the 2019 to draw conclusions. For example, it’s pretty safe to say at this point that the Tampa Bay Rays‘ surprising 90-win season last year was no fluke. They’re tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East with a record of 40-24. The Rays’ offseason was a busy one as new players were added that have played a big role this season.
So it’s time to go back and look at the biggest moves the Rays made last winter and grade them:
Grading the Tampa Bay Rays’ Offseason
Rays’ Offseason Signings
Signed RHP Charlie Morton to a two-year/$30-million contract with a third-year club option
The low-budget Rays are almost never shoppers for the top or even mid-tier free agents. Fortunately for them, Charlie Morton liked the idea of playing close to his home in Bradenton, Florida. The Rays felt that a pitcher of his caliber on that kind of contract was too good to pass up.
They were right. Morton is 7-0 with a 2.30 ERA and 2.69 FIP. His K/9 (11.02 per nine innings) and ground ball rate (51.7%) through his first 13 starts are elite. The 35-year-old just continues to get better with age. He was an All-Star for the first time last season, and might even be pitching his way into the Cy Young award conversation this year.
Signed OF Avisail Garcia to a one-year/$3.5-million contract
Avisail Garcia was only expected to be a platoon player for the Rays this season when they signed him in January. No one was quite sure what to expect from him. After an All-Star selection in 2017, Garcia struggled so much in 2018 that he was non-tendered by the Chicago White Sox after the season.
However, Garcia has played his way into essentially an everyday role, typically hitting in the middle of the order. Through 54 games, Garcia is slashing .300/.356/.512 with 11 home runs and 28 RBI. This equates to a 131 OPS+ and 1.8 WAR. He’s also stolen six bases and played well in right field.
Rays’ Offseason Trades
Acquired 3B/1B Yandy Diaz and RHP Cole Sulser from the Cleveland Indians for 1B/OF Jake Bauers
Yandy Diaz was off to a hot start in 2019. He’s cooled off a bit, and spent a couple weeks on the injured list with a hand injury. All things considered, he’s still having a pretty good year. His slash line is .270/.353/.487 with ten home runs and 25 RBI in 49 games. In terms of analytics, that is good for a 124 OPS+ and 1.4 WAR.
Meanwhile, Jake Bauers is having a tough year in Cleveland. He’s slashing .212/.300/.355 with seven homers and 22 RBI in 61 games. Bauers has just a 72 OPS+ and negative-1.0 WAR.
As for Cole Sulser, he wasn’t a major piece of the trade. He’s a 29-year-old reliever who hasn’t appeared in the big leagues and has a 4.74 ERA in 23 Triple-A appearances this year. He does, however, have 32 strikeouts in 24.2 innings, and could end up in Tampa Bay’s bullpen at some point. But, just Diaz for Bauers straight up looks like a win for the Rays at this point, so if they get anything from Sulser, it will be a bonus. The Rays should be feeling pretty good about this deal.
Acquired C Mike Zunino, OF Guillermo Heredia and LHP Michael Plassmeyer from the Seattle Mariners for OFs Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley
Mike Zunino was the Rays’ latest attempt to plug their seemingly annual hole at catcher. He’s already spent a few weeks on the injured list with a hamstring injury, and has struggled offensively in the 32 games he’s played in. Zunino’s slashing .188/.242/.339 with three home runs and 17 RBI. His OPS+ is just 55 and his performance has been worth just 0.2 WAR.
As for Guillermo Heredia, he’s had a solid season as a spare outfielder. Heredia’s slashing .263/.356/.408 with two home runs and eight RBI in 40 games, good for a 106 OPS+ and 0.6 WAR. Michael Plassmeyer, meanwhile, has had a solid-year with the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs. The 22-year-old has pitched 28.1 innings over six appearances (five starts), and is 2-2 with a 2.54 ERA and 3.31 FIP.
In Seattle, Mallex Smith has struggled mightily this year. In 48 games he’s slashing .210/.284/.315 with three home runs and 16 RBI, though the speedy Smith does have 16 stolen bases. Still, he has just a 65 OPS+ and has been worth negative-0.4 WAR, and was even optioned to Triple-A at one point.
However, Jake Fraley is having a strong year with Seattle’s Double-A afilliate. In 54 games he’s slashing .333/.402/.556 with 11 homers, 45 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Zunino and Smith were the main pieces of this trade, though, and given the way both have struggled this year, it’s probably safe to say neither team is too happy with their end of the deal so far. Fraley, however, is looking like a prospect the Rays could end up regretting trading, so they really need Zunino to start hitting.
Overall grade: A-
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images