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Rays still looking to add a bat heading into 2019

Photo by Wayne Masut I The Scrum Sports

The roster is talented as it stands, but another bat might be the final piece the Rays need to take the next step in 2019.

In what could very well be the final move of the 2018 calendar year – the Rays addressed their bullpen last Friday acquiring RHP Emilio Pagan from the A’s in a three-team trade with the Rangers. The 27-year old is entering his third year in MLB. He broke in with the Mariners in 2017 and pitched in 55 games with Oakland last season.

Now the Rays look to lock up one more piece to their 2019 puzzle ahead of spring training. Rumors still going strong that Tampa Bay is one of the few remaining players in the Nelson Cruz sweepstakes. There are also talks that Marlin’s catcher, J.T. Realmuto, could still be in play for the Rays. Cruz, a free agent, is an immediate MVP candidate in the middle of that Rays lineup and would be a huge level of protection for the likes of Willy Adames, Tommy Pham, and the likely candidate to start the year in right field, Austin Meadows. Cruz has finished in the top 10 of MVP voting in three of the last five seasons.

Realmuto would be the stretch acquisition. The Rays would have to most likely include newly acquired catcher, Mike Zunino, in the trade to Miami along with a prospect or two.

Let’s say they stay put…

After throwing 2-years, $30M with a third year option that could guarantee another $15M at RHP Charlie Morton, the Rays would shock the baseball world if they spent another $10-15M it would likely cost to reel in Cruz. So let’s say they stay up and go with the current roster. Here’s how Opening Day might just look:

1B Yandy Diaz
LF Tommy Pham
2B Joey Wendle
DH Ji-Man Choi
RF Austin Meadows
SS Willy Adames
C Mike Zunino
CF Kevin Kiermaier
3B Matt Duffy

Bench: UTIL Daniel Robertson, C Michael Perez, INF Brandon Lowe, OF Guillermo Heredia

At first glance that doesn’t look too shabby. Looking closer, there are a lot of guys in that lineup without a lot of full-time experience. Choi, Diaz, Meadows, and Adames have never played more than 85 games in a season (Adames, ’18). Kiermaier hasn’t played more than 105 games since 2015 because of injuries. Entering his sixth full season in MLB and set to make $8.1M in 2019, it can be argued that Kiermaier’s success could dictate a lot of the lineup’s success in the new season.

How bout those arms?

Morton just might be the steal of the off-season so far in MLB. He will be part of a deadly 1-2 punch with reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. Tyler Glasnow will likely get a chance to start in the third spot in the rotation. An “opener” and a “bullpen day” will likely round out the rotation.

The bullpen will have to be pieced together during camp. Names that should find themselves on the Opening Day roster:

LHPs Jose Alvarado, Jalen Beeks, and Ryan Yarbrough

RHPs Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Jake Faria, Pagan, Chaz Roe, Ryne Stanek, Hunter Wood, and Wilmer Font

That’s probably two too man arms if the Rays run with a four-man bench. Before the end of the spring one or two of these names could be packaged in another trade for that other bat.

Who will close is also a big question heading into camp. The front-runner might just be Alvarado. Though Castillo and Roe showed poise in late innings in 2018 and could get a serious look at ninth inning work.

Preparing for a couple returns…

Two key additions to the staff are coming back off Tommy John in 2019. Both RHP Jose De Leon and RHP Brent Honeywell are both slated back by mid-season at some point.

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