Rays Have Opportunity to Leverage Free Agent Market
(Note: Tampa Bay would lose the 31st pick, and not the 40th pick, if they were to come to agreement with any of these players. However, there is very little difference between these picks. In 2016 the dollars associated with these picks amounted to a mere $300,000 difference, and the expected future production varies little between these two picks. The fact of the matter remains that the extra pick should give the team impetus to exchange that possible future production for real present gain.)
When the competitive balance lottery was initiated back in 2011 it seemed like a great chance for the Rays to be able to pick up a few extra draft picks seeing as the stated mission of the thing was to attempt to give a hand up to the smaller market or lower revenue teams. The Rays fit into both of those descriptions, yet received a total of two of the latter half picks over the entire run of this rule. Apparently, lotteries are either pretty easy to rig or the Rays are just incredibly unlucky. I’ll let you, the reader, decide.
However, some good news is on the way as this system has been drastically overhauled in the new collective bargaining agreement. Gone is the lottery system as it will be replaced by an algorithm that takes team revenue and previous year winning percentage into account. Naturally, the Rays were awarded the first overall pick in this new iteration. Currently, this would the 31st overall pick, but that could slide up a pick or three depending on what happens with the three players remaining in limbo that declined their qualifying offer for 2017. Here are the slash lines and percentile ranks (of non-pitchers with at least 100 PA) for those three players in 2016:
Incorporating a bit more time, here is a look at this stuff over the last three years:
While all three are well above average hitters they do have different contours to how they get there. Encarnacion is the best pure hitter contributing with contact, walks and power. Bautista isn’t going to make a ton of contact, and Trumbo isn’t going to take his walks. While the latter two players are not as well-rounded at the plate, they do feature the ability to stand in the outfield and make most of the plays that you expect, and very few of the hard ones. All three have played first base in their careers, and would probably slot best on the dirt.
I mention these guys, because the Rays are in an enviable position. With a solidly deep lineup already in place the Rays last real need is to get a right-handed bat that would ideally be able to play 50 or so games in a corner outfield spot, another 50 games or so at first base, and then whatever else they can provide at designated hitter knowing that Wilson Ramos is going to need two or more months of mostly everyday usage in that role. Any team would be happy to have these guys, but their egos and the fact that any signing team loses a draft pick has created some icy waters for them. The Rays just happen to be piloting an icebreaker this offseason.
By virtue of their stinky, smelly, not good finish last year the Rays ended up with one of the ten worst records in the game. This means that if they were to sign one of these hitters then the team would only be losing their second round pick, which is far less valuable than a first rounder. Additionally, now knowing that the team will receive the very first pick in the compensation round means that they have the 4th and the 31st(ish) pick in the draft. That second rounder becomes even less valuable for a team that loathes spending money in the draft.
While most teams that have a protected first rounder are truly dogshit, and therefore, would see little incentive to trade a future cheap maybe for a more expensive right now the Rays are not in that position. This is a team that drastically under-achieved due to unsustainably bad performance in high leverage situations both in the field and at the plate last year. In fact, Baseruns, an evaluative statistic that strips out the order of events to focus solely on how well you generated and suppressed runs saw the Rays as an 81-win team in 2016.
Look at their depth chart and you’ll notice the team has a few superstars, and plenty of mortar around them to hold everything together. This is a good team whether you realize it or not. I have maintained that they were two to three players away from really being able to make some noise. Wilson Ramos fills one of those gigantic needs, but the Rays could still use another good bat, and he doesn’t have to be all that good of a fielder. The team has an opportunity here to leverage the fact that they would be giving up less than any other team to sign one of these players to a short-term, make-good deal.
With a payroll that is currently slated to be the lowest in the game for the second year in a row they cannot play the money card. I would offer Mark Trumbo $12M or Jose Bautista $15M or Edwin Encarnacion $20M on one year deals in order to solidify this lineup with the kind of bat this team so desperately needs to go over the top. The financial hit is short, and if everything breaks bad for the third year in a row then the team could always move the guy at the deadline to clear the salary, and maybe get something small back for their investment. The best teams in the game right now are leveraging their financial situation, and this is a great opportunity for the Rays to take their shot.