Tracking The Rays Rebuild: Silverman’s First Off-Season Filled With Deals

Silverman Begins With Crazy Winter Of Wheeling And Dealing

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Photo: MLB.com

The Tampa Bay Rays won 92 games in 2013 needing a victory in Game 163 over the Texas Rangers to earn a Wild Card spot. They traveled to Cleveland and defeated the Cleveland Indians before being dispatched by the Boston Red Sox in four games in the American League Division Series.

After the season, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Andrew Friedman committed $104MM in salary. This includes picking up $5.5MM of Heath Bell‘s 2014 salary in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, free agent signings (James Loney, Grant Balfour, and Jose Molina), and contract extensions to David DeJesus, Ryan Hanigan, Yunel Escobar, and Chris Archer).

Things Did Not Go Well For The Rays In 2014

Friedman and company had hoped that the additions to the 2013 roster could lead the Rays to another deep October run. Unfortunately, injuries and poor performance short-circuited the 2014 season almost immediately.  They finished the season under .500 at 77-85 and traded David Price to the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline. It was their first losing season since finishing 66-99 in 2007, the last year of the franchise being known as the Devil Rays.

Changing Of The Guard:

Andrew Friedman

After the season, Andrew Friedman left the organization to take over the Los Angeles Dodgers front-office. Shortly after, Joe Maddon opted out of his contract and eventually took over the bench job with the Chicago Cubs.

Front Office Reshuffled, Silverman Takes Over, Cash Named Manager

Matt Silverman took over as President of Baseball Operations and Brian Auld was promoted from Senior Vice President of Business Operations to Team President. Silverman joined the Rays in 2004 as director of strategic planning and has served as team president since Sternberg became principal owner in October 2005.

Friedman was not taking any members of the Rays front office with him. This opened the door for two long-time baseball operations members Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander to assume larger roles in baseball operations. On October 17th,  Bloom and Neander were officially promoted to Vice Presidents of Baseball Operations.

Cash Hired:

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays new front-office went through an exhaustive search for the next skipper. Their list opened with 10-members and eventually was whittled down to three finalist. Kevin Cash, Raul Ibanez, and Don Wakamatsu. On December 5, 2014 the Rays hired Kevin Cash to be the team’s fifth manager in franchise history.

In tandem with the manager search, the front office had to take stock in the shape of the franchise. They had to determine the value of each member of the current roster, examine who in the farm system was worth protecting in the Rule 5 draft, and the overall state of the farm system which entered the 2014 season ranked as just the 20th best in baseball.

Off-Season Goals:

Tampa Bay Rays

Matt Silverman, Erik Neander, and Chaim Bloom had a lot of work to do in the wake of Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon‘s departure. Besides finding a new manager and several coaches they had the normal off-season issues to contend with: setting the 40-man roster, tender/non-tender decisions, and payroll decisions. They also had to look for ways to inject promising young players into their suddenly weak farm system.

The goal for the front office was to field a competitive team in 2015 while building a strong farm system for the future. It’s pretty much the same goal for all 30 MLB teams, but the Rays operate on a smaller budget and have less margin for error. Adding bad contracts on top of an already constrained budget can be suffocating to an organization.

James Loney, Grant Balfour, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Molina, Yunel Escobar, and David DeJesus all were given contract/extensions by Friedman and were set to earn $32.35MM in 2015.

Ben Zobrist was entering the final year of his contract. Jeremy Hellickson‘s star had fallen and he was due a raise in arbitration. Matt Moore was going to miss half the season as he continued to recover from Tommy John surgery.

State Of The Farm:

The farm system was sinking as the organization had missed on a number of first round picks in years prior. Entering 2015, Baseball America ranked the Rays farm system 17th. For reference, it was ranked 20th (2014), 4th (2013), 11th (2012), and 3rd (2011) in the previous four years.

A big reason for the decline of the farm system were a series of poor drafts, especially the first round from 2008-2012. Of the 16 first round picks the Rays selected in that time period, only five made it to the big leagues.

The first round draft picks included: Tim Beckham (2008), LeVon Washington (2009 – unsigned), Drew Vettleson (2010), Justin O’Conner (2010), Josh Sale (2010), James Harris (2011), Grayson Garvin (2011), Kes Carter (2011), Blake Snell (2011), Jeff Ames (2011), Tyler Goeddell (2011), Brandon Martin (2011), Jake Hager (2011), Mikie Mahtook (2011), Taylor Guerrieri (2011), and Richie Shaffer (2012).

Silverman’s First Big League Signing:

Tampa Bay Rays

In mid-October reliever Michael Kohn became the first big league signing of the Matt Silverman era.  His stint with the Rays was a short one as his big league deal was not guaranteed and he was designated for assignment on November 20th.

Matt Silverman still had to clear roster space ahead of the November 20th deadline to protect player from the Rule 5 draft. In dealing Cesar Ramos to the Los Angeles Angels for Mark Sappington he opened one spot. Additionally, Ramos was projected to earn around $1.4MM in arbitration and was a non-tender candidate.

Sappington had struggled in 2014 posting a 4-1 with a 6.02 ERA (113.2-IP, 76-ER) in 42 appearances (17 starts). He converted to the bullpen in July, and went 2-0 with five saves, a 3.38 ERA (12-ER/32-IP) and had 49 strikeouts in 25 relief appearances.

Rays Deal Former Rookie of the Year:

Tampa Bay Rays

On November 14th, Jeremy Hellickson was shipped to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a pair of minor leaguers. Infielder Andrew Velazquez (20) and outfielder Justin Williams (19), both promising young prospects, were added to bolster a lagging farm system that Baseball America ranked 20th best in baseball heading into the 2014 season.

“As we thank Jeremy for his contributions to the Rays organization and wish him great success in Arizona, we are pleased to receive two talented young prospects in return,” said President, Baseball Operations Matt Silverman. “They have the potential to become impact players at the major league level, and we are excited to add them to our player development pipeline.”

Following the season, Velazquez was named the No. 12 prospect in the D-backs system by MLB.com and Williams was ranked at No. 14 prospect.

Hellickson, Rookie of the Year in 2011, had fallen on tough times over the 2013-2014 seasons. During that time he appeared in 45 games (44 starts) and posted a record of 13-15 with an ERA of 5.00. He was also projected to earn $3.9MM in arbitration.

Moving Hellickson also cleared a 40-man spot, as neither Williams or Velazquez needed to be added ahead of the November 20th deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft.

Rays Trade Perlata, DFA Molina As They Set Roster:

Tampa Bay Rays

Right at the roster deadline the Rays set their roster by trading Joel Peralta and minor leaguer Adam Liberatore to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In exchange they received reliever Jose Dominguez and minor league right handed pitcher Greg Harris.

They also designated for assignment Jose Molina, Cole Figueroa, and the aforementioned Michael Kohn. To fill the roster, they selected five players: right-handed pitcher Matt Andriese, infielder Ryan Brett, left-handed pitcher Grayson Garvin, outfielder Mikie Mahtook and catcher Justin O’Conner to set their roster.

S-Rod Designated For Assignment:


The Rays, looking to strike gold on another struggling reliever, signed Ernesto Frieri to a 1-year deal on November 26th. To make room for Frieri on the 40-man roster, the Rays designated for assignment fan favorite Sean Rodriguez.

In 2014, Rodriguez batted .211 (50-for-237). He established career highs with 12 home runs, 41 RBI and a .443 slugging percentage.

Frieri had a down year in 2014 posting a 1-4 with a 7.34 ERA (34-ER/41.2-IP) and 48 strikeouts over 48 appearances between the Angels and Pirates. He was one year removed from a 2013 season in which he saved 37 games for the Los Angeles Angels.

Rodriguez was ultimately traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor league right handed pitcher Buddy Borden.

Rays Deal Another Rookie of the Year Away:

Tampa Bay Rays

On December 14, 2014, the Rays completed their biggest deal of the offseason sending Wil Myers and Ryan Hanigan along with minor leaguers Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes to the San Diego Padres. The Friars sent the Rays Jake Bauers, Rene Rivera, and Burch Smith . They also sent Trea Turner and Joe Ross to the Washington Nationals. Then Nationals sent Steven Souza Jr. and minor league pitcher Travis Ott to the Rays.

After winning the Rookie of the Year in 2013, Myers struggled with injuries in 2014. He appeared in only  87 games batting .222/.294/.320 line with six home runs, 14 doubles and 35 RBI.

In the deal, the Rays were able to unload the remainder of Ryan Hanigan’s contract ($8MM). The oft-injured catcher was coming off a season in which he had hit just .218/.318/.324 in 84 games.

Steven Souza Jr. was a third round pick by the Nationals in 2007. He struggled through the minor leagues with maturity even quitting his team and contemplated giving up baseball. By 2014, he had found himself spiritually and was showing promise as a power hitting outfielder. In Triple-A he hit .350/.432/.590 with 18 homers in 407 plate appearances. He had just made his MLB debut appearing in 21 games with the Nationals.

Jake Bauers was just 19 years old at the time of the trade. He was selected by the Padres in the 7th round of the 2013 draft.  2014 was his first full season of professional ball and he hit .296/.376/.414 as a 18-year old in Class-A. Last season, he hit .263/.368/.412 with 13 homers in 575 plate appearances in Triple-A. He is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Rays 6th best prospect.

Rays Deal Joyce To Angels:

Tampa Bay Rays

On December 16th the Rays traded Matt Joyce to the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Kevin Jepsen.

Joyce, coming off a season in which he hit .254/.349/.383 with nine homers. All but one of his starts in 2014 came against right-handed pitching. He was eighth in the AL in on-base percentage against right handed pitching at .365. He was entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and was was projected to earn $4.9MM.

“Matt was an important part of this team for the last six seasons. We appreciate his many contributions to the Rays on the field, and the professionalism he brought to the ballpark,” said Vice President, Baseball Operations Erik Neander. “We’re excited about the experience Kevin brings to the bullpen, and his ability to pitch in key moments of the game.”

Jepsen was coming off a season in which he made a career high 74 appearances. Overall, he pitched to a 0-2 mark with a 2.63 ERA (19-ER/65-IP) while striking out 75.

McGee Requires Elbow Surgery:

Tampa Bay Rays McGee

The injury bug that derailed the team to open the 2014 season was back to make life difficult on new Manager Kevin Cash. In mid-December it was announced that McGee had arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow on Friday to remove a loose body.

The news meant that Kevin Cash would have to go to spring training looking for a closer. McGee spent the final 3 1/2-months of the 2014 season in that role. McGee was also coming off one of the best years ever for a Rays reliever going 5-2 with a 1.89 ERA and 19 saves in 73 appearances.

Rays Trade Zobrist To Athletics:

Tampa Bay Rays

Ben Zobrist was entering his final season with the Rays and due to make $7.5MM. On January 10, 2015, Zobrist and Yunel Escobar were dealt to the Oakland Athletics. In exchange the Rays received John Jaso and minor leaguers Boog Powell and Daniel Robertson.

“It’s an emotional and meaningful day as we bid farewell to Ben Zobrist and thank him for everything he’s meant to the Rays organization,” said Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman. “Any description of his value, talent and character would understate how we feel about Ben, and we consider ourselves fortunate for all our great moments together.”

A big component of the trade was moving Yunel Escobar and his remaining $13MM.  Not to mention his somewhat difficult locker room demeanor, which could negatively impact first year Manager Kevin Cash.

Escobar, once though as the shortstop of the future, was coming off a dismal season in which he ranked as one of the worst defensive shortstop in the game. Much of his issues seemed to focus on his effort as much as diminished skills.

Robertson, 20 years old at the time of the trade, was ranked as the Oakland Athletics top prospect by both Baseball America and MLB.com. He spent the 2014 season in Class-A (Stockton) where he hit .302/.402/471 with 15 homers in 642 plate appearances. He entered 2016 as the 66th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus and #65 by MLB.com.

Powell was ranked as the #11 prospect in the Athletics organization by MLB.com. He split
the 2014 season between Class-A Beloit and Stockton. He led the A’s system with a .343 batting average (108-for-315) and a .451 on-base percentage.

Jaso, was coming off a 2014 season in which he batted .264 (81-for-307) with nine home runs and 40 RBI in 99 games for Oakland. All 79 of his starts came facing right handed pitchers.  Both the 2013 (final 33 games) and 2014 seasons (final 60 games) ended prematurely due to concussions.

Cabrera Signed As Team’s New Shortstop:

Cabrera, Rays Have Hottest Bats In Baseball

With the trade of Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist, the Rays were hoping to find a shortstop and a switch-hitter. In Asdrubal Cabrera they got both. Cabrera signed a 1-year/$7.5MM deal.

Off-Season Trades Give Farm A Boost:

The Rays farm system had fallen to 20th in MLB as ranked by Baseball America prior to the 2014 season. They improved to 12th best after several off-season deals added much needed talent. Eight of the players acquired  joined the Rays MLB Pipeline Top 20 List.

Baseball Prospectus ranked the Rays farm system as the 26th best in MLB heading into the 2014 season. All the trades noted above only bumped them to 24th heading into the 2015 season.

“Previously considered one of the gold standards for developing minor-league depth and augmenting the major-league roster with homegrown talent, the Rays minor-league system has fallen on hard times. Even after acquiring big ticket items Daniel Robertson and Steven Souza (as the headliners returning for Ben Zobrist and Wil Myers, respectively) the system still lacks an anchor—a role not filled by Willy Adames, the system’s top prospect before Matthew Silverman started putting his stamp on the organization.” – Baseball Prospectus
Trading big leaguers such as Wil Myers, David Price and Ben Zobrist rebuilt a farm system that was running dry thanks to unproductive drafts–even a 2011 class that included 10 picks among the first 60. Tampa’s system features depth but few sure things. – Baseball America

Rays Ready For Cash’s First Spring:

A lot of work was done in the off-season to add to the expected opening day roster. Below is how the team stacked up as they reported to spring training:

Starting Rotation:  Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi,  and Alex Colome.

Bullpen: Brad Boxberger, Kevin Jepsen, Ernestor Frieri, Jeff Beliveau, Steve Geltz, Kirby Yates.

Infield: James Loney, Nick Franklin, Asdrubal Cabrera, Evan Longoria, and Rene Rivera.

Outfield: Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, and Steve Souza Jr.

The bench would have John Jaso (DH), Brandon Guyer, Logan Forsythe, David DeJesus, and Bobby Wilson.

Disabled List: Jake McGee (elbow) and Matt Moore (elbow)

Next:

This opening day planned roster would look very different after a slew of injuries hit. The injury bug carried on into the 2015 season, but the team got off to a good start. Eventually, the injuries caught up to the Rays and they finished the year 80-82. Some good, some bad. Next up, spring training injuries and the 2015 season will be reviewed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a fan of all sports but am most passionate about baseball. From the fanatical to analytical, nothing about the game escapes me. Being born and raised in Northeast Ohio I'm very familiar with the heartache and pain that sports can bring and hope that I bring some understanding of the other side to my coverage. I will focus mostly on baseball but also cover the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the most electric franchises in all of sports. Always willing to converse about any sport and have only one rule and that is be respectful at all times.