Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander told reporters during his October season-ending press conference that the club was looking to add a big hitter this winter — especially for lefties — after Tampa Bay’s offensive hit just a run over 24 innings in this two-game Wild Card Series marathon against the Guardians.
Rays hitters had a combined .686 OPS during the 2022 regular season, which ranked 25th among all 30 major league clubs. And against right-handed pitching, her combined team batting line was just .234/.305/.373 from a sample size of 4,580 plate appearances.
Nothing overly exciting has materialized for the Rays up to this point, and Neander, in a recent conversation with The Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin, conceded that it’s probably too late to make a meaningful offensive addition out of what was up left to the free market.
“As the winter progressed and as we spoke publicly, I felt the focus was more that an established player, ideally a left-hander, is the right type of player for our group.” said Neander to Topkin. “We feel really good about the selection of breakthrough and bounce back players that we currently have in our roster. It was really more about adding an established, consistent offensive player and there aren’t many of those available.
There was talk of a number of possible activities to help the cause – the Rays were linked to free agents at various points Josh Bell and Andrew McCutchen. They are also said to have been hunting Sean Murphy before Athletics dealt him to the Braves in a three-team swap that also involved the Brewers. Topkin writes that Tampa Bay has also made attempts Michael Brantley and Brandon belt before those players signed elsewhere.
The hope is that sometime this spring, or better yet, before the Rays roll into camp in Orlando, Fla., a deal will go through for walk-aid. Neander also plans to keep his ear open for changes in the 2023 season should those “breakthrough and bounce back players” think – think Wander Franco, Josh Loweand Jonathan Aranda – didn’t get through during the first half.
It’s all pretty scary in an AL East with the Blue Jays (3rd on combined OPS last year at .760) and the Yankees (4th on combined OPS at .751), but Topkin suggests the Rays might have room, to add roughly $70 million payroll as the baseball calendar moves into the summer months.
Perhaps there could be a circleback with the A’s who always seem open to business and would likely listen Seth Brown even after hitting 25 home runs in 150 games last year. Or maybe there’s a match with Twins on Max Kepler Given the recent addition of Minnesota Michael A Taylor from the royals. One thing the Rays have is prospects, both low-level and MLB-able types, and Tampa Bay’s front office has certainly never lacked creativity in finding ways to make improvements under the radar.