With Spring Training now in full swing, the slow offseason has left quite a few quality free agents to remain in the board. Of the ones that are still unsigned, several could be good fits in Tampa Bay on a cheap, one year deal. So, no, not Jake Arrietta.
Jose Bautista- Rumored to have interest in coming to Tampa Bay since last offseason, The Blue Jays brought him back on a 1 year, $18 million, hoping he’d bounce back from an injury-plagued .236/.366/.452 campaign in 118 games. Fortunately for the Rays, (and to the misfortune of the Jays), he got worse, to the tune of .203/.308/.366 in 157 games. Safe to say, he’s no longer a bounceback candidate, but the power is still there to a degree. In ’17, he hit 23 homers and ranked between Evan Longoria and Mark Trumbo in ISO. He could still be a serviceable once or twice a week DH/1B/RF if the matchup is right, or possibly just a power option off the bench. So long as he can be had for under $5 million, which is possible, it could have some value.
John Jay- We know that the Rays love taking out Kevin Kiermaier insurance policies. It’s why they signed Carlos Gomez, as well as why they are trying infielders in the outfield this spring. Last year, the Cubs had him on a one year, $8 million deal, so he too can be a potential bargain. Offensively, he’s the opposite of Bautista, but he does get on base, with a .374 OBP hat would’ve led the team in ’17. If the infielders on the outfield project doesn’t work, Jay could be in the mix.
Alex Cobb- Yeah, that Alex Cobb. The one who rejected a $17.4 million qualifying offer. While the the Rays will get some type of compensatory draft pick if he signs elsewhere, if he could also be had for a one year bargain, why not? They already have 2 competitive balance draft picks this year, making 4 total picks in the first two rounds, so it’s not like the pick would be terribly missed. For Cobb, if would probably fare better for him anyway if he could have one more injury free year before retesting the open market. Plus, he only made $4.2 million in ’17, so even a 1 year, $6 million deal (with a few performance incentives, of course), would still be a hefty raise.
Neil Walker- Of all the players on this list, Walker could be the best fit. He can play 2nd and 3rd (which are both open), he has plenty of power, and he doesn’t strikeout a ton. So what’s the problem? Well, there’re a few. For one he’s 32, and has played 150 games or more only twice in his career. Also, he did accept a qualifying offer last year for $17.2 million, so even though he might be the best fit, he may also be the most expensive. The Royals offered him a minor league deal this winter, but he declined. So we know he won’t be had for free, but even $5 million is $5 million more than he’s going to make if he remains unsigned.
While the Rays have tons of young talent ready to knock down the door, bringing in any one of these guys on a one year deal will make them more competitive this year. So, for fun, I’d like to know what you guys think. Who you you think is the best free agent fit for the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays?