Rays sign six players, avoid arbitration process
Joyce, Hellickson, Rodriguez, Lobaton, McGee, Ramos agree to one-year deals
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have avoided the arbitration process altogether, agreeing Friday with all six remaining arbitration-eligible players prior to the 1 p.m. ET deadline.
They crossed outfielder Matt Joyce off the list early Friday morning, agreeing to a one-year, $3.7 million deal for 2014. They also agreed to one-year contracts with right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, utility man Sean Rodriguez, catcher Jose Lobaton and left-handed relievers Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos.
"It's a fairly objective process and something that when two parties approach it with the mindset to get something done, usually you can figure out a way to do that," executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "So I was cautiously optimistic, and obviously we're thrilled to have resolved all of our arbitration cases."
By agreeing with all seven of their arbitration-eligible players, the Rays guaranteed they would not have to go to any arbitration hearings. Tampa Bay agreed on Thursday to a one-year, $14 million deal with left-hander David Price, the largest one-year salary in club history. Friedman acknowledged the high cost of signing Price, particularly as the club's projected 2014 payroll continues to escalate north of $75 million, but he said the club had been preparing for a similarly high figure all offseason.
"It's important for us to get all of them resolved. It's a sub-optimal process if you have to go to a hearing. David's case obviously is a big number because of what he's accomplished on the field," Friedman said. "It's a merit-based system, for the most part, and he's had incredible, special accomplishments over his career, as we've all witnessed. The arbitration system compensated him as such."
Joyce, 29, hit .235/.328/.419 with 18 homers and 47 RBIs in 481 plate appearances last year. The 2011 All-Star earned another significant raise in his second year of arbitration eligibility after making $2.45 million last season. He is slated to share time in the outfield/designated-hitter rotation this season with David DeJesus, Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers, and Joyce said on his @sweetswingin20 Twitter account that he's "ready to have a big year."
"He struggled some at points last year, and it was kind of an up-and-down season for him where there were a couple hot months and a couple months where he struggled more," Friedman said. "Nothing has changed in his innate ability, especially against right-handed pitching, and [he is] someone who we feel will be a real force for us on the offensive side."
Hellickson, who will turn 27 in April, will make $3.625 million this season, plus $25,000 in incentives if he pitches at least 195 innings. The 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner was arbitration-eligible for the first time following a disappointing 2013 season, during which he finished 12-10 with a career-high 5.17 ERA in 174 innings over 31 starts.
Friedman said he believes Hellickson will bounce back, noting that some of what went wrong was out of his control. Hellickson will focus on "process-related things" in Spring Training, Friedman said, and the Rays believe he still has the ability to be the pitcher he was from 2010-12, when he went 27-21 with a combined 3.06 ERA.
"He's an incredible competitor. In a weird way, I think some of the struggles he experienced last year will make him better this year," Friedman said. "With how competitive Jeremy is, I would absolutely bet on him to apply what he learned last year and make himself that much better in 2014."
Rodriguez will make $1.475 million in 2014 plus another $25,000 if he reaches 300 plate appearances. The 28-year-old played in 94 games at five positions for Tampa Bay last season, appearing in left field (47 games), first base (23), right field (eight), shortstop (seven) and second base (five) while starting in 51 of the Rays' 53 games against left-handed starters. He made $1 million last season and hit .246/.320/.385.
Lobaton agreed to a $950,000 deal in his first year of arbitration eligibility as a Super Two player. The 28-year-old switch-hitter posted a .249/.320/.394 batting line and started in 76 games at catcher in his first full season in the Majors. Lobaton, whose memorable late-game heroics included the walk-off blast in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, would seem to be the odd man out in the Rays' catching situation, as they also have veterans Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan on board.
McGee was arbitration-eligible for the first time as a Super Two player and will make $1.45 million. The hard-throwing setup man owns a career 3.28 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Last season, he finished 5-3 with a 4.02 ERA and a 1.181 WHIP in 62 2/3 innings over 71 appearances, second most among AL lefties. The 27-year-old was even better in 2012, recording a 1.95 ERA and a 0.795 WHIP, along with 73 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings.
Ramos, 29, will make $749,750 in 2014. The lefty went 2-2 with a 4.14 ERA in 48 appearances out of the bullpen in his first full season in the Majors. He set career highs in innings pitched (67 1/3), strikeouts (53) and games finished (25) while posting a 1.307 WHIP. Ramos is 3-5 with a 4.01 ERA in parts of five Major League seasons.
Tampa Bay likely won't make any more big moves this offseason, unless a trade for Price materializes, but Friedman isn't done working for the offseason just because the Rays avoided the arbitration process. Friedman said the Rays feel they're "still in the trenches of the offseason," with several areas left to improve before they head south to Port Charlotte, Fla.
"You're certainly able to exhale a little bit when you get to this point, when you've cleared the arbitration process," Friedman said. "We can really get our focus back on the field and the things that we want to address before Spring Training."