ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – It would be an understatement to suggest that the Rays clubhouse will have a much different look and feel in 2023. After all, Kevin Kiermaier, Mike Zunino, Ryan Yarbrough and Ji-Man Choi were familiar faces the past few years before moving on over the course of the past few weeks.
Kiermaier and Zunino were pillars in the clubhouse who were limited last season due to long-term injuries. It was no surprise, though, last month when the Rays declined to pick up Kiermaier’s $13-million option for 2023. The team opted for a $2.5-million buyout and the 32-year-old center fielder, who underwent hip surgery in August, became a free agent. Kiermaier, who earned three Gold Gloves and whose 914 games rank fifth in team history, signed last week with AL East rival Toronto.
Zunino, also 32, elected free agency and signed with Cleveland on Tuesday. The catcher, who signed with Tampa Bay in December 2018, was instrumental in helping develop many young Rays pitchers while also being a power source at the plate.
Yarbrough’s five seasons with the Rays underscored the versatility that the team desires in many of its pitcher. He was designated for assignment last month, elected to become a free agent and signed with the Royals on Tuesday. Yarbrough reunites with former Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro and field coordinator Paul Hoover. Quatraro is Kansas City’s new manager and tabbed Hoover to be his bench coach.
Choi, a popular presence with the Rays since he was acquired in June 2018, was dealt to Pittsburgh on November 10 for a minor league pitcher. He had a .783 OPS in 414 games with Tampa Bay.
In the news: Rays Zach Eflin Thrilled To Pitch For His Hometown Team
The Rays’ splash — if you want to call it that – in free agency so far was signing righthander Zach Eflin for three years and $40 million. The 28-year-old Orlando native spent all or part of seven seasons with the Phillies, going 36-45 with a 4.49 ERA. Mostly a starter throughout his career, all 10 of Eflin’s appearances during the Phillies’ postseason run to the World Series were out of the bullpen.
Eflin often made the drive from Orlando to Tropicana Field to see the Rays. He noted during his press conference Tuesday that he has been a Rays fan for a long time.
“These guys made it an easy decision,” he said of how the Rays courted him. “I have played with so many guys who have come through this organization that have so many good things to say about the front office, the staff, the group of guys.”
The bullpen will certainly have a new look. Over the past few weeks, the Rays bid adieu to J.P. Feyereisen, Brooks Raley, JT Chargois, and Javy Guerra. Four pitching prospects and a player be named were acquired in return.
Feyereisen, acquired from Milwaukee in May 2021 and traded to the Dodgers on Wednesday after being designated for assignment, did not allow an earned run in 22 appearances last season before being shut down due to a shoulder injury that led to surgery last week.
Raley, who sported a 2.68 ERA with six saves in 60 appearances last season after signing a two-year deal last November, was dealt to the Mets last week. Chargois was shipped to Miami along with minor league shortstop Xavier Edwards in mid-November. A few days later, Guerra was traded to Milwaukee.
More roster tinkering will take place over the next few weeks – A lefthanded bat? — as the Rays prepare for a 2023 season that will be here soon enough.