The Rays are among the teams with interest in Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, and they’re also one of the teams still bidding on star NPB outfielder Seiya Suzuki. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal hears the same, adding that Tampa Bay has also spoken to Oakland about right-hander Frankie Montas.
Either of the two bats listed would represent large-scale expenditures, at least by the Rays’ generally modest standards. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects a $9.5MM salary for Chapman this season, and he’d be eligible for arbitration one final time next offseason before reaching the open market upon conclusion of the 2023 season. Suzuki, meanwhile, is drawing interest from a wide field of teams and figures to command a weighty multi-year deal himself.
The 28-year-old Chapman’s offensive production has taken a nosedive in recent years after a pair of MVP-caliber seasons in 2018-19. Since Opening Day 2020, Chapman has managed a .215/.306/.431 batting line, still showing good power (.216 ISO, 37 homers in 774 plate appearances) but with an alarming jump from a 22.8% strikeout rate to a 33.1% mark. Chapman’s 2020 season was cut short by hip surgery, though, and it’s possible that the injury which led to that operation and the lingering aftereffects have hampered him at the dish.
Where Chapman hasn’t missed a beat is with the glove. A two-time Platinum Glove winner and three-time Gold Glover at the hot corner, Chapman is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players in the sport. His 78 Defensive Runs Saved since debuting in 2017 are the third-most in baseball, at any position, trailing only Mookie Betts (81) and Andrelton Simmons (79). Chapman ranks third in MLB in Ultimate Zone Rating during that time as well, trailing that same pair. Meanwhile, Statcast ranks him 10th among all big leaguers with 49 Outs Above Average in that same time.
As for Suzuki, he’s been posted by the Hiroshima Carp and will head to the Majors in the midst of his prime, at age 27. Suzuki is generally regarded as one of the best players in Japan at the moment, if not the best overall. He turned in a mammoth .317/.433/.636 batting line with 38 home runs, 26 doubles and nine steals in 533 plate appearances this past season in NPB, all while walking 87 times against 88 strikeouts (16.3% vs. 16.5%). This was far from a one-year fluke; dating back to 2018, Suzuki’s right-handed bat has produced a dominant .319/.435/.592 slash line with 121 home runs, 115 doubles and four triples in 2179 plate appearances.
Rays fans may be a bit skeptical after seeing their team’s two-year, $12MM investment in Yoshi Tsutsugo quickly go south. However, Suzuki is younger and far more highly regarded as a player than Tsutsugo was at the time of his own free-agent foray. Even in NPB, Tsutsugo came with considerable strikeout concerns and minimal defensive value. The variance in opinions seems likely to be reflected in the size of contract Suzuki ultimately commands. Prior to Suzuki’s formal posting, multiple team evaluators told MLBTR that Suzuki could be an everyday corner outfielder in the big leagues. One particularly bullish evaluator called Suzuki the best player to come out of Japan since Shohei Ohtani (not a direct comparison between the two, to be clear).
Looking to Montas, he’d give the Rays a big-time arm to plug into a rotation that looks heavily reliant on younger talent. Tampa Bay is hoping for a bounceback from Ryan Yarbrough and better health from offseason signee Corey Kluber, but the group beyond that pairing consists of Yonny Chirinos (returning from Tommy John surgery), Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino, Drew Rasmussen and Shane Baz. It’s an undeniably talented collection of starters, but Montas would provide some more stability and arguably more upside than some of those current options.
The 28-year-old (29 next week) just wrapped up a 2021 season that saw him post a career-high 187 frames with a 3.37 ERA, a 26.6% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate. Projected by Swartz to earn $5.8MM next season, Montas is controlled through 2023 and is one of many players the rebuilding A’s are open to moving. He missed the second half of the 2019 season while serving an 80-game PED suspension and struggled in his 2020 return, but last year’s standout showing netted Montas a sixth-place finish in American League Cy Young voting. Unlike Chapman and Suzuki, his current salary is a bit more in the Rays’ general wheelhouse.
Ultimately, though, the payroll is going to be pivotal in determining just how big the Rays can go. Tampa Bay is currently projected for an $85.4MM Opening Day mark that would represent a new franchise record. That said, there have also been reports about possible trades of Kevin Kiermaier ($12MM salary), Austin Meadows (projected $4.3MM) and/or Tyler Glasnow (projected $5.8MM — any of which could alter the team’s immediate and 2023 financial outlooks. Glasnow, notably, is expected to miss most of the 2022 season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.