In a market thin on center field help, Brandon Nimmo has naturally drawn a lot of interest on the free agent market. Many of baseball’s bigger spenders have been linked to the former Mets standout, but according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, the low-payroll Rays are also a rather surprising suitor for Nimmo’s services.
MLBTR projected Nimmo for a five-year, $110MM deal this winter, which would represent far and away the largest contract the Rays have even given to a free agent. It would also represent the franchise’s second-largest expenditure on any contract, behind only Wander Franco’s 11-year, $182MM extension. Since Nimmo rejected the Mets’ qualifying offer, Tampa Bay would also have to give up their third-highest pick in the 2023 draft as compensation for signing the outfielder — no small penalty for a club that relies on building from within.
In short, it would count as a real stunner if the Rays won the bidding for one of the winter’s most sought-after free agents. However, it is worth noting that we’re only about a year removed from the Rays’ reported offer to Freddie Freeman, another big-ticket name on the open market. Between the Freeman offer and the Franco extension, there have been some hints out of Tampa Bay that the Rays are prepared to stretch their budget (by their standards) in order to capture that elusive championship. The Rays have reached the postseason in each of the last four years and made it as far as the World Series in 2020, but fell short to the Dodgers in six games.
Assuming Nimmo did sign for around $22MM in average annual value, such a deal would take Tampa Bay’s payroll into a new stratosphere, though the team has already broken some of their own financial benchmarks. As per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Rays’ Opening Day payroll in 2022 was just shy of $83.9MM, a new club record. Roster Resource projects Tampa for a 2023 payroll of roughly $67.7MM, and that number includes the projected salaries of a still-large class of arbitration-eligible players.
The Rays have already parted ways with some arb-eligibles (i.e. Ji-Man Choi, Ryan Yarbrough) to save some dollars, and any number of other creative trades could still be possible to further shed payroll. Tampa could continue to shop more members of their arbitration class, or the team could look into moving players on guaranteed contracts. Franco isn’t going anywhere, but any of Manuel Margot, Brooks Raley, Tyler Glasnow,…