Neander, Bendix and the 2023 Tampa Bay Rays: A mid-term grade

May 9, 2022; Anaheim, California, USA; Tampa Bay Rays general manager Peter Bendix before the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2022; Anaheim, California, USA; Tampa Bay Rays general manager Peter Bendix before the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /
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Yandy Diaz got a three-year, $24 million extension. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Yandy Diaz got a three-year, $24 million extension. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

Free agency

The free agent market is widely viewed as a province of the rich. So it is interesting that in their management of a small market team, Neander and Bendix have been pretty wildly successful at it. That success is proof that the real key isn’t having money but spending it wisely.

Despite their lack of resources, Neander and Bendix have been active players at the free agent market since the end of the 2022 season. They have brought in, re-signed or extended a dozen players whose performance has impacted the 2023 Rays, and the sum of the impacts of those dozen is an impressive +3.1 games of WAA.

The most impactful of those moves was the three-year, $24 million extension given Yandy Diaz. He has responded with a +1.6 WAA first half. Starter Jeffrey Springs, who got a four-year, $31 million extension, produced a +0.7 WAA in his only three appearances before being shut down by an injury.

Of the 12 signings or extensions, seven have generated positive impact on the Rays, while only two have turned out negative; three have produced neutral value.

Neander and Bendix cut ties with six players who have done MLB time with other teams, and while those results have been mixed, the overall impact only adds up to -0.2 WAA, and again a negative number in this category is a good thing.

Those losses have not all been painless. Long-time outfield fixture Kevin Kiermaier signed with Toronto, and has given the Jays +2.1 of impact to date. Outfielder David Peralta landed with the Dodgers and has been a positive force there to the tune of +0.6 WAA.

But Neander and Bendix were smart to unload pitcher Corey Kluber. He signed with Boston and has made nine starts with a -1.3 WAA. Veteran catcher Mike Zunino, now with Cleveland, has had a -1.4 WAA impact on his new club.

Taj Bradley. Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Taj Bradley. Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Farm system

In their first season as a front office team in 2022, Neander and Bendix utilized 10 players who they promoted from Tampa Bay’s farm system. This does not count players such as Yonny Chirinos and Shane McClanahan who were system products promoted under the previous administration, Matt Silverman and Neander.

Those rookies, faces of the stripe of Taylor Walls and Josh Lowe, have matured into regular contributors in 2023. But it’s interesting that coming off that active 2022 rookie crop, Neander and Bendix have gone conservative in their use of their system this season.

Maybe it’s the difference being challenging and leading, as the Rays have done all of 2023. But, thus far, Tampa Bay has only promoted two system products who have impact the fortunes of the 2023 team, and neither of those promotions had a significant impact.

Pitcher Taj Bradley came up and has become a rotation starter, but with a neutral value. Bradley’s 5-3 record and 3.86 ERA in just 49 innings translates to a negligible -0.1 WAA.

The only other first-year player to see time this season was La Sorsa, who got in just 4.1 innings of work — with a 0.1 WAA — before being waived and picked up by the Washington Nationals.