The Rays decided to exercise their options on ace James Shields and closer Kyle Farnsworth while declining their option on catcher Kelly Shoppach.
Shields’ option was worth 7.5 million dollars. That is a somewhat steep price by the Rays’ standards, but Shields was their best pitcher in 2011 and they could be picking up his option just to trade him. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the Rays would pick up this option, and the Rays didn’t pull any surprises.
Farnsworth will make 3.3 million dollars in 2012 since the Rays picked up his option. Farnsworth was very effective for the Rays in 2011 when he was healthy, and the Rays don’t really have an obvious candidate to step in at closer. Also, the Rays could always trade Farnsworth if they so desire.
Shoppach may have played the most minor role of these three players, but the Rays declining his option is the most interesting. Shopppach hit just .176 in 2011, certainly not to any extent a good thing, but he hit 11 home runs and played excellent defense behind the plate. If the Rays had a better option, of course they would not have given him 253 plate appearances and he would have been released. But the Rays had no better option. John Jaso’s .224/.298/.324 line with 15 doubles wasn’t anything for him to proud of, and he did that while playing much worse defense than Shoppach. Rookie Robinson Chirinos put up a .218/.283/.309 line with 2 doubles, 1 homer, 7 RBI, and slightly better defense than Jaso, but that was Ruth-esque in comparison to fellow rookie Jose Lobaton, who posted a pathetic .118/.231/.147 line. Chirinos also hit just .259 at Triple-A while Lobaton put up an impressive .307/.417/.505 line, but in just 60 games as he missed a good portion of the season with a knee injury. The Rays don’t have any good option at catcher. So why are they declining Shoppach’s option? It was only 3.2 million dollars!
There are two options here. The first is that the Rays have more confidence than I do in their internal options. But the second is much more interesting. Could the Rays be planning to trade for a catcher? They have two viable trade chips in Shields and B.J. Upton, and they may be tipping their hand about what they want in return. It would appear that if and when they trade one or both of Shields and Upton, they’ll want a catcher as part of the prospect package. So basically this move to decline Shoppach’s option is one of two things that are completely inverses- they either are giving a vote of confidence to the catchers in their system or are completely giving up on them. Either way, declining Shoppach’s option is significant. When they Rays are done with their offseason moves, we’ll figure out exactly what the declining of Shoppach’s option means for the future of the Rays at the catcher position.