Rays Acquire Jose Caballero to Bolster Infield Defense Amidst Legal Challenges

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays have made moves to strengthen their infield defense amid legal challenges faced by star shortstop Wander Franco. On Friday, the Rays acquired infielder Jose Caballero from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley. In a separate trade, Tampa Bay dealt reliever Andrew Kittredge to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Richie Palacios to replace Raley.

With uncertainty surrounding Franco’s future and Taylor Walls recovering from hip surgery, Caballero provides solid insurance for the Rays’ infield. President of baseball operations, Erik Neander, expressed confidence in Caballero’s ability to play shortstop and potentially start on opening day. Caballero, 27, played 21 games at shortstop and 64 games at second base for the Mariners last season. Known for his defensive skills and base-running speed, Caballero is a valuable addition to the Rays’ roster.

Significantly, Caballero’s contract aligns with the Rays’ payroll restrictions. As a seventh-round pick in 2017, he is not eligible for arbitration until 2026 and cannot become a free agent until 2030. He also has minor-league options, providing flexibility for the team.

In the trade involving Raley, the Rays acquired Palacios, a younger left-handed bat. Palacios appeared in 32 games for the Cardinals last season, hitting .258 with six doubles, six home runs, and 16 RBIs. Similar to Caballero, Palacios has minor-league options remaining.

Meanwhile, the Rays bid farewell to Kittredge, who had developed into an All-Star with the team. Following Tommy John surgery in 2022, Kittredge’s playing time had been limited. He recorded a 2-0 record, 3.09 ERA, and one save in 11⅔ innings over 14 appearances last season.

Franco’s legal troubles in the Dominican Republic have left his future on the field uncertain. Detained since Monday for allegedly ignoring a summons related to accusations of commercial sexual exploitation and money laundering, Franco was conditionally released by a judge on Friday. His return to the game remains unspecified.

The Rays’ middle infield situation remains uncertain, with Walls’ return date unknown. In addition to Caballero, other players like Junior Caminero Osleivis Basabe and Curtis Mead may have opportunities to contribute after making their debuts last season.

Overall, the trades for Caballero and Palacios have balanced the Rays’ roster and created opportunities for other players to earn spots. Neander mentioned the potential for players like Jonathan Aranda, Mead, and Caminero to seize these opportunities.

The Rays continue to navigate through these challenges while aiming to maintain their competitiveness in the league. With their first full-squad workout approaching, the team looks to solidify their lineup and build on their success from previous seasons.

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