Winter meetings journal: Rays remain in Realmuto race

Adding a hitter with positional versatility seems more likely now than a straight DH,
Marlins C J.T. Realmuto is one of the top available hitters. [Times files]
Marlins C J.T. Realmuto is one of the top available hitters. [Times files]
Published December 12 2018
Updated December 12 2018

LAS VEGAS – The Rays found a starting pitcher in signing veteran RHP Charlie Morton to a two-year, $30 million deal on Wednesday.

The search for a right-handed hitter to bolster their lineup seems likely to carry past Thursday's end to the winter meetings.

And there is a most intriguing option in Marlins C J.T. Realmuto, as the Rays, given their deep stash of young players and prospects, have thus far remained in the derby that includes six-plus teams.

Given that the Rays were willing to at least discuss highly touted prospect OF Jesus Sanchez with Arizona about Paul Goldschmidt, they might have a better chance than many would have expected to land Realmuto, who has two years until free agency.

And that's with the added complication of having already acquired C Mike Zunino, perhaps requiring another move.

But it also seems to indicate their preference for a hitter who provides more positional versatility than a straight DH, which could mean lesser interest in free agent Nelson Cruz and trade candidates Edwin Encarnacion (Indians) and Jose Martinez (Cardinals). Plus, they would like to keep at-bats available for lefty-swinging DH Ji-Man Choi. A hitter who could play first could also fit, with Carlos Santana (Mariners) a possibility.

"There are some things that are in the ballpark by trade and free agency,'' GM Erik Neander said. "We're still active. We have a lot of doors that are still open. Whether or not anything comes to fruition, there's a lot of different paths that could go. We still have some hope there are things that are sensible to us and within our framework and are going to stay active.''

Boras has answer for Rays

Though short on specifics and mixing his metaphors a bit, prominent agent Scott Boras had a suggestion, naturally, on the future of the Rays franchise after the collapse of the latest plan for a new stadium in Tampa Bay.

"The Rays are a well-run baseball franchise,'' he said. "There probably are a few people in the world that have a great car, but they don't have a house. So maybe the trailer park will turn into a house for somebody else.''

Meaning?

"There's a lot of cities out there that would welcome franchises, particularly ones that are well operated,'' he said, as part of his annual hour-plus state of the game media session. "The economics of that would be reward enough. We certainly have a lot of very wealthy people that will look at Tampa Bay and just welcome what they do baseball-wise.

"We've done this before. We've moved teams to cities and really turned around what that city is and what that franchise is. I'm sure there are a lot of American cities that would immediately open doors for them.''

While there was nothing new from Rays officials or commissioner Rob Manfred the day after the Ybor City stadium plan was shelved, there was plenty of hype from media in Portland, Ore., and Montreal and other cities hopeful for relocation, even though the team is verbally committed and legally contracted to staying at least through 2027.

5 alive

The downside of having a system stocked with promising prospects comes to a painful point Thursday for the Rays with the annual Rule 5 draft of players of certain tenure not on 40-man rosters. Players the Rays could lose for the $100,000 (and have to be kept in the big leagues all year), per Baseball America, include RHP Sam McWilliams and INF Kean Wong. Also mentioned were LHP Ryan Sherriff and catchers Brett Sullivan and David Rodriguez. With a full 40-man roster, the Rays can't make any selections in the major-league phase.

Miscellany

The Yankees struck a reported two-year deal with an option to bring back LHP J.A. Happ. … The Reds acquired RHP Tanner Roark in a trade with Washington for RHP Tanner Rainey. … RHP Lance Lynn is said to be signing a three-year, $30 million deal with Texas. … 1B Justin Bour signed with the Angels for a reported $2.5 million.

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