Topkin: As Rays start dealing, how far will they go?

WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) gets a hug from right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) after his solo home run, his 20th for the season, in the fifth inning of the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) gets a hug from right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) after his solo home run, his 20th for the season, in the fifth inning of the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.
Published November 18 2017
Updated November 18 2017

After collecting intelligence at last week’s GM meetings, the Rays soon will launch their offseason mission of trading at least a couple of veterans to reduce payroll.

The question is how far they will go — how many players they deal, and how big of names they are, with everyone in play on down from face-of-the-franchise 3B Evan Longoria.

And the Rays won’t know until they start the process.

Thinking they will only deal players they’d prefer to or can more easily replace isn’t a realistic plan. RHP Jake Odorizzi (projected via arbitration to make $6.5 million), OF/DH Corey Dickerson ($6.4M) and recovering-from-surgery INF Brad Miller ($4.4M) may not draw the interest or return to do so.

The potential breakup of the roster could well be grander.

Closer Alex Colome ($5.5M) figures to be a hot topic and likely to be dealt. And they will be open to trading just about all of their other higher-paid players, including Longoria (signed for $13.5M in 2018, up to $94M remaining overall), C Wilson Ramos ($10.5M), RHP Chris Archer ($6.25M, up to $34M overall) and SS Adeiny Hechavarria ($5M projected). Perhaps less likely are CF Kevin Kiermaier ($5.5M, up to $60M overall) and RF Steven Souza Jr. ($3.6M projected). Most difficult would be Longoria, and probably only with his blessing.

The key looks to be the sequencing.

If the Rays can make a couple of initial deals that cut salary and yield the right return, they could halt the sale and pivot to seeking a couple of additions and fielding an improved team. For example, even if they traded Longoria, Archer and Colome (shaving $25.5 million), they could try to fill in the pieces between what they have (Matt Duffy at third, young arms) and low-cost additions.

Or they may start out and find the market robust to go for a total rebuild, dumping five or six veterans, opting for a young team with little chance to win now (with no apparent concern that doing so could impact stadium discussions) while looking to the future.

The Rays seem sincere in saying they have several plans (and no set reduction from the $80M payroll they finished with) and don’t know here in mid November where they are going to end up in March.

But ending up in the middle doesn’t seem to make much sense. Once they deal a couple of veterans, it sure seems like they might as well keep going.

Adding on

The Rays will be aggressive in adding prospects to the 40-man roster by Monday’s deadline, protecting them from being available in the Rule 5 draft. Six expected to be added are 1B/LF Jake Bauers, LHP Ryan Yarbrough, OF Justin Williams and RHPs Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos and Brent Honeywell. They have eight spots open.

Rays rumblings

An early offseason free agent to keep in mind is 1B/DH Mike Napoli, who’d be a good fit on the field and in the clubhouse. Expect mutual interest. … Heard from two GMs that Kyle Snyder would have gotten major-league pitching coach offers elsewhere this winter, which surely factored into the Rays promoting him and parting ways with Jim Hickey, who was signed through 2018. Hickey came out all right with a quite lucrative deal with the Cubs. … How can any system supposedly designed to benefit teams based on revenue, market size and winning percentage provide extra "competitive balance" draft picks to the Indians, Diamondbacks and Rockies (who all made the playoffs) and the fairly financially stable Cardinals ahead of the Rays? … The initial ballpark figure for the team contribution to a new Tampa ballpark of $150 million seems low, but it illustrates the challenge and should serve to accelerate the conversation. … Being dropped early in the offseason rather than in the spring was a good thing for C Curt Casali, who is getting strong interest from teams. … Unsolicited praise for manager Kevin Cash came from uber-agent Scott Boras and MLB exec Joe Torre. … Agreement is expected this week to start a monthlong bidding process for Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani, with the Rays among many seriously interested. … Not sure exactly what a "major-league field coordinator" does on a coaching staff, but it’s a safe bet Rocco Baldelli will be good at his new gig.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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