Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Could Justin Upton replace brother B.J. on Rays?

The Rays prefer not to say much about their plans, considering it a competitive disadvantage to reveal things such as their projected payroll, priorities for filling positions and, most certainly, their primary targets.

But one thing executive VP Andrew Friedman did say after returning from the GM meetings was they may be aggressive early this offseason rather than waiting, as has been their pattern.

"We had a very productive week of dialogue on a number of different fronts," he said. "I'm sure our approach this offseason will be some combination of trades and free agent signings. We are working through what that ratio will be and which moves make the most sense to attempt to do on the front end of the winter as opposed to late."

One scenario that emerged from the meetings was acquiring OF Justin Upton, the younger brother of departing free agent B.J., from Arizona. It remains to be seen if they can match up given the Diamondbacks' primary desire for a top young shortstop, as the best the Rays could offer is prospect Hak-Ju Lee.

But the Rays do have starting pitching to spare.

And as much as it might pain them — especially with the AL East looking quite winnable — to trade James Shields or Jeremy Hellickson, in a free agent market that thins quickly after Zack Greinke, and in which Anibal Sanchez is seeking $90 million over six years, they should certainly have the opportunity to get the big bat(s) they need.

The strategic question for Friedman and staff is whether they can get more by being pre-emptive and strike a deal with a team not wanting to be forced to overpay or get shut out, or in waiting for the teams that do miss out on the top free agents in what looks like will be a lucrative sellers' market. (More proof? All nine players, including B.J. Upton, given one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offers declined.)

Free agency could work the other way. While the Rays were quick to re-sign RHP Joel Peralta, and plan talks with RHP Kyle Farnsworth and LHP J.P. Howell, they seem even more likely to have to wait to see who ends up available and willing to take less in return for playing time.

PROSPECTING: RHP Chris Archer logically tops Baseball America's ranking of the Rays' top 10 prospects, though there are surprises: 2011 top pick RHP Taylor Guerrieri at No. 2, 2012 top pick 2B Richie Shaffer No. 5, unheralded LHP Blake Snell No. 7. Otherwise, Lee is No. 3, RHP Alex Colome 4, LHP Enny Romero 6, INF Tim Beckham 8, INF Derek Dietrich 9, OF Drew Vettleson 10. … Guerrieri was named the Topps short-season Class A New York-Penn League player of the year.

ALUMNI NEWS: Retired INF Aaron Ledesma and his wife opened the Yoga 365 studio in Clearwater on Saturday; see hotyoga365.com. … OF Matt Diaz, who has interest in returning, hosts ex-teammates in a charity golf event Monday in Lakeland benefiting the Florida Guardian ad Litem program, helping orphaned and disadvantaged children. See diazfamilyfoundation.org. … INF Brooks Conrad is signing with Japan's Hanshin Tigers.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Ticket prices are set to be released this week and are said to be in line with 2012 with "minor adjustments." … Peralta, whose two-year, $6 million deal should be official this week, said the Rays don't want him playing in winter ball or the World Baseball Classic. … Ex-Ray Johnny Damon is in the WBC, playing for Thailand (his mother is from there). … The AL Cy Young Award announcement is set for 6:17 p.m. Wednesday on MLB Network. LHP David Price a finalist. … INF Jeff Keppinger's suitors are expected to include the D'backs. … Tweet of the week, from Julianna Zobrist: "To WalMart for fake wedding bands … don't want to be nervous about losing the one Ben gave me while Jet Skiing!!"

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