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Executive vice president Andrew Friedman previews the Tampa Bay Rays' offseason

ST. PETERSBURG — Andrew Friedman prefers to reveal as little as possible about the Rays' offseason plans, his theory being there's little benefit in sharing information.

Much of what the executive vice president did say Thursday in advance of next week's winter meetings was the obvious: Their primary needs are at DH, first base and for another reliever or two; they've already received considerable interest in their surplus of starting pitchers; their goal is to improve their offense without weakening their defense; they expect to be active in both trade and free agent deals.

But he did provide some insight:

• They're not driven to trade any of their eight starting pitchers, but if they do, it more likely will be for big-league players who can fill immediate needs than a passel of prospects. "I'd be surprised if we did something that didn't help our 2012, our 2012-13 teams," Friedman said. Expect to hear considerable speculation about the Reds, who have young hitters (such as first baseman Yonder Alonso) and need a frontline starter.

• They view improvements to an offense ranked eighth in runs and 13th in average in the American League on "a sliding scale" with how changes could weaken the league's tidiest defense. "It's more of a net game," he said. Slick-fielding first baseman Casey Kotchman, who is a free agent, remains a possibility to return, as is DH Johnny Damon. "They're very much in the discussion," he said. And they seem unlikely to trade centerfielder B.J. Upton, since his departure would create a further void in the lineup.

• The timing of moves is tricky, as the Rays risk losing free agents to other teams, but they want to explore myriad possibilities. With fewer holes to fill than last offseason, and the payroll set to increase from $42 million (though with no set amount), Rays officials see an opportunity to be even more analytical. "There's a lot of very interesting scenarios out there," Friedman said. "This year we can be a little more selective and a little more patient. … It's still relatively early for us."

Friedman said they are comfortable with free agent signee Jose Molina and either Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos sharing time behind the plate, but it's possible they could "add more depth." They don't plan to upgrade at shortstop, banking on the returning trio of Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez, a group that played solid defense but ranked last in the majors last season with a .193 average and .539 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Outfielder Matt Joyce will get the chance to "play a lot," and Ben Zobrist will spend most of his time at second base.

Also:

• Friedman declined comment on the prospects of leaving for the Astros, who received permission to talk to him about a job. Such a move is considered extremely unlikely.

• Pitchers Alex Cobb (surgery to remove a rib) and Kyle Farns­worth (tender elbow) are expected to be fully ready for spring training.

• The Rays are among the teams that scouted Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in the Dominican Republic, but they are not expected to join the bidding.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman previews the Tampa Bay Rays' offseason 12/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 8:33pm]
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