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Expect Rays to shop pitching depth at winter meetings

In a world where a middling right-hander such as ex-mate Jeremy Hellickson is worth $17.2 million a year and a steady-at-best free-agent-to-be like Jaime Garcia can net three prospects in trade, the Rays have too many good starters not to deal one away.

Whether at the winter meetings that start today outside Washington, D.C., or in the weeks that follow, the best way for the Rays to add the dynamic pieces they need to get back to contention is to take advantage of a barren market and give up one (or more) of the arms from a stash of starters that runs eight deep.

That could mean dealing from the top of the deck, trading Chris Archer, who understandably has drawn the most interest given his team-friendly contract (five years for $38.5 million) and potential to be an ace, for what should be a blockbuster return. It could mean getting less back in trade but gaining flexibility for another move by shipping out Drew Smyly and his $7 million salary. It could mean relinquishing the security blanket Erasmo Ramirez provides with his ability to start or relieve.

But someone — whether one of those three, Jake Odorizzi or Alex Cobb has to go. The opportunity to improve elsewhere is too good to not act.

"I don't think you can ever have enough starting pitching," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Saying that, we have to do what's right for our team this year and moving forward. Sometimes those are difficult decisions."

Obviously dealing from a strength can make it a weakness, especially given the potential for injuries, as the Rays know. They've become kind of experts at this, having in the past four years traded Matt Moore, Hellickson, David Price and James Shields.

Deciding which of the starters to deal will be based, more than anything, on what they can get back, and also on how the market shifts with proven aces such as Chris Sale and Justin Verlander available.

That won't be the only tough call the Rays will face. Despite a bad overall 68-94 season, several players coming off good years are attracting interest, such as cornerstone 3B Evan Longoria and Gold Glove CF Kevin Kiermaier, who remain unlikely to go anywhere; steady 2B Logan Forsythe; and potential sell-high candidates such as 30-homer hitting Brad Miller and 37-game-saving Alex Colome.

Baseball operations president Matt Silverman said, predictably, no one is untouchable — though I'd say Blake Snell probably is — and that it would be a "disservice to our organization" to deem anyone so.

"We're always open for conversation," Silverman said. "We don't turn away conversations. … Our goal is to put a playoff-caliber club on the field and to do that we have to be creative, we have to be willing to make big deals and willing to take … calculated risks in terms of the trades that we make."

Could that mean a major overhaul and "blowing up" the roster? Possibly, but probably not, assuming they truly want to be competitive in what will be a critical year for their stadium pursuit. But I get a sense there will be something of a shakeup, with at least one of their key position players heading out.

Trade candidates

The Rays' business starts with trading a starter, and here's one way to rank who should be going:

1. LHP Drew Smyly

Age: 27. Career stats: 31-27, 3.74, 9.6 WAR

Contract control: Through 2018; third-year arbitration eligible, $7M projection

Quick pitch: Best to part with money-wise but sliding scale if return is worth it

2. RHP Jake Odorizzi

Age: 26. Careers stats: 30-30, 3.75, 8.1 WAR

Contract control: Through 2019, first-year arbitration eligible, $3-4M projection.

Quick pitch: Immense value in being cost effective, healthy and good

3. RHP Erasmo Ramirez

Age: 26. Career stats: 25-29, 4.14, 145 G, 3.3 WAR

Contract control: Through 2019; second-year arbitration eligible $3-4M projection

Quick pitch: Won't bring as much back but maybe more than you'd think

4. RHP Chris Archer

Age: 28. Career stats: 48-51, 3.51, 128 G, 10.8 WAR

Contract control: Through 2021 for $38.5 million; salaries starting at $4.75M in 2017, then $6.25M, $7.5M, $9M option, $11M option

Quick pitch: Hard to say you're "hellbent" on competing and trade your top starter

5. RHP Alex Cobb

Age: 29. Career stats: 36-25, 3.44, 86 G, 8.5 WAR

Contract control: Through 2017, third-year arbitration eligible, $4-5M projection

Quick pitch: Wiser after late '16 return to let him build value with strong first half and deal in July

Shopping list

Despite losing 94 games, the Rays actually have a pretty good core and — assuming they don't open other holes with a big trade — don't feel they need much:

Bullpen: At "the forefront" for Cash is improving the pen, specifically adding some "power arms," with only Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno and, if not traded, Erasmo Ramirez seemingly set. RHP prospect Ryne Stanek could be an internal addition, but they need some help from outside.

Catcher: As they continue their quest for a young frontline starter, veteran Welington Castillo, nontendered by the Diamondbacks, is an appealing option. Cash insists they remain "very optimistic" about Curt Casali despite a poor '16.

OF/DH: At the least, they could use a slick fielder to share time in left (with not-so-smooth Corey Dickerson) and provide backup in center. Better if they could get a starter, allowing Dickerson to DH more. Or they could go the other way and add more of a full-time DH from a somewhat glutted market and live with Dickerson in left.

Offseason thus far

Dropped: RHP Steve Geltz, claimed on waivers (Brewers); RHP Kevin Jepsen, 1B Logan Morrison, INF Alexei Ramirez, C Bobby Wilson, LHP Justin Marks, INF Ryan Brett became free agents; OF Jaff Decker (signed with A's), INF Juniel Querecuto (Giants), LHP John Lamb (Angels)

Traded: INF/OF Taylor Motter, INF Richie Shaffer to Mariners for three minor-leaguers.

Added to roster: INFs Willy Adames, Daniel Robertson; LHP Jose Alvarado; RHPs Chih-Wei Hu, Austin Pruitt, Jaime Schultz, Ryne Stanek, Hunter Wood.

Six national story lines …

• Will Tampa-tied Lou Piniella and/or George Steinbrenner join favorites Bud Selig and John Schuerholz going into the Hall of Fame after today's committee vote?

• Who will replace David "Big Papi" Ortiz in Boston, maybe Edwin Encarnacion?

• Where next for Toronto's dynamic duo of batmen Jose Bautista and Encarnacion?

• Are the White Sox really going to blow it up, starting by trading ace LHP Chris Sale?

• Who — Yankees? Dodgers? Giants? — is going to pay top price for top closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon?

• Are the Pirates going to trade All-Star CF Andrew McCutchen, and to the Nats?

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Expect Rays to shop pitching depth at winter meetings 12/03/16 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2016 7:56pm]
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