Some things we've learned over the years about how the Rays go about their offseason:
Their plan is flexible, in that they don't necessarily target one specific player to fill a hole but profile the type they want and adjust to different options. They relish operating in the shadows, so what gets rumored publicly is often not what they are really doing. They check in, as they should, on just about every available player, some extremely improbable, so those "express interest" reports don't mean much. They would prefer, when possible, to make a trade than sign a free agent. Timing matters. And they have the discipline to wait if needed until the market clears in January.
That being said, and with the possibility, if not probability, of a landscape-changing trade involving ace David Price, here's some framework coming out of the GM meetings for how they might address their top priorities.
• First base: Among trade options, Ike Davis is an interesting buy-low fit. After hitting 32 homers for the Mets in 2012, Davis started badly last year, was sent to Triple A for a month and finished with rough numbers: .205, nine homers, 33 RBIs, 101 strikeouts, a .661 OPS in 103 games. But the Rays, who drafted but didn't sign Davis in 2005, would have to be intrigued by the potential lefty power, plus getting three years of control and a somewhat reasonable cost — an arbitration projected $3.5 million salary. That's about the same as Matt Joyce is to make, and the Mets seek a corner outfielder, though the Rays need lefty power. The Brewers and Rockies are also said to be interested. Other trade options include the Marlins' Logan Morrison, the Rangers' Mitch Moreland or other Mets 1B Lucas Duda.
Among free agents, most interesting could be Corey Hart, who missed all of 2013 due to surgeries on both knees, though he has told the Brewers he would take less to stay. Other options are Lyle Overbay or, if the price drops, Justin Morneau. And there is the possibility of bringing back James Loney if he doesn't find big money elsewhere.
• Catcher: A long-term answer remains an ongoing project, but for now they are looking for someone to share time with Jose Lobaton.
The Reds are going to trade Ryan Hanigan and supposedly want only a prospect back, but 10 teams are interested. Hanigan, 33, hit only .198 in 2013 dealing with a wrist injury, but over six previous seasons he hit .275 with a .370 on-base percentage and plays strong defense. Plus, he is affordable, projected to make $2.3 million. Otherwise, the Rays can hope for a price drop on A.J. Pierzynski or pick from a weak field of second-tier free agents such as incumbent Jose Molina, Kurt Suzuki (great makeup) and Taylor Teagarden.
• Closer: Executive VP Andrew Friedman said last week they don't necessarily have to sign a proven closer, that he would take another reliever with late-inning experience and sort it out in the spring with Jake McGee and Joel Peralta.
But by being patient, the Rays could benefit. There are eight or so legit closers on the market — including incumbent Fernando Rodney — and there may not be as many openings, so the Rays could end up with a January bargain since they can offer opportunity to a pitcher who will take less. Others available: Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Edward Mujica, Joe Nathan, Chris Perez, Jose Veras and Brian Wilson.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: In discussing agent Scott Boras' comments about the Tampa Bay market, ESPN's Keith Olbermann referred to the Trop as an "oversized Gulag punishment cell." … Friedman was No. 1 for a second straight year in Ken Davidoff's New York Post ranking of GMs. … Dan Johnson may yet haunt the Rays, signing a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays. … The Rays were one of four AL teams with a top-nine finisher for each of the four BBWAA awards, joining the Tigers, A's and Rangers. … 3B Evan Longoria tweeted he is taking cooking lessons at Sur La Table.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.