Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

First base becomes priority for Rays

A lot of what the Rays will talk about at this week's winter meetings — and a vast majority of what is said about them — is likely to concern a potential trade of LHP David Price.

But even after what has, by their standards, been a busy start to the offseason, they still have more to do, primarily offensively.

"If the season opened tomorrow, I think we would feel pretty confident about our ability to keep runs off the board," executive VP Andrew Friedman said.

First base, Friedman admits bluntly, is "an area we absolutely have to address."

The Rays are hopeful of bringing back incumbent James Loney, but until he further drops his already reduced price from three years and $27 million, that seems unlikely. And the Pirates are said to be interested.

The Rays would prefer to stay with a lefty hitter, but other free agents, besides Lyle Overbay, are right-handed: Corey Hart, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds. The trade market might be more promising with lefties Mitch Moreland (Rangers), Logan Morrison (Marlins) and Adam Lind (Blue Jays), plus switch-hitter Justin Smoak (Mariners) and right-hander Mark Trumbo (Angels).

Morrison seems likely to be moved, and mlb.com's Joe Frisaro reported the Marlins have some interest in Sean Rodriguez.

Given a current plan to rotate DH at-bats among several players, the configuration of the Rays bench will be critical, with the handed-ness of who ends up at first base part of the equation.

Reports of interest in Mark Ellis and Jamey Carroll suggest they want a veteran right-handed hitter who can play second, which could lead to Ben Zobrist again shuffling between second and the outfield.

But there are several ways they could end up doing this. And though they value positional flexibility, there is still a chance they end up adding more of a DH-style bat if they find a good deal.

Also, in the rare position of having catching depth, they are expected to trade Jose Lobaton.

The standard reconstruction of the bullpen is under way, with a pair of former closers, RHP Heath Bell and RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo, joining RHP Joel Peralta and LHPs Jake McGee and Alex Torres. Though they feel covered, and either Bell or Oviedo could claim the closer's job, Friedman said they will, as usual, keep looking to improve. That could include a bid if one of the established closers — say, Fernando Rodney — ends up lingering on the market.

The rotation is solid, though a trade of Price (or RHP Jeremy Hellickson) would leave an opening they could seek to fill externally. Otherwise, LHP Enny Romero or RHPs Alex Colome or Jake Odorizzi.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: OF Sam Fuld is said to be getting "lots of interest" since being nontendered, but nothing is imminent. Fuld still plans to hold his diabetes sports camp at USF. … April 1 is set as the release date for Ben and Julianna Zobrist's co-autobiography, appropriately titled Double Play. … Former TV reporter Laura McKeeman on Saturday married Rockies INF Josh Rutledge. … Two interesting tidbits about C Ryan Hanigan: He majored in philosophy at Rollins College, and his father, Mike, was an FBI agent in Boston.

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