Leaving Las Vegas, the Rays felt pretty good about their chances to add a big-name big bat to their lineup. They have reason to feel even better now that Raul Ibanez has agreed to a reported three-year, $30-million deal with the Phillies.
Ibanez was among the Rays' candidates. But realistically, they figured he was headed elsewhere, considered by many the most attractive of the free agent corner outfield/DH types.
Ibanez's deal A) has taken the Phillies out of further competition and, B) should put a ceiling on the market, which the Rays can operate under financially. (Consider that a year ago, Jose Guillen, a lesser player, got $36-million and three years from the Royals.)
The Ibanez deal also could accelerate the market, though that could work both ways for the Rays. The Cubs, who liked Ibanez, are said to be focusing on Milton Bradley, the switch-hitter who is high on the Rays' list. So are Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu and now ex-Phillie Pat Burrell. Plus, they're quietly interested in ex-Angel Garret Anderson.
Some teams still have to wait for other matters. For example, if Mark Teixeira goes to Boston, as is expected, the deep-pocket Angels are suddenly seeking a hitter. Same with the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez.
The Rays, who are looking to take advantage of the reduced prices, have two choices: make an aggressive bid with the promise of playing time and a sure thing or wait, perhaps into January, to see who is still available and most anxious.
So who will the Rays end up with? Influenced by spending last week in Vegas, here are our odds-on favorites to be the opening day DH:
• Giambi: Has power (though left-handed), batting style and personality Rays like and might have fewest options (Jays? A's?). It might take a two-year deal. 3-1.
• Bradley: Switch-hitter is best overall offensive player available and would pop nicely into the No. 3 spot in order. Past issues will scare off some; Cubs are very much interested. 5-1.
• Burrell: Best fit as they have a need for right-handed power but might be looking for more years and money than Rays want to give. 6-1.
• Anderson: Somewhat of a sleeper candidate, but long relationship with manager Joe Maddon and steady production make him appealing. 8-1.
• Abreu: Ex-Yankee also would be a fine fit. Like Burrell, probably looking for more than Rays have to offer. Like Burrell, might not find it elsewhere. 10-1.
• Willy Aybar: If all else fails, and it could, he's the leading candidate among current Rays. 10-1.
• Adam Dunn: Homers a lot, strikes out a lot. Likely to be a Nat. 20-1.
• Juan Rivera: Ex-Angel is more rightfielder than DH, and in some scenarios, Rays would sign him and a DH. 20-1.
• Ken Griffey: If Rays are still looking in late January, his odds start coming down. 30-1.
Rays rumblings: ESPN.com contributor Jonah Keri announced plans to write a book on the Rays' "Wall Street approach" to the game. The team is neither cooperating with the project nor particularly enthused. … RHP Matt Garza had minor surgery after the season to correct an old fracture in his right foot. He should be fine for spring training but ineligible (as are all players who had offseason surgery) for the World Baseball Classic. He also got married recently. … Maddon this week has his tremendous Thanks-mas events, cooking and serving meals at four area Salvation Army shelters. … Gary Gaetti, Triple-A hitting coach in 2006-07, left the organization for personal reasons. … Trading RHP Chad Bradford would free up $3.5-million toward a hitter. … Rookie 3B Evan Longoria's excellent adventure next month includes playing in the big-deal Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf event. … Senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker confirmed agreeing to an extension: "I'm happy here. I like what I'm doing."