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Preview of baseball's winter meetings

The Rays aren't necessarily going to do much at the annual winter meetings this week, but with the baseball world gathered at Disney World, they are likely in one way or another to be primary topics of conversations.



Free agents: Crawford a moving target

Lefty Cliff Lee, right, is the top target on the market, but he seems to have only two legit suitors: the Rangers, with whom he finished last season, and the Yankees, who have eyed him for a while and are rumored to have offered him $140 million over six years. (Yes, that is in excess of $23 million annually for a starter who is 32.) But soon-to-be former Ray Carl Crawford is the bigger prize, the top position player with the ability to have a dramatic impact on a lineup. Speculation is he could get up to $130 million over eight years. The Angels and Red Sox had been his top suitors. Now the Yankees have joined in, with the Rangers (if they don't get Lee), Tigers (despite their previous deals) and Nationals expected to join in, and maybe a few others. As the Red Sox's David Ortiz told Boston sports radio website WEEI about Crawford last week, "I can't believe he hasn't been signed by someone already. This is a serious weapon. This is a serious player. This is a six-tool player. … There's no way you can go wrong about this guy." And if hearing about where Crawford is going — especially if it's the Red Sox or Yankees — isn't troubling enough for Rays fans, the top closer on the market is also familiar: Rafael Soriano.

Trades: Bartlett could be on the spot

Some people think the player most likely to be traded by the end of the week is Rays SS Jason Bartlett, for plenty of reasons. The Rays have Reid Brignac ready and apparently able to step in, they have a number of other holes (pretty much an entire bullpen, leftfield, first base, DH), and with the payroll limited, they might be better off investing elsewhere the $5 million Bartlett would make. But they don't have to trade Bartlett, so they'd still have to find the right deal, with a young, high-ceiling reliever seemingly their preferred return. The Padres seem most needy, with the Orioles and Pirates the other most-mentioned possibilities, and the Cardinals and Giants (despite other deals) on the periphery. The one thing you can count on this week is that many more deals will be talked about, rumored and reported than come close to happening. Here are 15 other names who will be in at least trade rumors, if not deals:

RHP Heath Bell Padres

OF Jacoby Ellsbury Red Sox

1B Price Fielder Brewers

RHP Zack Greinke Royals

SS J.J. Hardy Twins

RHP Jonathan Papelbon R. Sox

OF Carlos Quentin White Sox

OF Colby Rasmus Cardinals

SS Jose ReyesMets

3B Mark Reynolds D'backs

SS Brendan Ryan Cardinals

OF Nick SwisherYankees

OF Justin Upton D'backs

2B Rickie Weeks Brewers

OF Josh Willingham Nationals



Rays: Help needed

It's a bit unusual for a team that leads the American League in wins one year to be faced with so many holes and questions the next, but that's reality for the Rays as they reduce payroll and say goodbye to several core players. With LF Carl Crawford, closer Rafael Soriano and 1B Carlos Peña among their major-league-most 15 free agents, the Rays face a potential major makeover and a fall from the league's elite.

The Rays' top priority is rebuilding the bullpen. Seven of their top eight relievers — who accounted for 78 percent of their bullpen innings — are free agents. To restock, executive VP Andrew Friedman said the Rays will be aggressive, creative and resourceful, looking at trades "for one or two" prospects, for minor-league invites and for big-league free agents, though more likely from the bargain aisle. Similarly, they are looking for a couple of hitters, in addition to re-signed Dan Johnson, to fill holes at first base, leftfield and DH. A slugger such as Jack Cust would seem like a good fit, though the Rays have to weigh any move for a bat against the possibility of Peña returning, and the impact it would have on their budget and lineup.

"There are going to be good deals to be had in free agency," Friedman said, "and it's incumbent upon us to figure out what they are and be the recipient."

Given that the Rays are cutting payroll and don't have a lot of money to spend in a fairly flooded free agent market, trades would seem to be a more likely route. But Friedman said that's not necessarily a valid premise, that in general he'd prefer not to give up talent the Rays value and worked hard to accrue. And he reiterated that he has no plans — though invoking "never say never" — to trade one of their six starting pitchers.

"It's just not something that we're sitting here saying, 'We have this depth, it's burning a hole in our pocket, let's redistribute,' " he said.

Here's a look at the players under Rays contractual control likely to be brought back:

Starters: Wade Davis, Matt Garza, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, David Price, James Shields

Relievers: Andy Sonnanstine

Catchers: John Jaso, Kelly Shoppach

Infielders: Jason Bartlett, Reid Brignac, Dan Johnson, Evan Longoria, Sean Rodriguez

Outfielders: Matt Joyce, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist

Deals: Biggest so far

Though the biggest deals (Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth) are pending, some decent dollars already have been doled out for players changing teams:

OF Adam Dunn (above)

White Sox from Nationals $56M, 4 years

DH Victor Martinez

Tigers from Red Sox $50M, 4 years

INF Juan Uribe

Dodgers from Giants $21M, 3 years

C John Buck

Marlins from Blue Jays $18M, 3 years

RHP Joaquin Benoit

Tigers from Rays $16.5M, 3 years

Pitchers Just sayin'
1. LHP Cliff Lee, Rangers Hard to see him in anything but pinstripes.
2. RHP Carl Pavano, Twins Perfectly positioned as second-best starter.
3. RHP Rafael Soriano, Rays Angels were hot for him, but watch both Sox.
4. RHP Bobby Jenks, White Sox A surprise nontender, will close for someone.
5. RHP Kerry Wood, Yankees Wants another shot at working closing time.
Players Just sayin'
1. OF Carl Crawford, Rays Angels best fit, but others may offer more.
2. OF Jayson Werth, Phillies Red Sox seem best bet with need for RH bat.
3. 3B Adrian Beltre, Red Sox Likely headed west (A's?) as Sox go Gonzo.
4. 1B Paul Konerko, White Sox Could end up staying, even after Dunn deal.
5. DH Vlad Guerrero, Rangers Best of DH bunch: Thome, Matsui, Manny.
Pitchers Just sayin'
1. LHP Cliff Lee, Rangers Hard to see him in anything but pinstripes.
2. RHP Carl Pavano, Twins Perfectly positioned as second-best starter.
3. RHP Rafael Soriano, Rays Angels were hot for him, but watch both Sox.
4. RHP Bobby Jenks, White Sox A surprise nontender, will close for someone.
5. RHP Kerry Wood, Yankees Wants another shot at working closing time.
Players Just sayin'
1. OF Carl Crawford, Rays Angels best fit, but others may offer more.
2. OF Jayson Werth, Phillies Red Sox seem best bet with need for RH bat.
3. 3B Adrian Beltre, Red Sox Likely headed west (A's?) as Sox go Gonzo.
4. 1B Paul Konerko, White Sox Could end up staying, even after Dunn deal.
5. DH Vlad Guerrero, Rangers Best of DH bunch: Thome, Matsui, Manny.

Preview of baseball's winter meetings 12/04/10 [Last modified: Monday, December 6, 2010 12:45pm]
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