Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays focus on depth

Concluding what has been generally considered an immensely positive offseason for what they did, and didn't do, the Rays have been focused on depth.

Anywhere, and everywhere.

One lesson they've learned the past few seasons is that they can never have enough. And another is that as soon as they think they do, they don't.

So that's why they have continued to add seemingly spare parts, primarily on minor-league deals with spring training invites, pushing the camp roster to the low 60s.

The signing of INF Wilson Betemit, an 11-year big-league vet coming off a 2013 season lost mostly to injury, is the latest example.

Maybe, at best, the switch-hitter turns out to be valuable insurance at Triple A, a capable and experienced fill-in at first, third or in the DH rotation to be summoned in the event of injury.

Or maybe he could be more. The addition of INF/OF Logan Forsythe seemed to leave just an opening for a fifth outfielder, with out-of-options Brandon Guyer the apparent leading candidate. But with the versatility to use Forsythe, Sean Rodriguez and/or Ben Zobrist in the outfield, the Rays could fill that final bench spot with the most potent bat, creating an opening for Betemit, Jayson Nix or one of the other invitees. Depth allows those types of options.

With pitchers and catchers reporting Feb. 14, the Rays don't have much else to do. They are still having talks about trading C Jose Lobaton, but bringing him to camp, though somewhat awkward, isn't the worst idea: protection if either Ryan Hanigan (already working out at the Trop catching bullpen sessions) or Jose Molina gets hurt, and opportunity if another team has to react to an injury.

OF Sam Fuld could end up in Port Charlotte if he doesn't get a big-league deal elsewhere. RHP Juan Sandoval (the blind-in-one-eye reliever who had a solid 2013 mostly at Double A) is coming back, and OF Jeremy Moore, a former Angel, is coming in. Depth, they say, is good.

NUMBERS GAME: RHP Grant Balfour will get No. 50 back, with bullpen coach Stan Boroski switching to 41. New RHP Heath Bell will wear 13, Hanigan 24 and Forsythe 10, with Guyer switching (potentially) to 5. OF Kevin Kiermaier will switch to 39.

PROSPECTING: ESPN's Keith Law dropped the Rays from third to 23rd in his annual ranking of farm systems, with three Rays among his top 100 prospects: RHP Taylor Guerrieri (who is recovering from elbow surgery) at 66th, SS Hak-Ju Lee (recovering from knee surgery) at 79, C Nick Ciuffo (their 2013 top pick) at 95. … Baseball Prospectus had two Rays in its 100: LHP Enny Romero at 90 and RHP Jake Odorizzi 92.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: ESPN's Jim Bowden anointed Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman and A's counterpart Billy Beane as the GM "stars of the offseason" and called them "small-market geniuses." … Balfour and the Rays got creative to make his two-year, $12 million deal work, with a $1 million signing bonus and salaries of $4 million and $7 million, with $2 million each year deferred with no interest for two years. … Noted sabermetrician Clay Davenport's first 2014 computer projections have the Rays winning 90 games and the AL East, the Red Sox winning 86, the Yankees 85. … There has been some negative reaction to the new Fan Fest autograph policy (with a $125 top price), but it should be noted the Rays have kept admission to the Feb. 22 event and parking free. Other teams charge: $12, for example, in Baltimore; $10 in Texas; $40 for a three-day pass in St. Louis. … Bell, coming off two rough seasons, tweeted he has "been grinding" all offseason with personal trainer Todd Durkin and feels "better than ever." … 3B Evan Longoria lost to Phillies 2B Chase Utley in the first round of MLB Network's Face of MLB Twitter voting. … New short-season Class A Hudson Valley manager Tim Parenton, in his first pro job after a long college coaching career, was a backup QB when not playing baseball at Mississippi State.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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