Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays focused on remaining competitive

LAKE BUENA VISTA — There is still a lot the Rays don't know about their team for the upcoming season, starting with whether David Price will be on the mound for opening day and 32 more times after that.

But even as talks about trading the ace lefty and the pursuit of a first baseman continue at baseball's winter meetings, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Tuesday he is confident that in any form, they will remain competitive and in contention for a fifth playoff trip in seven years.

"Short of what we would do at first base, I think we have a chance to be really good," Friedman said. "Obviously, that's our goal."

Further, Friedman said there are no scenarios under discussion in which they break up the team enough to not be good.

"I can't imagine (that)," he said. "It's not at all what we're focused on. It's not what is driving us when we wake up every morning. Our goal is to, as we sit here in December as we talk about every year, is to play competitive games in September."

Resolution on Price is the primary question, and the speculation seemed quelled a bit Tuesday. The Angels and Diamondbacks made a three-way deal with the White Sox that likely dropped them from a list of potential contenders that includes the Dodgers, Mariners, Rangers and others. Price's camp didn't hear much, either.

But the Rays have other issues, starting with first base, where they would like to bring back free agent James Loney but are exploring additional options. Ike Davis (Mets), Mitch Moreland (Rangers), Logan Morrison (Marlins), Ike Davis and Lucas Duda (Mets) are among trade possibilities. Mark Trumbo is off the list after going from the Angels to the D'backs.

Friedman reported "a little bit" of progress Tuesday in that search, but he still didn't know if they would end up signing a free agent or making a trade.

"I think we're getting more clarity," he said. "I wouldn't characterize anything as imminent, but I think we're getting more information that is helpful in our decision-making process."

There will be other moves, filling out the bench and adding to the bullpen, and at least a possibility of trading Matt Joyce, but Friedman said he is comfortable with the current mix.

"We feel like we're in a good position to keep runs off the board, and if we're able to improve upon that the rest of the winter, all the better," he said. "From a run-scoring standpoint we need to figure out what we're going to do at first base but having (David) DeJesus all year, having Wil Myers for a full season, there's things in there we feel like will make us a better offensive team. But obviously we want to get better on that front as well."

Though principal owner Stuart Sternberg suggested a reduction in payroll was possible after finishing last in attendance, the Rays with Price's estimated $13 million salary, even without, seem likely to exceed last season's $62 million.

Though they don't have much to spend, they remain flexible in not setting a specific payroll number and adjusting accordingly, such as spending more on a veteran so they can keep a prospect, and vice versa.

"It's much more about filling out a roster within the limitations that we have, and to have some give and take within that is most helpful in terms of how we plan, and how we try to be opportunistic," Friedman said.

"I think if we had too many restrictions of every different facet of how you acquire players, it becomes really restricting and not as feasible to be able to react quickly to different things that come up, which happens a lot."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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