While the Rays didn't make any deals at last week's GM meetings, they did plenty of talking with other teams and agents behind closed doors. And there was plenty of chatter about them among execs from other teams, scouts and agents.
Here are some of the more interesting things we heard:
• Even after dealing RHP Nathan Karns to Seattle, the Rays could still trade another starting pitcher. There is enough demand for lower-tier and controllable starters that they certainly will listen. Who would go? LHP Drew Smyly, with an arbitration number of around $4 million and shoulder issues, would seem the most likely candidate. Or maybe LHP Matt Moore, who will make $5 million this season in his last guaranteed year before three team options kick in. As usual, they will talk about anyone.
Another deal would certainly thin the Rays' depth, but they could back-fill with a low-cost veteran (thus talks with free agent LHP Rich Hill and others) knowing they will have young arms ready during the season and RHP Alex Cobb aiming for an August return from Tommy John surgery.
Top LHP prospect Blake Snell could make a pitch for a spot in the opening-day rotation, but that probably won't happen as the Rays will want to limit his innings — and, conveniently, his service time toward free agency eligibility — by having him start the season in the minors. RHPs Taylor Guerrieri and Jacob Faria could be ready for mid-season call-ups.
• Interest in back-end relievers RHP Brad Boxberger and LHP Jake McGee was predictably high, as it was at the July deadline, with the Astros and Tigers among the teams expressing interest.
The Rays don't seem motivated to move one, seeing the benefits of the tandem that, at least for 2016, is still relatively inexpensive, with McGee due around $5 million via arbitration and Boxberger a pre-arb bargain of $530,000 or so. But that changes in 2017, when Boxberger becomes arb eligible and McGee gets a hefty raise in his last year before free agency.
Realistically, it will come down to the offer, and it's an interesting conversation on which would bring more back. If the Rays are blown away, they could deal one now. If not, barring injury of course, the interest will be there in July, and again after this season.
• New acquisition Brad Miller has the hands, range, arm and energy to play a solid shortstop, but he has occasional lapses in throwing. The issue appears to be tied to inconsistency in his mechanics, especially on balls hit to his left, causing throws to sail. Expect infield coach extraordinaire Tom Foley to make Miller his primary project.
• A key factor in trading 1B James Loney may be the lack of other options for teams. After big-bucks slugger Chris Davis, the free agent market is relatively thin, with the likes of Justin Morneau, Mike Napoli and Mark Reynolds. And with the Rays willing to eat some of the $8 million salary, Loney on a one-year deal at $5 million or $6 million actually may be somewhat appealing. An option for the Rays is to attach Loney to another trade, i.e., making a team take him if it wants a pitcher.
• Though the Rays see Miller as their likely new shortstop, and free agent Asdrubal Cabrera expects to find a multiyear deal, it's not impossible that he could return. Cabrera really enjoyed his time with the Rays on and off the field. So if the market doesn't materialize, it wouldn't be far-fetched to see him returning on a one-year deal similar to last season's $7.5 million pact. Alexei Ramirez could be a similar consideration.
ROSTER SHUFFLE: With Snell, Guerrieri and Faria and another couple of prospects (INF/OF Taylor Motter? RHP German Marquez?) expected to be added to the roster by Friday's deadline to be protected from the upcoming Rule 5 draft, the Rays are going to have to trim elsewhere. Players who could be dropped from the roster, or dealt, include OFs Daniel Nava and Joey Butler, Ps Kirby Yates and (injured) Grayson Garvin and either C J.P. Arencibia or Rene Rivera. RHPs Brandon Gomes could be another.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Team officials are excited about the chance to go to Cuba for a spring exhibition and now have to wait as MLB tries to secure approvals. Commissioner Rob Manfred said last week "we have a little time still,'' with no firm deadline. … Gold wasn't enough for CF Kevin Kiermaier, who Friday won Rawlings' Platinum Glove as the AL's best overall defender. … Flex packs are more flexible in 2016, offered on mobile devices and in increments of 10, 20 and 40 tickets (rather than by games), at $15 per, with a gift, discounts and bonus dollars; see raysbaseball.com. … Juan Nieves is set to return as a pitching coordinator unless he gets hired for a major-league job elsewhere. … Among 15 new additions to the Hall of Fame ballot was former Devil Rays All-Star OF Randy Winn. … Coming off a brutal season in Anaheim, ex-Ray and current free agent OF Matt Joyce is taking the unusual step of playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.