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Rays say still working on deals after adding Yunel Escobar

NASHVILLE — Even if the Rays don't do anything else before the winter meetings end today, they still will have had a successful trip.

They traded for shortstop Yunel Escobar, who manager Joe Maddon says "could really make a huge difference for us." They made a deal to sign first baseman James Loney with the expectation he'll be a defensive standout and an offensive improvement.

And they talked enough with agents and other teams — in numerous configurations of assorted deals — to get a much clearer sense of what players are and are not realistic possibilities to be in uniform April 2.

"I think we're narrowing down the potential scenarios in how we construct our roster," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "There's a few potential outcomes that are really exciting to us, and we're going to work toward trying to make them materialize."

However that unfolds — and whatever that really means — could obviously change the dynamic. As could a decision to trade a starter, with ongoing chatter about swapping James Shields (or Jeremy Hellickson) for Royals mega-prospect Wil Myers.

But to this point, and with about $60 million committed, here's a look at what they have:

A significantly improved defensive infield, which includes Ben Zobrist moving back to second. Uncertainty over how their outfield will be aligned and DH spot filled as they seek one or two more position players, preferably who swing impact bats. A remaining surplus for the rotation that includes Wade Davis, who is no longer being viewed as a reliever. And a couple of spots to fill in the bullpen, with the chances increasingly unlikely for J.P. Howell to return as the market for lefty relievers soars.

Zobrist, whom Maddon called to tell him about the Escobar trade, said "I'm good" with shifting back from shortstop, as much as he enjoyed it, to what looks to be his previous role, playing second base against right-handers and the outfield vs. lefties.

"Disappointed? I don't think that's the right word for it," Zobrist said. "We're upgrading our team, and that's what we're all about. So if that upgrades our team, I'm all for it."

The Rays are revved up about what Escobar, acquired Tuesday from Miami for prospect Derek Dietrich, can do with his glove and his bat.

And, apparently, realistic about the flaws in his game, which include a reputation for showboating and lapses in concentration.

"We've talked to some of our players that have played with him, and they say good things about him in the clubhouse, and they like him as a teammate," Maddon said.

"There's been different issues on the field. He can be flamboyant, I don't deny that. But you've got to be careful; you don't want to take all that away from a guy, either, because part of his success may be rooted in that. That's just who he is. So you have to, as you're attempting to try to make it better, don't subtract what makes him tick, either.

"I think it's conversational — just try to have him understand where you're coming from. I think we'll get a lot of support from other players on the team talking to him, also. … I find it challenging, but I don't see it as an overt challenge. I think it's a little bit overblown regarding his disposition and how he is."

Toronto coach Luis Rivera, who worked with Escobar the past two seasons, said the 30-year-old has gotten better, both in toning down the showboating — "He understands it's more about fielding the ball and making the play than being on SportsCenter" — and staying into the games mentally, though still with some lapses.

"I really like him," Rivera said. "They made a good choice. They don't have to worry about moving anybody else to shortstop. He's got everything. He just has to put it together."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Rays say still working on deals after adding Yunel Escobar 12/05/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 12:08am]
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