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Rays turn focus to filling opening at first base

Justin Morneau, also being pursued by the Rockies, would be a good fit for the Rays.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Justin Morneau, also being pursued by the Rockies, would be a good fit for the Rays.

With C Jose Molina all but officially announced as re-signed and the bullpen reconstruction, even with Mark Lowe and Juan Carlos Oviedo added, expected to be ongoing into January, the Rays presumably will turn their attention to first base.

Despite several big November deals, the first base market has been quiet with the winter meetings a week away. All of the Rays' potential trade targets remain available: the Mets' Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, Texas' Mitch Moreland, Miami's Logan Morrison, the Angels' Mark Trumbo. So, too, their most likely free agent candidates: Justin Morneau, incumbent James Loney, Corey Hart, maybe Kevin Youkilis or Mark Reynolds.

In theory, the Rays would prefer a left-handed hitter, given their everyday lineup already has four right-handers in SS Yunel Escobar, CF Desmond Jennings, 3B Evan Longoria and RF Wil Myers. Morneau, also being pursued by the Rockies, would be a good fit. But a right-hander who can hit right-handers would work, too.

Though there is considerable speculation industrywide about a potential trade of LHP David Price, the Rays seem focused on filling their other holes while waiting to hear what teams have to say about the ace.

TENDER MOMENTS: Monday night is the next key roster deadline, as the Rays have to decide whether to tender contracts to their nine arbitration-eligible players. While the earlier deadline can help, it can hinder in forcing decisions on fringe players, as the Rays don't know yet what they'll need to fill out their bench and bullpen.

Thus the tougher calls, and potential trade candidates, shown with projected salaries via mlbtraderumors.com, are LHP Wesley Wright ($1.4M), INF/OF Sean Rodriguez ($1.3M), OF Sam Fuld ($900,000) and LHP Cesar Ramos ($700,000). The easier decisions: Price ($13.1M), OF Matt Joyce ($3.7M), RHP Jeremy Hellickson ($3.3M), LHP Jake McGee ($1.2M) and C Jose Lobaton ($1M).

DO-GOODERS: Manager Joe Maddon will host his eighth annual Thanksmas event, preparing and serving holiday meals for the needy, with stops Dec. 16-18 at Salvation Army Shelters (St. Petersburg, Tampa, Bradenton), plus the Sallie House and the Homeless Emergency Project. There will be a fundraising event Dec. 13, at Tampa's 717 South restaurant, with Rays players and coaches as guest servers. … Joyce, McGee and RHP Brandon Gomes are honorary co-chairmen for the Pinellas County Education Foundation's Ties and Tennis Shoes Gala at the Trop on Friday; $35 tickets at pinellaseducation.org. … Minor-leaguers Jake Hager and Lenny Linsky joined ex-mate Jake Floethe's video to raise funds for victims of Typhoon Haiyan; see youcaring.com/stepuptotheplate

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Team officials Tuesday will detail the upgrades to the Trop, primarily the walkways and centerfield restaurant changes allowing for 360-degree fan circulation. … Mike Juhl was hired from the Cardinals as a special assignment scout, replacing Jeff McAvoy, who went to the Marlins. … ESPN's Buster Olney suggested the Mariners' search for new leadership includes calling the Rays about team president Matt Silverman and executive VP Andrew Friedman. … If/when MLB does get involved in the Rays stadium situation, executive VP John McHale Jr., who was previously assigned to stabilize the Naimoli reign, would seem the likely candidate to be the emissary. … Lobaton's Division Series Game 3 walkoff homer — with Dave Wills' outstanding radio call — ranked 14th on MLB Network's top plays of the season. … Agent Scott Boras said Hellickson's 2013 troubles were not physical but the product of a lack of command and consistency in keeping his changeup down. … One-time Ray and Tampa native Dwight Gooden and Astros great Craig Biggio are two of the 2014 inductees for the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame. The dinner is set for Feb. 1.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

Rays turn focus to filling opening at first base 11/30/13 [Last modified: Saturday, November 30, 2013 6:58pm]
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