Last week's deal with Steve Pearce might not have been front-page news, but the addition is a big move for the Rays.
Pearce projects to get considerable playing time, primarily between first base and DH, filling much more than just a platoon role against lefty starters. The Rays like his power potential, as well as the tenacity, aggressiveness and team-first approach that made him a favorite of Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
With Pearce's signing, which should be made official early this week, the formation of the Rays' roster seems just about set.
That is, unless they find a way to make it work financially to sign free agent SS Ian Desmond. His lack of a deal elsewhere increases at least the possibility of the Sarasota native fulfilling his interest in coming home on a short-term "pillow" deal, though a major hurdle is that it would cost the Rays a valued draft pick.
Or, unless there is consummation of long ongoing trade talks with the Cubs (Javier Baez, more so than Jorge Soler) or Rockies (Corey Dickerson, more so than Charlie Blackmon) in exchange for reliever Jake McGee or a starter.
Short of that, another trade option emerging or a serious injury, it seems even more obvious with the additions of Pearce and Logan Morrison that the Rays have to find a way to move 1B James Loney — eating some (or even all?) of his $8 million salary, since he would have little playing time — and that they won't have room for promising prospect Richie Shaffer.
What they look to have, with the first spring training workout four weeks from today, is Pearce and Morrison at first base and DH (deciding based on their spring play); Logan Forsythe at second; newcomer Brad Miller at short; Evan Longoria at third; Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. across the outfield; Curt Casali and either Hank Conger or Rene Rivera (one of whom could be dropped to make room on the 40-man roster for Pearce) catching; and Brandon Guyer and Tim Beckham on the bench, with room for one more.
Given that Pearce and Morrison can both play outfield, it would seem that last spot would go to another infielder, be it Nick Franklin or Taylor Motter or an invitee TBA. But Pearce can also play second and third, so they could opt for another outfielder to add speed and defense, be it Mikie Mahtook or lefty swinging Jaff Decker, signed to a minor-league deal Friday.
KNUCKLING UNDER: Watching the success opponents such as Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey have had in the climate-controlled Trop, the Rays are working on two fronts to have their own knuckleball pitcher. One, they hired Charlie Haeger, who pitched parts of five seasons in the majors, as a pitching coordinator to teach the knuckleball to some minor-leaguers. And two, they signed and invited to camp RHP Eddie Gamboa, who spent the past two seasons throwing a knuckler successfully in Triple A for the Orioles.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Darcy Raymond, most recently VP of marketing and entertainment during a 10-year run that included introduction of the popular DJ Kitty mascot, resigned to pursue other options. His responsibilities were absorbed by existing staff. … Blake Snell was named the game's second-best lefty pitching prospect by mlbpipeline.com, behind the Dodgers' Julio Urias. … The Rays will launch their own YouTube channel. … Longoria, somewhat of a muscle car aficionado, is selling his classic 1971 Super Mach1 Mustang, named "Eleanor," for $149,500; see machstang.com. … Written before news of Pearce's signing, Sports Illustrated's Cliff Corcoran gave the Rays a D-plus for their winter, writing "It's not clear the Rays have improved at all for the coming season, and their offseason as a whole reeks of lack of effort." … Former Ray Toby Hall holds his annual charity golf classic Feb. 12 at Feather Sound, with the usual impressive list of participants, including Rays Alex Cobb, Kiermaier and Matt Moore, plus Toronto's Jose Bautista, Bucs WR Vincent Jackson and LPGA standout Brittany Lincicome. See tournevents.com/thf2016 for signup info. … Rays prospects INF Riley Unroe and OFs Justin Williams (day to day with a left shoulder strain) and Bralin Jackson played key roles as Brisbane clinched a spot in the Australian Baseball League Championship Series. … LHP Everett Teaford, who pitched in four games for the Rays last season and 26 at Triple-A Durham, decided at age 31 to retire and take a pro scouting job with the Astros.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected].