Tampa Bay Rays about to resume filling roster holes

Now that that shopping season is over, expect the Rays to get busy sifting through the 150 or so free agents left for bargains and low-risk gambles.

Here's a quick look at what they've done and what holes remain:

Bullpen: Addressing of their biggest need has been done in patchwork fashion, with the signing of Joel Peralta, trade for Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos, Rule 5 selection of Cesar Cabral and re-signing of J.P. Howell. They still need someone to pitch the ninth inning, and probably the eighth, so the bullpen should remain their focus. A few potentially interesting closer candidates remain on the market: Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Kevin Gregg and Trevor Hoffman, plus two of the Rays' own, Grant Balfour and Chad Qualls.

Infield: The trade of Jason Bartlett puts Reid Brignac at shortstop alongside 3B Evan Longoria, with Sean Rodriguez sharing time at second with Ben Zobrist. Dan Johnson seems the marker at first, a fallback if the Rays don't find an upgrade. Little that fits — affordable, smooth glove, potent bat — is on the free-agent market (Casey Kotchman?), so a trade may be more likely. Expect clarity after Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee sign elsewhere.

Outfield: B.J. Upton will be in center, and the most likely scenario would seem to have Matt Joyce in left and Zobrist in right. Desmond Jennings will get a long spring change to show if he's ready, and Justin Ruggiano could emerge as a reserve/platoon partner.

DH: In a real-life version of musical chairs, it would seem the Rays could score a good deal here given the number of openings vs. free-agent candidates. Possibilities include Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, with Johnson again a fallback option if they get a first baseman.

Rotation: Temptations may mount to make a deal if teams such as the Rangers and Cubs are willing to overwhelm as they seek a starter, but the Rays seem likely to hang on to their solid six-pack: David Price, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson.

MR. FIX-ITS: Ex-Mets GM and ESPN analyst Steve Phillips, doing fanhouse.com segments on how to "fix" each team, suggests the Rays do a massive makeover with the goal of competing again by 2013-14. His main suggestions are trading Garza (while at "peak value") and Upton (in a "get what we can" deal because his value won't increase). … Ex-Rays TV analyst Kevin Kennedy says on foxsports.com the Rays may have to trade Garza or Shields and he could see them "slipping" to fourth or fifth in the AL East.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: ESPN.com's Buster Olney ranks the Rays' rotation fourth best in the majors, behind the Phillies, Giants and A's. … A lot of talk is coming out of the Texas media about a trade for Garza or Shields. … Chances seem to be dwindling for closer Rafael Soriano to get the big-dollar deal he sought (a rumored $48 million over four years), but even if signs for one year, it's hard to see agent Scott Boras bringing him back to the Rays. Maybe Washington.

Market report

An update on the Rays' 15 free agents:

PlayerStatus

DH Willy AybarUnsigned

OF Rocco BaldelliUnsigned

RP Grant Balfour+Unsigned

RP Joaquin Benoit+Tigers

RP Randy Choate+Marlins

RP Lance CormierUnsigned

1B Brad Hawpe+Padres

RP J.P. HowellRe-signed

OF Gabe KaplerUnsigned

C Dioner NavarroDodgers

1B Carlos PeñaCubs

RP Chad Qualls+Unsigned

RP Rafael Soriano+Unsigned

RP Dan WheelerRed Sox

+ Rays get draft pick compensation

Tampa Bay Rays about to resume filling roster holes 12/25/10 [Last modified: Sunday, December 26, 2010 12:33pm]

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