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Tampa Bay Rays could look at free agency to fill some needs

When the clock strikes midnight tonight, the Rays — as well as every other team in baseball — can start making offers to free agents.

Though the defending AL champions appear set in most spots — the starting infield is returning, and their rotation could stay intact — there are still offseason needs the Rays could choose to fill from the outside.

With several Rays in line for raises this offseason (due to their existing contract or arbitration), it limits the club's financial flexibility. Trades could be a more fitting route (especially with their pitching depth), but executive vice president Andrew Friedman has made the most of cheaper, under-the-radar signings in the past (Carlos Pena in 2007, Eric Hinske in 2008).

Here's a glance at the Rays' offseason questions:

• Bullpen. There's the closer situation. Right-hander Troy Percival, 39, who is due $4-million in 2009, led the Rays in saves with 28 last season but spent three stints on the disabled list and has said he could need back and right knee surgeries this offseason. Friedman said the surgery option is undecided. But though Percival didn't make the Rays' postseason rosters, Friedman said "there's a real chance (Percival) could be able to pitch 50-60 innings for us next year."

If not, Friedman said, "I don't feel we'll be in position to acquire a proven closer with the resources we have."

So instead, the Rays could look at internal options, as they did last season when they used a committee approach of Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour. With the Rays declining a $2-million option on left-handed reliever Trever Miller last week, they could also look at finding another lefty for the bullpen.

Miller, a Land O'Lakes resident, said he has received interest from a handful of clubs but would love to stay in Tampa Bay. Miller said he made a "fair" counteroffer to the Rays on Friday but was told it wasn't the right time. "I pray we can be with the Rays again," Miller said. "My heart is in Tampa, my home is in Tampa. I'd love to be able to defend the American League championship."

• Rightfield/DH. The Rays could use another right-handed bat for their lefty-loaded lineup. Friedman said the club has to decide whether it will use a full-time rightfielder and DH or platoon, as it did last season. Free agents Cliff Floyd, Rocco Baldelli and Hinske could be options, depending on what's available on the open market.

Floyd, 35, had said he would have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder (an injury that occurred in the World Series) only if a team was 100 percent interested. But Wednesday he said he may have the surgery soon anyway, making him healthy and available for Tampa Bay, where he hopes to stay, or any other team. Or, if not, "I'll be able to throw BP to my son."

Tampa Bay Rays could look at free agency to fill some needs 11/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 9:04am]
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