ST. PETERSBURG — With the free agency period starting last Friday, the Rays find themselves in a somewhat similar situation to last winter.
They like their nucleus, so they don't have many holes to fill, and they don't have much financial flexibility to work with.
But executive VP Andrew Friedman plans to be active — and likely will have to be creative — in addressing two main areas: adding a reliever or two, and figuring out the catching tandem.
Friedman said the Rays are looking at both right- and left-handed relievers. Whether they acquire one through free agency or trades remains to be seen.
"We have a list of guys on other teams we have an interest in, and a list of free agents as well," Friedman said. "And depending on how the market evolves on both fronts, it will go a long way toward shaping our thought process. … We feel like there are a lot of talented names out there."
The crop of free agent relievers doesn't have the star power of last year's group, which included Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes. But there's a group of lefties that includes Joe Beimel, Will Ohman and Darren Oliver. The Rays liked what Randy Choate did as a lefty specialist last season, and though he's arbitration eligible, he could be a less expensive option.
The Rays may not be able to afford the pricier right-handers such as Fernando Rodney and Rafael Soriano, but there are guys such as former Ray Danys Baez. Friedman has taken chances on veteran relievers coming off injuries or struggles (see Troy Percival and Jason Isringhausen), and there are a few in this year's class: Kevin Gregg, J.J. Putz and, if he's willing to pitch out of the bullpen again, John Smoltz.
The market isn't as strong for free agent catchers (Bengie and Jose Molina, Rod Barajas and Jason Kendall to name a few), so more attractive options could come via trade. It also depends on whether the Rays want a starting catcher or a backup.
At the season wrapup, Friedman and manager Joe Maddon sounded as if they were willing to give Dioner Navarro another shot. Navarro, who hit .218 last season in a disappointing follow-up to his All-Star campaign, could be in line for a significant raise in his second year of arbitration (possibly in the $2.6 million to $3 million range).
What complicates matters further is that Navarro will be coming off October surgery on his left (nonthrowing) elbow to stabilize an ulnar nerve. Friedman said the injury cropped up late in the season, and though Navarro is expected to be ready for spring training, "there's always some concern" with offseason surgeries.
The Rays liked what Gregg Zaun provided in a platoon role with Navarro after being acquired in August, and though they declined his $2 million option for 2010, they appear open to continue talks with the 15-year veteran, who has said he'd love to come back in any role.
TRADE WINDS: According to an industry source, the Rangers and White Sox have shown interest in CF B.J. Upton, and the Mets and Braves have inquired about All-Star LF Carl Crawford. The Rays have said they're interested in discussing a long-term deal with Crawford, who is eligible to be a free agent after the 2010 season.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: OF Fernando Perez said he likely injured the labrum in his left shoulder (which required October surgery) on the same diving catch attempt in spring training when he dislocated his wrist. … An interesting name left off the 40-man roster, and unprotected for the upcoming Rule 5 draft, is RHP Aneury Rodriguez, who was acquired from the Rockies in the Jason Hammel trade.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]times.com.