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Tampa Bay Rays remain optimistic of filling DH, first base openings

What the Rays will do to improve their offense is a burning mystery, as they continue looking for a first baseman and DH.

"We're having a lot of conversations on both the trade front and also with free agents,'' executive VP Andrew Friedman said Saturday. "I'm confident that we're going to end up with two hitters that will complement our existing offense and fit in very well.''

Thus?

If they're going to complement the "existing offense,'' that would imply they're not looking to trade CF B.J. Upton or any other regular. And as much as they're looking, it seems they wouldn't settle on bringing back DH Johnny Damon and 1B Casey Kotchman (though one could return pending how they fill the other spot).

As good as their pitching is, the Rays have a prime opportunity to win and need as close to a sure thing as there is. Ideally, at least one big bat, a legit game-changer.

But the list of remaining free agent hitters after Prince Fielder isn't impressive, many old or coming off injuries or off years. 1B Carlos Peña is probably next best, but the Rays — if they can even afford him — know the power and defense come with strikeouts and a low average.

The available DHs such as Vlad Guerrero and Hideki Matsui haven't piqued their interest. Alfonso Soriano is a no. Other hitters aren't much more interesting: Raul Ibanez, Ryan Ludwick, Luke Scott, Derrek Lee, Magglio Ordonez. (And the comebacking Manny Ramirez.)

None might be better than Damon, who hit .261 with 16 homers (third most of all DHs) and 73 RBIs. He said Friday that he hasn't heard much from the Rays, and he has talked with another team, but still holds out hope of returning. "You know it,'' he texted. (Neither Kotchman nor agent Casey Close responded to messages.)

So where are they looking? With the trades of Yonder Alonso (Padres) and Anthony Rizzo (Cubs), the Angels' Mark Trumbo or Kendry Morales could be options, though both are delayed in recovering from injuries. The pursuit of CF Coco Crisp indicates they could be creative.

With more than $40 million committed to 14 players, money of course is an issue. The White Sox's Paul Konerko could be a tremendous DH fit. The Nats' Adam LaRoche or, more intriguingly, Mike Morse? Maybe, as ESPN's Buster Olney suggested, the Mets' Daniel Murphy. K.C.'s Billy Butler? Hmmm.

ALMOST CRISPY: Even Crisp acknowledged, to the San Francisco Chronicle, that considering signing with the Rays (before going back to Oakland) was a bit odd given his ugly 2008 fight with James Shields: "That's kind of ironic because I had a scuffle with them, but I love their manager, and they're a competitive team in a great division."

GRAND EVENTS: An interesting charity event is set for Feb. 3 at the Trop, with LHP David Price (and his Project14 Foundation) teaming up with the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame for a dinner and induction ceremony on the field. Tickets (signed by Price) are $99 and include autographs from present and past major-leaguers. See tedwilliamsmuseum.com or call (727) 534-5343. … Former Ray Toby Hall hosts his annual charity golf event Feb. 9 at the Bayou Club in Largo, benefitting construction of a Miracle League field for kids with disabilities. Call (813) 263-5363 or e-mail acpc.inc@hotmail.com.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Olney ranked the Rays No. 1 in his initial power ranking. … With Price, Upton, RHP Jeff Niemann, LHP J.P. Howell and RHP Burke Badenhop still eligible for arbitration, expect at least some deals before the Jan. 17 exchange of figures. … C Robinson Chirinos was not given clearance to return to game action in Venezuela as the Rays preferred he continue rehab on his right wrist, fractured in October, so he's set for spring training. … Cuban SS Joel Barroso, 21, was signed and will report to extended spring training in April. … LHP Josh Satow, 4-5, 13 saves, 2.26 ERA at Class A Charlotte, was released so he'd have a chance to catch on elsewhere.

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

Tampa Bay Rays remain optimistic of filling DH, first base openings 01/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 7, 2012 8:11pm]

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