Thursday, June 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays still have pitching to deal after filling most holes through free agency

The Rays' primary goal going into the offseason was to bolster their occasionally anemic offense without diminishing their dazzling defense.

Additionally, they wanted to add a few experienced arms to their bullpen, improve their bench and solidify their catching.

For the most part, they have done all that, though it sure seems they still need to add another experienced catcher, given that Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos, the potential partners for Jose Molina, have a combined 42 games in the majors.

The surprise is how the Rays have done that: primarily by opening their checkbook — committing more than $18 million to five free agents — and without trading any starting pitchers.

To think they'd get this close to spring training with their primary holes filled and still have Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann in their stable of starters would have seemed most unlikely, especially given the high number of pitchers traded elsewhere.

From what it sounds like, the Rays just didn't find a deal to their liking. Also, they're still looking.

They say they are willing to go to spring training — and even into the season — with an extra starter, but it's also likely other teams will become more willing/desperate going forward, and as injuries occur.

"Whenever we're able to preserve depth, and especially when we're able to preserve talent, it's a good thing for us," team president Matt Silverman said. "We don't chase deals; we look for deals that work for both sides. We haven't found one in a number of realms, but that doesn't mean that we're not looking. So we continue to do that.

"Money is a scarce commodity, but sometimes prospects and talent are even scarcer. So in this case we were able to address our offseason needs, or many of them, without that type of trade."

For now.

With the payroll pushing $65 million, an increase of nearly 60 percent, there isn't expected to be any more wiggle room. But the Rays could free up some cash by trading Niemann (who will get $2.75 million or $3.2 million in arbitration) or Davis ($1.5 million) either for an experienced catcher (the Cubs' Geovany Soto? A's Kurt Suzuki? Padres' Nick Hundley?) or prospects and go back into the free-agent market (Pudge Rodriguez? Bengie Molina, to play with brother Jose?).

MADDON DEAL: A three-year contract extension for manager Joe Maddon, barring an unexpected late twist, will be completed and announced after he returns from Europe this week and before the Feb. 20 opening of spring training.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Niemann's arbitration hearing is Thursday in St. Petersburg; the Rays are 5-0 in arbitration (4-0 in the Andrew Friedman regime). … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg was a funny guy at last weekend's New York Baseball Writers' Association of America dinner, joking as he accepted Jeremy Hellickson's rookie of the year and Maddon's top manager awards that the awards soon would be auctioned online at "WeNeedMoneyForPeña.com." … Two interesting lines from Hellickson's Des Moines Register Web chat: He's ready to throw his cutter more, and among the basketball-playing Rays he's "definitely the best shooter and ball handler." … Interesting theory that the Rays raising their offer to sign Carlos Peña (for $7.25 million) led the Tigers to spend $214 million on Prince Fielder. … For context of new INF Jeff Keppinger striking out only 142 times in 2,287 career plate appearances, consider that CF B.J. Upton struck out 161 times in 640 appearances last season. … For auctions to raise money for his old Lafayette College baseball team, Maddon has donated four tickets and field passes to 38 Rays games in 14 cities; see goleopards.com. … Lobaton, sidelined in Venezuela since November with shoulder issues, said on Twitter he was healthy and ready for spring training.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow his coverage on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

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