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Tampa Bay Rays: The story so far heading into baseball's winter meetings

Besides Joe Maddon's AL manager of the year, Evan Longoria's AL rookie of the year and Andrew Friedman's executive of the year awards, the Rays' offseason has been extraordinarily quiet so far. They're looking to improve their offense and bullpen, but haven't done so yet. Lefty reliever Trever Miller signed with St. Louis; their three other free agents (Rocco Baldelli, Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske) are still on the market and could return. The biggest headlines have been about the departure of TV analyst Joe Magrane (to the MLB network) and the firing of mascot performer Kelly Frank.

Designated duty

Starters used: 11

Most often: Cliff Floyd, above, 72 games; Jonny Gomes, 24; Eric Hinske, 18

How they did, league rank, average:

Avg. .250 8th .257

HRs 22 11th 34

RBIs 73 13th 86

OBP .326 11th .340

SLG .433 9th .440

OPS .760 8th .780

What they could do:

. Sign Jason Giambi

Age: 37

'08 numbers: .247, 32, 96, $21M w/Yankees.

Plus/minus: Patience, power and career .408 on-base percentage make him a good fit; inability to play the field (a la Cliff Floyd), past steroids issues, salary the concerns.

. Sign Milton Bradley

Age: 30

'08 numbers: .321, 22, 77, 5.25M w/Rangers

Plus/minus: Switch-hitter, high average, career-best .436 on-base percentage, can play the outfield; six teams in eight years and a rep for causing problems.

. Sign Adam Dunn

Age: 29

'08 numbers: .236, 40, 100, $13M w/Reds and D'backs.

Plus/minus: Tremendous power with 40-plus HRs past five seasons but tends to be all or nothing averaging 177 Ks over that time with .247 career avg.

. Trade for Gary Sheffield

Age: 40

'08 numbers: .225, 19, 57, $13.3M w/Tigers

Plus/minus: Tampa native really wants to finish career at home and when healthy and motivated can still be a mid-lineup force; concern is when he isn't.

Getting offensive

Increasing their offensive production in rightfield and at DH is a good idea. The Rays were below the league average at both traditionally offensive positions last season, a primary reason they ranked ninth in the AL in runs and 13th in average, making their 97-win season even more of an accomplishment as a credit to their pitching and defense. Here's a look at what they got from those spots last season, and who some of the possibilities are that could be brought in to help.

Right on?

Starters used: 9

Most often: Gabe Gross, above, 75 games; Eric Hinske, 47; Jonny Gomes, 17

How they did, league rank, average:

Avg. .244 14th .281

HRs 28 3rd 22

RBIs 74 13th 90

OBP .330 11th .351

SLG .442 9th .459

OPS .771 10th .809

What they could do:

. Sign Bobby Abreu

Age: 34

'08 numbers: .286, 20 HRs, 100 RBIs, $16M salary w/Yankees.

Plus/minus: On-base percentage (career .405), patience and consistency are appealing; defense, perceived lack of passion not so much.

. Sign Pat Burrell

Age: 32

'08 numbers: .250, 33, 86, $14M w/Phillies.

Plus/minus: Averaged 31 HRs and 99 RBIs past four years, better with help around him; defense not as good and may be seeking longer-term deal.

. Sign Raul Ibanez

Age: 36

'08 numbers: .293, 23, 110, $5.5M w/Mariners

Plus/minus: Good for about 100 RBIs each season, can play outfield or DH, good clubhouse presence; may attract considerable interest.

. Trade for Delmon Young

Age: 23

'08 numbers: .290, 10, 69, $1.4M w/Twins

Plus/minus: Rays have seen his act, but talent is still there and he should be fiercely motivated if traded again (though Twins would look bad giving him back).

OR: sign Juan Rivera; trade for Jeremy Hermida, Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier

In other news

It's going to take at least a couple of the big-name free agents to sign for things to get rolling this week. The top five:

LHP C.C. Sabathia: If he really wanted to be a Yankee, wouldn't he have taken their reported $140-million by now? Waiting for West Coast teams to step up.

1B Mark Teixeira: Angels want to keep him, but agent Scott Boras will mine every option for best deal, including Red Sox, Orioles, Nats, possibly Yanks.

RHP A.J. BurneTT: It looks (amazingly, given his injury history) like he'll get the five-year deal he seeks, likely from Braves.

OF Manny Ramirez: Dodgers may be only true suitors, but that hasn't made this any simpler. Big question is whether he accepts arbitration by today's deadline.

RHP Derek Lowe: A decent Plan B (or C) to teams that don't get Sabathia or Burnett. Both N.Y. teams are hot for him.

Pitcher show

The Rays say they don't have to trade one of their starting pitchers and would be content to return the incumbent rotation with rookie sensation David Price opening in the minors (and out-of-option right-handers Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann in the bullpen). But as valuable a commodity as young pitching is, they seem likely this week to be talking trades and — most likely — the conversations will concern Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine. But which one should they trade? They are both 25, have considerable strengths and legit concerns and put up similar stats:

Edwin Jackson
G Rec ERA IP H K BB BAA
2008 32 14-11 4.42 183 199 108 77 .281
Career 106 25-30 5.15 456 515 311 229
ANDY SONNANSTINE
2008 32 13-9 4.38 193 212 124 37 .277
Career 54 19-19 4.97 324 363 221 63

But there is one very large number that could be the biggest factor: Jackson, in his first year of arbitration eligibility, is due to make more than $2-million and possibly up to $2.5-million. Sonnanstine, who won't be eligible for arbitration until after 2010, will make around $450,000 at most.

Rays Rumblings

Brian Anderson keeps coming up in conversations about who'll replace TV analyst Joe Magrane. … Todd Kalas is being considered for the lead TV play-by-play job in San Diego. … Word is late-season additions such as David Price and Fernando Perez got close to full playoff shares as they were on the postseason roster all three rounds. … The loss of quality assurance coach Tim Bogar (to be Boston's 1B coach) was significant but not unexpected; he also interviewed with the Phillies. The Rays haven't decided if he'll be replaced. … Price was runnerup to Falcons QB Matt Ryan for ESPN's NEXT award. … Joe Maddon was nominated (by writer Jon Heyman) for Sports Illustrated's Sportsmen of the Year. He's in the final 10 for his hometown Hazleton, Pa., person of the year award. … Carl Crawford's baseball jersey was retired by Houston's Davis High.

Check blogs.tampabay.com/rays for regular updates during the winter meetings Monday-Thursday.

Tampa Bay Rays: The story so far heading into baseball's winter meetings 12/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 10:44pm]

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