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What to look for from Tampa Bay Rays during baseball winter meetings

Baseball's winter meetings will feel aptly named with snow forecast for Indianapolis much of the week, but maybe the cold temps make the action hotter. Here's a look at what the Rays will be talking about this week, what they've done so far and how they could be affected by some other potential deals:

The story so far

Added

• RHP Jesse Chavez, traded from Pirates

• C Kelly Shoppach, traded from Indians

• OF Gabe Kapler, re-signed

• Promoted to 40-man roster: RHP Jeremy Hellickson, OF Desmond Jennings

• LHP Alex Torres

Dropped

• 2B Akinori Iwamura, traded to Pirates

• RHP Jeff Bennett, designated for assignment

• Set free: RHP Chad Bradford, RHP Jason Isringhausen, RHP Troy Percival, 1B Chris Richard, LHP Brian Shouse*, RHP Russ Springer, C Gregg Zaun (signed with Brewers)

Arbitration eligible

RHPs Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier, Matt Garza; LHPs Randy Choate, J.P. Howell; OFs Gabe Gross, B.J. Upton; Cs Dioner Navarro, Kelly Shoppach; SS Jason Bartlett

Note: Contracts must be tendered by Saturday; Gross, one of the catchers unlikely to get one.

* Offered arbitration; must decide by midnight Monday

The rest of the story

Four players you'll hear a lot about

1. Roy Halladay, RHP

Why: Jays are looking to deal him before he walks at end of season, and his reps juiced the talks by setting a start-of-spring-training deadline since he has to waive his no-trade clause.

Rays level of concern: High — both Red Sox and Yankees are interested and have the resources.

2. Matt Holliday, OF

Why: Top free agent in a down market. Cards will decide soon whether they're in or out to keep him. Red Sox weighing him vs. retaining Jason Bay. Mets are desperate to get better. Angels are interested. Yankees are hovering.

Rays concern: Moderate — in theory, he'd be a slight upgrade over Bay for Sox.

3. Jason Bay, OF

Why: Next-best free agent, likely cheaper for similar production. Mariners, Angels, Giants, Mets among the interested; Yankees again looming.

Rays concern: Moderate — best case for them is Bay leaving Boston, Holliday staying in NL.

4. John Lackey, RHP

Why: Best starter in weak field. Angels have money to keep him if Chone Figgins indeed goes to Seattle; Yankees and Sox also interested.

Rays concern: High — not as good as Halladay, but still would make their AL East life tougher.

Rays rumblings

So Derek Jeter, who'll be living in that huge house in Tampa, says that after retiring he'd like to own a team. Hmm. … Baseball America's John Manuel ranked the Rays' farm system second-best behind the Rangers. … New playmates? Cubs officials met with Gov. Charlie Crist and will decide soon whether to shift their spring base to a planned complex near Naples in 2012 or stay in Arizona. … Just 73 days until pitchers and catchers report — Feb. 18.

For updates from the winter meetings, check blogs.tampabay.com/rays and follow us on Twitter @SPTimesRays.

Seeking relief

Two things the Rays have made clear about their bullpen: They're determined to make it better, and they aren't willing to pay for an established closer to do it.

They'll be "creative" and accumulate "multiple options," but unless there's a bargain to be had, it sounds as if it's going to be an interesting and ongoing exercise.

"I think the chances of us breaking spring training with everybody … feeling incredibly comfortable about what we're doing in the ninth inning is unlikely," executive VP Andrew Friedman said.

More likely, he said, it's "going to be somebody who hasn't done it" or hasn't been successful when he has had the chance, in essence someone they feel can grow into the role. Another option is a low-cost gamble on an older or injury-issue reliever (Kelvim Escobar?) who has done it before.

Catching on

There are five catchers on the 40-man roster and still a decent chance none will be behind the plate for the April 6 opener vs. Baltimore.

The most likely scenario still seems to be they'll pick between (read: negotiate for better deal) incumbent Dioner Navarro and newly acquired Kelly Shoppach by Saturday's nontender deadline and dump or trade the other, then add another who can hit righties.

The market isn't exactly flush, so expect the Rays to be patient and see who becomes available; George Kottaras and Ryan Doumit could be among the possibilities.

Yours for theirs

There have been rumors for months about the Rays trading their problem, DH Pat Burrell, for the Cubs' problem, OF Milton Bradley. Because Burrell was so bad, and because the Rays are confident they can handle Bradley, they'd likely do this (or in a multi-team version) at the right price — which means getting out of most of the $12 million Bradley is owed in 2011. (Both players make $9 million in 2010, Burrell's last year). Word out of Chicago is that GM Jim Hendry — working under new ownership — a) wants desperately to move Bradley and b) can't do anything else (like get a CF) until he does. The Cubs claim at least three teams are interested (Rays, Rangers, ???), and they need to get back a player who can help them contend. That makes it even more complicated, because Burrell doesn't fit in Wrigley, thus rumors of involving the Mets, netting the Cubs 2B Luis Castillo. Expect something to happen.

Deal-making

The Rays are confident they can contend (read: beat out at least the Red Sox or Yankees) this season, so it would take a lot to get them to change those plans.

But with LF Carl Crawford and 1B Carlos Peña heading into the final years of their contracts, and making the kind of money ($10 million plus) that makes it unlikely they can be re-signed, the Rays have to think about it if presented with an overwhelming amount of young (and inexpensive) talent.

On a lesser scale, SS Reid Brignac has drawn interest (one report says he's the Pirates' top target), RHP Dan Wheeler's $3.5 million salary (plus $1 million buyout or $4 million 2011 option) stands out, and RHPs Andy Sonnanstine or Mitch Talbot could be expendable. And rather than cut one of the catchers loose, they'll explore trade options.

The 2B/RF shuffle

The internal options to man second base and rightfield should be sufficient, with Ben Zobrist at one or both spots, plus Matt Joyce (taking the place of likely nontender Gabe Gross) and Gabe Kapler as options in right, and Sean Rodriguez and Brignac (and Elliot Johnson is still on the 40-man roster) at second. But the Rays love flexibility, love depth and love options, so expect a couple of low-risk pickups at one or both spots.

What to look for from Tampa Bay Rays during baseball winter meetings 12/05/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 5, 2009 10:25pm]

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