The Rays have spent much of the offseason talking trades, with the Cubs and Rockies among others, in an effort to add a hitter. But with a glut of players still on the free-agent market and prices dropping as spring training nears, they are in position to at least explore some unexpected options.
Such as, Ian Desmond and even Justin Upton.
Or, more realistically, Pedro Alvarez or Steve Pearce.
Though it would take some extremely creative negotiating, with discounts to compensate for the lost draft pick, the Rays could emerge as players if Upton or Desmond were interested in a one-year "pillow" contract to rebuild their value.
More likely, they will set their sights a shelf lower. Pearce, the Lakeland product let go by Baltimore, would be a good fit given his tenacity and versatility. Alvarez, non-tendered by Pittsburgh, would bring needed lefty power. Marlon Byrd (last with the Giants), Justin Morneau (Rockies), David Murphy (Angels) are among others of legit interest.
The Rays have not given up on the trade route. They have what they consider a surplus of pitching, though they may feel better about trading a starter (Jake Odorizzi? Drew Smyly?) while the market may be more conducive to dealing a reliever, with Jake McGee most likely. The Cubs still have Javier Baez and also Jorge Soler, the Rockies Corey Dickerson and also Charlie Blackmon, and there are certainly other possibilities.
Though a lefty swinging outfielder would seem the best fit, the Rays can be flexible. To add a free agent, they'd need the blessing of principal owner Stuart Sternberg, who previously has been willing to expand the payroll for unexpected additions, such as Rafael Soriano and Grant Balfour Part 2.
It would help if they could first find a taker for first baseman James Loney, even if they have to pay some of his $8 million salary, to clear a space. There should be a more defined market now that Chris Davis has re-signed with the Orioles.
Still, the timing could be tricky, as the Rays may have to balance waiting out one of the free agents versus making a trade when it's on the table. But as mid January cedes to late, they have more options than they would have expected.