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What do Rays look like now? What will they look like March 29?

Spring training is approaching, but there is plenty to be done as they cut payroll and fill holes.
Matt Duffy, who hasn't played in more than a season, would likely be the Rays' starting third baseman based on the players on the current roster. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times
Matt Duffy, who hasn't played in more than a season, would likely be the Rays' starting third baseman based on the players on the current roster. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published Jan. 19, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Since entering an off-season planning major change and pledging to be open to "anything and everything,'' the Rays have made a few minor moves and one massive one in trading franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria to San Francisco.

But in the month since then, nothing.

Which means if they took the field today, they'd have a team with a higher payroll than last year and less talent.

For $75 million plus, they'd look something like this:

An infield with Matt Duffy – yes, he's said to be healthy – at third, Adeiny Hechavarria at short, Brad Miller moving back to first and some combination at second of Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle, Ryan Schimpf and Micah Johnson.

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An outfield with Denard Span in left, Kevin Kiermaier in center, Steven Souza Jr. in right, and Corey Dickerson as the primary DH.

A rotation of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, Nate Eovaldi and – after potentially opening with four starters – either Matt Andriese or Jake Faria.

And a bullpen with Alex Colome at the back end, lefty Dan Jennings and Chaz Roe as experienced help, possibly with Andriese, and the rest unproven young relievers.

Maybe that doesn't look that bad.

But that's not likely to be the squad that reports to Port Charlotte next month. Or, at least, heads north to the Trop for the March 29 opener.

In addressing ownership's request to cut payroll after another season with majors-worst attendance and trying to fill some holes – like adding a true first baseman (maybe Lucas Duda as a free agent bargain?) and some veteran relievers – they still have some major work to do.

It's just that nobody has been getting much done.

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Like most other teams, the Rays have been paralyzed by the lack of activity industry-wide. Though trades are more their thing, free agent decisions elsewhere often spark responsive deals.

Speculation on reasons for the overall freeze is rampant, with the potential to get ugly.

Most tenable, that increased brain power and data flow across front offices has created a likemindedness in player (and prospect) evaluation to where no one wants to cede an advantage in making a trade and would rather wait out free agents. More concerning, that more teams have less interest in actually competing, reducing motivation to spend excessively. Most troublesome, collusion among teams to stall and thus depress value of the 150-plus players still on the free agent market.

At some point – right? – something will change. Spring camps open in 3 ½ weeks, real games in less than 70 days.

And when that dam finally breaks, the Rays still have much to address.

"I think our to-do list is comparable to where we were earlier in the winter,'' general manger Erik Neander said this week. "There is just less time available to accomplish it.

"But that's, I think, the same for many teams at this point and it just requires us an industry to get more done in a shorter period of time. Spring training is not moving.''

The current group, pending arbitration cases with Hechavarria and Odorizzi, is due around $75 million.

That's $5 million more than last year's opening day payroll, and doesn't account for the usual couple replacements for DL-ed players, or the $4 million 2019 buyout they'd owe Span (who they had to take back as part of the net savings in the Longoria deal).

Though the Rays say there is no specific payroll number they have to cut to, they are going to have to find some deals to be made.

Either Span ($9 million) or Dickerson ($5.95 million) probably has to go. Odorizzi ($6.05 or $6.3 million) seems most tradeable among the starters, especially since Archer ($6.25 million) requires a heftier return due to four years of control. Miller ($4.5 million) is expendable among the infielders, though Hechavarria ($5.35 or $5.9 million) could go. And, given how much relievers are getting elsewhere, it's hard to imagine some team (Cardinals?) eventually won't meet the Rays' price for Colome ($5.3 million, in the first of three arbitration years).

Also, while there will be plenty of talk about their core of promising prospects, don't expect to see Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, Brent Honeywell or Christian Arroyo, the headliner of the Longoria deal, open the season in the majors, which can be both baseball and business decisions.

"At any given moment you know what your club would look like if you had to open the season tomorrow, and we certainly have that in mind as we sit here today,'' Neander said. "That being said, we're always looking to improve, we're always looking to make our organization stronger both for 2018 and out beyond that. As long as there is time available, as long as there is stuff for us to consider, and there certainly is, we're going to make the most of the time we have to try to do the best we can for the organization.''

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays

“Today’s” lineup

This is how the Rays could lineup if, albeit unlikely, they have the same group to start the season (with 2017 stats):

Player Avg HR RBI OPS
1. LF Denard Span-L .272 12 43 .756
2. CF Kevin Kiermaier-L .276 15 39 .788
3. RF Steven Souza Jr. .239 30 78 .810
4. DH Corey Dickerson – L .282 27 62 .815
5. C Wilson Ramos .260 11 35 .737
6. 3B Matt Duffy DNP
7. 1B Brad Miller-L .201 9 40 .664
8. SS *Adeiny Hechavarria, ss .261 8 30 .695
9. 2B Joey Wendle-L/Daniel Roberston .308 1 5 .973
OR Daniel Roberston .206 5 19 .643

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