ST. PETERSBURG —The Rays' primary target this offseason seems to be adding a right-handed impact bat.
And to do so, they are likely to get rid of the one they have, 30-homer hitting 1B/DH C.J. Cron.
In short, to try to upgrade. And gain some positional versatility.
The Rays are in the unusual position of having some financial flexibility, with at least a chance to shop on a higher shelf than usual. Whether that leads to Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson or Andrew McCutchen, or someone else similarly intriguing, via free agency or trade, they might as well look around.
Cron did well (.253 average, 74 RBIs, .816 OPS, 2.0 WAR) but was not the kind of intimidating presence they could use in the middle of a lineup that still leans to the left, even after the wise addition of Tommy Pham.
So rather than commit $5 million plus to Cron, they'd seem better served to trade him (having given up minor-league INF Luis Rengifo to get him from the Angels), and probably before the Nov. 30 contract tender deadline, which commits them to his salary.
Then they can sort through the market, see what kind of fits are available. At the same time, explore whether it's worth trading one of the lefty-hitting outfielders (Mallex Smith most likely).
They have the potential for DH and/or first base to be covered by lefty swingers Ji-Man Choi and Jake Bauers (unless he's ticketed for a season-opening Triple-A stint), and other options coming through the minors. And they could look in the spring at Matt Duffy and/or Daniel Robertson at first, just to see if there are even more options.
Cron was good, but they have a chance to do better, and they should take it.
Coach Rocco Baldelli is very much "a hot name" among candidates, as we heard from an MLB exec last week, for several, if not most, of the current six manager openings. He's been reported to have interviewed or at least linked to the Twins (where former Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton is also a candidate), Rangers, Blue Jays and on Sunday the Reds. The Angels are also a possibility; the hot mess Orioles, well, maybe not. … With senior VP Chaim Bloom interviewing last week for a GM job with the Mets, it wouldn't be a surprise to see his name also surface as a strong candidate in San Francisco.
With fewer big-name players but more wins, the Rays saw TV ratings drop 9 percent for games on Fox Sports Sun from last year (from 2.70 to 2.45), and about 6,000 households (to 46,000), per Forbes.com. The Rays ranked 20th of the 29 U.S.-based teams, and their games were third overall in the Tampa Bay market during primetime and first on cable. … The next TV reporter will be the sixth hired in eight seasons, following Laura Rutledge, Kelly Nash, Emily Austen, Alex Corddry and Michelle Margaux, who left to cover the Houston Rockets.
Veteran CF Kevin Kiermaier had high praise for manager Kevin Cash's contract extension through 2024, which may be the longest pro sports coaching deal this side of Jon Gruden's 10-year pact with the Raiders: "All he asks us to do is buy into our system and strategy along with playing the game the right way. Pretty simple stuff, but it goes a long way for us players."… The usually accurate mlbtraderumors.com arbitration projections have Cron at $5.2 million; Pham, $4 million; Duffy, $2.6 million; RHP Chaz Roe, $1.4 million; C Jesus Sucre, $1.2 million; LHP Vidal Nuno, $900,000. Neither Sucre or Nuno are expected back. at least not at those prices. … Duffy is serious about getting stronger and in better shape, planning to spend the winter in Arizona rather than his SoCal home to work out at the Exos training center. … OFs Joe McCarthy and Ryan Boldt, who both missed time with injuries, should benefit the most from the Arizona Fall League experience. Other prospects playing for Peoria include INF Lucius Fox, Ps Matt Krook, Brandon Lawson, Dalton Moats, Phoenix Sanders (the USF product). … Interesting the D-backs are switching from natural grass at retractable-roof Chase Field to a Shaw Sports turf, supposedly a much improved version over what was installed last winter at the Trop. … The Rays will pick 22nd in the June draft, a cost for winning 90 games. … Six Rays made Baseball America's season-ending top 100 prospects ranking; RHP Brent Honeywell No. 16, 17-year-old INF Wander Franco 19, LHP/1B Brendan McKay 34, OF Jesus Sanchez 40, LHP Matt Liberatore 71, C Ronaldo Hernandez 75. … McKay would be an interesting, albeit somewhat complicated, invite to big-league camp.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.