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10 hitters for Rays to consider

After letting top slugger C.J. Cron go, the Rays are looking for an upgraded replacement.
Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt could be available this winter. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt could be available this winter. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Published Nov. 29, 2018|Updated Nov. 29, 2018

The Rays' premise in getting rid of leading home-run hitter C.J. Cron last week was to create the opportunity to add a better bat. Either to upgrade at the first base / DH spot Cron shared or, better, to add a right-handed hitter with more positional versatility who can make the lineup better in different ways.

So, who?

Obviously, we don't know.

Realistically, as early as it is in the off-season, neither do the Rays.

They have money to spend, given the potential to field their current somewhat young and extremely cheap squad for around $32 million with only Kevin Kiermaier to make more than $5 million. They have at-bats to offer, a prime currency for some free agents, especially on short-term deals. They have inventory to make a trade, if they opt for that route, with a deep pool of young big-leaguers and prospects to offer.

They also have the discipline to not do something just because they can, or because there is a name player available. Pat Burrell was a name once.
The plan for now is to shop on the higher shelves, seeking to make a significant upgrade who makes them considerably better overall. That means with the addition of the newcomer minus the subtraction of who gets traded, sent down or benched by the arrival.

That said — and knowing the Rays could instead pivot and go out and add a big-name starter, such as Madison Bumgarner or Noah Syndergaard —here are 10 hitters they will at least consider to some degree, ranked in our order of appeal, with Josh Donaldson out after signing with Atlanta, and Manny Machado out of their range:

1. Paul Goldschmidt, 1b, Diamondbacks

Arguably the best option available, and thus a popular target for many teams. He is 31; is coming off a season of hitting .290 with a .922 OPS, 33 homers, 35 doubles, 83 RBIs; is owed a reasonable $14.5 million. But he has only the 2019 season before becoming a free agent, so the calculus will be how much the D'backs want back in return for a one-year rental. The bidding may get too high.

2. Nelson Cruz, of/dh, free agent (Mariners)

Yes, he'll turn 39 in July. But he hasn't showed any signs of slowing down, his 203 homers since the start of the 2014 season the most in the majors. Adds the most power of those considered available. Coming off a four-year contract of making $14 million annually. As with most of the free agents, Rays best hope will be that he isn't overwhelmed by multi-year offers and will be open to taking a one-year deal.

3. J.T. Realmuto, c, Marlins

After considering trade offers all of last season, the Marlins will be wise to make the best deal they can with the multi-talented Realmuto two years until free agency. The Rays already traded for a right-handed hitting catcher in Mike Zunino, but getting Realmuto would make it worth considering a change in plans.

4. Evan Gattis, c/dh, free agent (Astros)

He doesn't have the power or the marquee appeal of some of the others, but provides power, works tough at-bats and could provide some versatility to roster with ability to get behind plate. Could compare notes with Joey Wendle about hitting without battling gloves.

5. Edwin Encarnacion, 1b/DH, Indians

Among the most feared hitters in the game, is considered available as part of the Indians austerity program to cut costs. Turns 36 in January, but has averaged 38 homers over the last seven years and can play a little first base. Makes $20 million in 2019 with a $5 million buyout or a $20 million option for 2020.

6.  Wilson Ramos, c/dh, free agent (Phillies)

Enjoyed his time with Rays in rehabbing from knee surgery in 2017 and playing his way onto AL All-Star team last year before being sidelined by injury. Is looking for the big pay day that eluded him last year, so coming back to the Rays on a one-year deal would be a disappointment. Plus he may want to catch to improve his value going forward, though Zunino is better with the glove.

7. Andrew McCutchen, of, free agent (Yankees)

One of the better all-around players available, but it's hard to see the Rays being able to offer enough playing time in the field as well as a big enough deal as he is supposedly getting multi-year interest. He made $14.75 million last season after being traded from the Pirates to the Giants and then to the Yankees.

8. Jose Martinez, 1b/of/DH, Cardinals

The Cardinals are chasing several of the biggest names, and depending on the fallout may not have room for the 30-year-old who is a much better hitter than fielder. Has hit .300-plus in both big-leagues seasons but only 14 and 17 homers. Is the least expensive option being one year from arbitration eligibility and four from free agency.

9. Adam Jones, of, free agent (Orioles)

Having tormented the Rays and other AL East opponents for years, Jones has not yet generated much buzz on the market coming off a .281, 15-homer, 63 RBI, .732 OPS season. Shifting to fourth OF/DH role might be a tough adjustment, and his skill set would be a bit redundant for the Rays given the recent acquisition of Guillermo Heredia.

10. Jose Abreu, dh/1b, White Sox

Availability is unclear depending on whether the White Sox are ready to compete and buying or still sorting things out and selling. His ability to hit and provide an anchor to a lineup is not a question, evidenced by his .295 average, .869 OPS and 32-homer average over five big-league seasons. Projected to make $16 million in last year before free agency.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays