LAS VEGAS — In their search to add a proven power bat to their lineup, the Rays have discussed contract parameters with free agent DH Nelson Cruz, and his agent says the matchup would be "a perfect fit.''
But before you start penciling Cruz and his potential 40 homers into the lineup …
Cruz, agent Bryce Dixon said, has three to four other teams similarly interested. And the Rays are continuing to explore other options, specifically ways to add a hitter who would provide some positional versatility.
"His power would be kind of the finishing piece for the Rays lineup,'' Dixon said Monday at baseball's winter meetings. "The Rays need a power bat and he could clearly provide that. Plus the intangibles, the veteran leadership helping out with young players, he's an all-around good guy.''
Cruz, 38, has a limited market of teams with room to add a DH. The Twins, Astros and White Sox have been reported to also have interest, though Dixon wouldn't say. As a result, Cruz, who made $14.25 million in each of the last four seasons in Seattle, would seem open to the shorter team deal (one to two years) the Rays would be willing to offer. Also of note, Cruz has posted Instagram videos of him working out in rightfield (where he has played) and at first base.
"The interest (in the Rays) is genuine,'' Dixon said, planning to talk again with the Rays soon. "We're kind of in the middle of trying to get some concrete numbers and finish the dialogue with the teams. The Rays have been in there the entire time.''
If the Rays are okay with primarily a DH, Cruz is the top free agent option, though they also have talked to Cleveland about Edwin Encarnacion, whose $20 million salary might require trading a veteran back. Other trade options include St. Louis's Jose Martinez and Seattle's Carlos Santana. The talks with the Indians also included INF Yandy Diaz, who hasn't played much yet in the majors.
With manager Kevin Cash saying Monday his higher priority is to add pitching over hitting, the Rays continue to maintain dialogue with free agent RHP Charlie Morton. As with Cruz, the Rays would be looking to do short-term deal. Morton, 35, would seem likely to be a fit, having spent the last two seasons with the Astros, going 29-10, 3.36 while making $7 million plus incentives each season. The Rays are also believed to be exploring other pitching options.
Talking a good game
Rays senior VP Chaim Bloom said they had a busy day talking with teams on trades and agents on free agent players though indications were that nothing was close to being finalized.
"Time can fly when you're having a lot of conversations,'' he said. "Most of them have been continuations of things we discussed before getting here. There have been a couple of new things that have popped up. Couple of possibilities where you can feel a little bit more urgency on the part of the other teams. But for the most part it's been a continuation of what we've been talking about over the last couple weeks.''
Bloom said that because of the flexibility with the roster the Rays are "not desperately seeking one specific upgrade" and can "consider a variety of possibilities.''
On Lou’s Hall case
Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa said he is optimistic fellow Tampa native Lou Piniella will eventually join him in Cooperstown after falling one vote shy of the 12 needed to be elected Sunday by the Today's Game Era committee. "It shows you how well respected he is,'' La Russa said. "I know it's disappointing, but that's a lot of votes to get in that place. There were very candid discussions and he has a lot of good qualities. I'm optimistic it won't be long before he gets in. Piniella, 75, can next be considered in 2021.
Number of the day
6 Consecutive questions about the opener strategy to open manager Kevin Cash's session in the media room.
Cash reiterated that the Rays will use the opener again next season and said the current discussions, which could be impacted by adding Morton or another starter, are whether to do it two or three times in five games. … Bob Cluck, a former big-league pitching coach with three teams who had been working as a major-league scout for the Rays, has retired. … The Royals are signing speedy OF Billy Hamilton, who was DFA'd by the Reds.