LAS VEGAS – Five things we think we know about the Rays' post-winter meetings:
They’re willing to spend
The Rays talked about shopping on a higher shelf than usual and showed it in adding a proven starter. Their two-year, $30 million deal with RHP Charlie Morton, slated to be official this week, gives him $15 million annual salaries that are the largest in team history. LHP David Price got $14 million in 2014 (and traded in that season); 3B Evan Longoria $13 million in 2017, $11.5 million in '16, $11 million in '15; 1B Carlos Pena $10.125 million in 2010, LF Carl Crawford $10 million in 2010.
And to facilitate getting INF Yandy Diaz from Cleveland as part of a three-way deal with Seattle, they were willing to contribute $5 million cash. That's more than they'll be paying any of current players not named Morton or CF Kevin Kiermaier.
Overall, their payroll still looks to be under $50 million, so there is room to grow.
They’ve been bold
The safe play would have been to keep the bulk of last year's successful and somewhat inexpensive team together. But the Rays have already parted ways with leading home run hitter DH C.J. Cron, top leadoff man and speedster Mallex Smith and supposed foundation piece 1B Jake Bauers. They've brought in C Mike Zunino and INF Yandy Diaz, and are still looking for more, big-name hunting on free-agent DH Nelson Cruz and Marlins C J.T. Realmuto among others for another bat, and in the market for an established closer. Aggressive in a different way, they are also talking of a potential in-season arrival by prospect 1B Nate Lowe, who started 2018 at Class A, went to Double-A and finished at Triple-A with minor-league player of the year honors, hitting a combined .330 with 27 homers, 102 RBIs and a .985 OPS in 130 games.
They’re playing for the now
Indicated not only by who the Rays brought in, but who they've been willing to give up the Rays are focused more on winning games than collecting prospects. In discussions with Arizona for 1B Paul Goldschmidt, they were willing to at least talk about OF Jesus Sanchez, one of their top five prospects, and are presumably open to offering players of similar pedigree for Realmuto. Bauers, traded to Cleveland in the Diaz deal, was 23 and considered by some to be a cornerstone of their young core, but opinions seemed to change and they moved on. Less specific, but also in adding righty hitters to balance their lineup knowing the rival Red Sox and Yankees have three lefty starters each. Also in signing Morton, given that RHP Tyler Glasnow isn't a sure thing in the rotation.
They’re prioritizing depth and roster flexibility
Besides a righty swing that produces a hard-hit rate just behind Giancarlo Stanton and Manny Machado the Rays hope leads to a power explosion, Diaz's appeal is the ability to play first and third and help out in the outfield. He joins other versatile Rays such as Daniel Robertston, Joey Wendle, Brandon Lowe and, if needed, Andrew Velazquez giving manager Kevin Cash myriad combinations.
If the Rays don't make another major move, Diaz seems likely to play first, with Brandon Lowe getting some time there and Ji-Man Choi the primary DH. If they do add a big bat, especially at first base, Choi or potentially Matt Duffy could be traded and Diaz could slide to third.
They’re not done
Team officials have been careful to say this current iteration of the roster is functional. But the sense among Rays officials and with other teams is that they have another move or two, potentially a big one, still to come.
The Rays are planning to install new LED lights at the Trop and replace the Shaw Sports turf for a third straight year, with details to be announced. … Among the more clever sounding promotions planned for 2019, a Ryne Stanek (bottle) opener giveaway. … Jim Bowden gives the Rays a B+ in The Athletic for their moves thus far but raises the question of Morton staying healthy. … It's probably not a coincidence, because few things like this are with the Rays: Three recently acquired players rank in the top 26 in StatCast's hard-hit rate (95 mph or higher): Diaz 19th, Tommy Pham 23rd, Zunino 26th. … For a group that typically prefers the low-key approach, it was a bit unusual, and somewhat opportunistic, for Rays to take their stadium concerns to the winter meetings press conference stage and national TV. … How broad was the touch of Jim Hoff, the longtime field coordinator who died unexpectedly last week? Among those reaching out was former Reds star Eric Davis, who was starting his pro career in 1980 when Hoff managed in their minor-league system. In lieu of flowers, Hoff's family asked for donations to ZooTampa. … The confusion over Edwin Encarnacion's destination in Thursday's three-way trade stemmed from two national writers tweeting he was headed to the Rays in the deal, or another that was pending. That was adamantly denied on all sides, though Encarnacion is unlikely to stay in Seattle, so he eventually is going somewhere. … Finalist interviews are underway to find the next Sun Sports TV reporter, who will replace Michelle Margaux. … In what is likely to be an, um, interesting read, ex-Ray Aubrey Huff is soon launching a weekly blog, Off the Cuff, that he says "won't be for the sensitive in nature" and "possibly a tad offensive.'' … With coaches in place, the Rays still need to hire a video review person as Jeremy Sowers moved into a front-office role. … MLB Network host Brian Kenny, who championed use of the opener and other bullpenning moves, will be a guest at the Feb. 9 FanFest.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.