LAKE BUENA VISTA — There were a lot of reasons the Rays didn’t start the process of trading some of their bigger-name, higher-paid players at last week’s winter meetings.
Most obvious was them not finding the just-right deal to move closer Alex Colome, 3B Evan Longoria, starters Chris Archer and/or Jake Odorizzi and others. Another seemed to be the Orioles tossing Manny Machado into the market, understandably leading several teams to at least put aside what they were doing to look, including the Cardinals, with whom the Rays match up with very well and remain very much engaged on multiple trade scenarios.
Beyond that, there is the remarkably slow pace of the overall market for trades and signings. Many attribute that to the high number of manager and staff changes and the two big early off-season deals — the signing of Shohei Ohtani and trade of Giancarlo Stanton — delaying other action.
But there’s another reason, which could mean this is the new norm, in that all front offices have gotten smarter and homogenized in their thinking.
They now value players much the same way, especially young, low-cost big-leaguers and top prospects; they are reluctant to give up big chunks of the future for any veteran; and it’s tougher to agree on big packages because even the players on the margin are debated. In short, it’s hard to deal like the Rays did with Matt Garza, James Shields and even Wil Myers.
Also, though this is not universal, the Rays are among teams that prefer not to do business at the meetings. They’d rather gather info there, but wait until they get home — and aren’t going days with little or no sleep due to all-night discussions, don’t have people constantly pushing for face-to-face meetings — to make more rational and thoughtful decisions.
That said, here are some leftover thoughts:
• As much as it understandably would pain Rays fans, execs with several other teams expect Longoria to be dealt before he gains no-trade status in April. Circumstances are much different, but the Stanton situation had to be a lesson.
• Teams we heard with interest, to various degrees, in Archer include the Astros, Braves, Cubs, Cards, Brewers, Nationals, Phillies, Yankees, Twins. For Longoria, Cardinals, Giants, Mets and Yankees. For what it’s worth, Rays GM Erik Neander said he isn’t philosophically opposed to trading with other AL East teams.
• Didn’t expect RHP Tommy Hunter to be the first of the Rays nine big-league free agents sign, much less to parlay a season that started as a camp invitee into a two-year, $18 million deal with the Phillies. He did better than RHP Steve Cishek, though $12 to $14 million over two from the Cubs is good, too. RHP Alex Cobb and 1B/DH Logan Morrison will get the biggest deals.
• Don’t know which of three former Rays taking over as first-time managers in the NL East will have the most success, but Philadelphia’s Gabe Kapler will provide the most interesting quotes. For example, talking last week about the importance of "environment building" and saying how the coaching staff, front office and various departments in the organization "are the soil and our players are the plants and the trees that are going to grow in that soil. So that soil has to be extremely nutrient dense." Mickey Callaway will have his own issues with the Mets, and Dave Martinez with the Nats.
Not so minor matters: Hearing Dan DeMent will get promoted to the Rays Triple-A hitting coach and that Rick Knapp is a strong candidate on the pitching side. Knapp, the Tigers’ big-league pitching coach for 2 ½ seasons, has an extensive background in the minors and is working for MLB International through year end. Also, advanced Class A Charlotte manager Michael Johns is headed to a field coordinator role, with Jim Morrison likely to return to the Stone Crabs dugout.
Rays rumblings: Expect lots of 20-year anniversary promotions this season, maybe even a live action re-creation of the 1998 first-ever first pitch by Wilson Alvarez. … Not sure what Fox Sports Sun is planning to fill out its TV crew, but a new hire will be the fourth person in the reporter role in five seasons, following Kelly Nash, Emily Austen and Alex Corddry. … Director-level employees let go by the Rays recently include Jon Dougherty (game production), Amy Miller (marketing), Tom Karac and Scott Kelyman (stadium operations). Adding former St. Pete assistant police chief Jim Previtera to be in charge of security and stadium ops is a solid hire. … Good to see ex-Rays OF Melvin (B.J.) Upton get a deal with the Indians after going to the GM and winter meetings for face-to-face talks. … Wildest thing I heard last week was a scenario where one of the Florida teams goes to Montreal and the other ends up under Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s control. … Pretty good year for Craig Albernaz, who gets championship rings for being a coach at Durham and manager at short-season Class Hudson Valley and now is spending the winter in Australia as a coach for Perth. … 2015 top pick OF Garrett Whitley, by the way, is hitting .306 with a .958 OPS for the Heat and got All-Star consideration. … In some way, the Tampa Florida State League team changing its to name to Tarpons from Yankees should benefit the Rays from a branding standpoint. … Figured the Rays would sign RHP Michael Pineda as the next ex-Yankee-rehabbing-from-Tommy-John-surgery after Chase Whitley and Nate Eovaldi, but the Twins did.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.