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Rays Tales: Assessing offseason decisions

Key moves with different results: Acquiring closer Grant Balfour, left, and catcher Ryan Hanigan, and retaining reliever Josh Lueke.
Key moves with different results: Acquiring closer Grant Balfour, left, and catcher Ryan Hanigan, and retaining reliever Josh Lueke.
Published May 18, 2014

Baseball is constantly about decisions. And with the season more than one-fourth over, teams are starting to make more of them — cutting veterans who don't have anything left, sending down youngsters who turned out not to be ready. In some cases, they're making decisions now to correct decisions they made in the offseason.

The Rays made a big decision a few weeks ago, cutting ties with ineffective veteran reliever Heath Bell, who came in a December trade, and eating $4 million in the process. They may have similar decisions to make as OF Brandon Guyer and RHP Josh Lueke continue to take up roster spots without providing much return.

Here is a look at some of the key decisions the Rays made leading up to the season and how they've worked out so far:

Ace in hand

Decision: Not, despite considerable speculation, to trade LHP David Price.

Analysis: Without knowing what/if they actually were offered anything for Price, it's hard to say definitively if they made the right call. But they deserve credit for deciding they had a good enough chance to win to invest $14 million, and forsake a potentially bigger return, to bring Price back. And his pitching for the most part has validated that decision. Plus, they still have the option of dealing him later his season or next winter.

We say: Right move — for now.

Closing time

Decision: To replace Fernando Rodney as closer with Grant Balfour.

Analysis: This was two separate deals that led to one result. Rodney's performance declined considerably from his historic 2012 and he was seeking big bucks, so the Rays had moved on, planning to fill the spot internally. Balfour's free-agent deal with Baltimore fell through, and the Rays swept in unexpectedly to sign him for two years and $12 million. Rodney lowered his price and went to Seattle for two years, $14 million. Both moves make things, um, interesting. Rodney has better numbers (11 saves, 3.31 ERA), but Balfour (8, 6.06) has the ability to be more consistent.

We say: Can't call this one yet.

Safe at home

Decision: To acquire front-line C Ryan Hanigan from Reds (and sign him long term) and RHP Heath Bell from Diamondbacks in a three-way deal for minor-leaguers OF Todd Glaesmann and RHP Justin Choate.

Analysis: It's still a strong deal despite the Rays cutting Bell and eating the rest of the $5.5 million they owed him because Hanigan has been that good, impacting games offensively and defensively. Getting Bell was more about taking on the money to make the Hanigan deal work (as was getting him signed for three years and $10.75 million, plus an option). In a way the Rays deserve credit for realizing Bell couldn't pitch effectively and eating the rest. Oddly, Glaesmann and Choate retired.

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We say: If Hanigan is this good, it was worth it.

San Diego shuffle

Decision: To trade LHP Alex Torres and prospect RHP Jesse Hahn to Padres for RHP Brad Boxberger, INF Logan Forsythe, RHP Matt Andriese, RHP Matt Lollis and INF Maxx Tissenbaum.

Analysis: You get the sense the Rays felt Torres peaked last season as an impact reliever, but his 0.57 ERA for San Diego (1 earned run in 18 games) would sure look good in their pen about now. Meanwhile, Forsythe, billed as a big bat vs. lefties, has been a big disappointment (.222 avg, .581 OPS) and not as versatile defensively as billed, and Boxberger has been helpful but not dominant. Andriese (3-3, 4.93 ERA at Triple-A Durham) could tip it for the Rays in the future, or Hahn could for San Diego if he stays healthy.

We say: Doesn't look like too good of a deal right now.

Option play

Decisions: To pick up a $7 million option on 2B Ben Zobrist (above left) and a $5 million on SS Yunel Escobar.

Analysis: These were no-brainers, but the Rays may have to think a little more about Zobrist's $7.5 million option for 2015. And you wonder if they will rethink — or regret — giving Escobar an in-season extension that guaranteed him $13 million over 2015-16, plus a 2017 option, if his play starts to drop off.

We say: 'Zo is a go, but wait and see on Escobar.

Out-of-option play

Decisions: To chose OF Brandon Guyer over INFs Wilson Betemit and Jayson Nix, and RHP Josh Lueke over Mark Lowe and others for final roster spots at the end of spring.

Analysis: The Rays had their reasons, seeing upside in Guyer and Lueke, and not wanting to risk losing either on waivers. But as little as the players are used, at least in key situations, they limit manager Joe Maddon's moves, so they hurt more than help.

We say: It's time to move on. In the past the Rays have had 25 men play like 28 or 29; now it's like they are playing with 23.

Veteran moves

Decisions: To re-sign 1B James Loney (three years, $21 million) and OF David DeJesus (two years, $10.5 million, plus '16 option).

Analysis: The unexpected moves have worked out well; both have been key contributors. But could the contracts become issues if the Rays want to break up the band?

We say: So far, so good.

Catching on

Decisions: To re-sign C Jose Molina (two years, $4.5 million) and trade C Jose Lobaton and minor-leaguers LHP Felipe Rivero and OF Drew Vettleson to the Nationals for RHP Nathan Karns.

Analysis: Several questions here: Was it worth going to two years to keep Molina? Had the Rays known how the Hanigan deal would work out, would they have preferred letting Molina go and keeping Lobaton (hitting .241-1-7 in 23 games)? Was Karns (2-2, 5.85 ERA at Triple-A Durham) worth three players?

We say: Once the Rays committed to Molina and got Hanigan, Lobaton (who was out of options) had to go, so getting a high-end prospect like Karns made sense, but it's not a good deal until he makes it to the majors to stay.

Short stops

• The Rays say it'll be tough to decide whom to drop from the rotation when Alex Cobb returns, but the obvious move sure seems to be moving LHP Cesar Ramos back to the bullpen, knowing he can return if LHP Erik Bedard falters.

• Fox Sports' Jon Morosi made some interesting leaps in logic in a recent column suggesting that the Rays' slow start could lead to Stuart Sternberg selling the team and/or it moving to Montreal.

• Similarly, a number of national media are already suggesting the slow start will lead the Rays to deal LHP David Price sooner rather than later, with ESPN's Jim Bowden labeling him the top trade candidate. Don't people know by now the Rays rarely do things because they have to.

Rays rumblings

The baseball draft is June 5-7; the Rays' top picks are Nos. 20, 60, 72 and 96. Baseball America's latest mock draft — yes, there are mock drafts — has them first taking California prep OF Derek Hill, a defensive whiz. ESPN's Keith Law has them down for Wichita State 1B Casey Gillaspie, brother of White Sox INF Conor. … Julianna Zobrist, wife of 2B Ben, and Shannon Magrane, daughter of former TV man Joe, are part of a Tuesday concert at St. Pete's Hideaway Cafe benefitting youth music causes; see instrumentsofchange.com. … The Rays will check into former mate/INF Jeff Keppinger, who was designated for assignment last week by the White Sox one-plus seasons into a three-year, $12 million deal, but they seem unlikely to have big-time, or big-league, interest. … RHP Ryne Stanek, a first-round draftee last year who had injuries, made his pro debut last week for Class A Bowling Green. … Signing veteran INF Jayson Nix back to a minor-league deal provides more depth at Durham, where he joins Ray Olmedo and Mike Fontenot. … Research for the visitor/convention folks found an economic impact of $21 million in Charlotte County from Rays spring training this year, not counting what the teams spent. … Didn't it seem odd that none of the AL East teams are repped on the seven-man committee to pick the next commissioner? … Kim DeJesus, wife of OF David, shot another national commercial, this one for Kia.

Got a minute? | Cole Figueroa

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House of Cards.

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Eggs — in the microwave.

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Salma Hayek.


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