To rebuild through trades, Rays have strong pitching to offer

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Drew Smyly (33) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Drew Smyly (33) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
Published Nov. 12, 2016

Four days at the GM meetings confirmed what seemed obvious: that there is considerable, widespread interest in the Rays' cost-effective and controllable starting pitchers, which should yield opportunities to fill their primary needs.

"The demand is there," GM Erik Neander said Friday after returning from Arizona. "When you have really good players, especially in an area where there is need across the league, I think it certainly plays that way."

Given the Rays need help in several areas — catcher, bullpen, leftfield/DH — it seems quite likely that they make a deal, or deals, from their eight-deep stable of starters, though Neander cautioned they are cognizant of the value of depth, too.

Interest from other teams logically starts with RHPs Chris Archer (who said last week he had "very good insight" he won't be dealt) and Jake Odorizzi. But LHP Drew Smyly has some appeal, and the Rays may be more motivated, and less demanding, given his projected $7 million salary. So does RHP Alex Cobb, even with limited action after his return from Tommy John surgery.

Assuming their requests are reasonable, the Rays should be in a commanding position over the next couple of months, with their biggest concerns being if they are making the best deal they can and are leaving themselves enough arms.

Though the free agent market is thin — enough so that ex-Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson will be one of the top options — and the 2016 increase in offense puts more of a premium on quality starters, there will be some competition, such as the Tigers making RHP Justin Verlander available and the White Sox LHP Chris Sale.

But the opportunity will be there for the Rays.

Overall, Neander said they remain confident in their plan to improve from 68-94, with trades more likely initially and free agency later, though remaining nimble, with no surprises thus far. "We have a lot of games to make up, and that's never easy," he said. "But we're in as good of a position as we can be from a preparation standpoint to pounce if and when the right opportunities present themselves."

ARCHED UP: In response to Archer's comments that they need to spend more money to win, baseball operations president Matt Silverman said: "We are all share that drive to win. We share Chris' passion."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Prospects have to be added to the 40-man roster by Friday to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, likely additions including INFs Willy Adames and Daniel Robertson and RHPs Chih-Wei Hu, Jaime Schultz and Ryne Stanek. With only three spots open, there also will be some departures (Tim Beckham?), either via trades or designated for assignment. … Former Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton could be a fit with the Twins. … For what it's worth, last week's Twitter reports by freelance journalist Pierre Trudel that Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg funded a stadium feasibility study in Montreal also were a surprise to the leaders of the effort to bring a team back there, per Le Journal de Montreal. … The Rays are still waiting for the Super 2 arbitration eligibility cutoff point, with RHP Danny Farquhar, Beckham and Gold Glove winning CF Kevin Kiermaier all potentially eligible. … Citing the "toxic negativity" of the presidential election, SS Matt Duffy said in a thoughtful post that he is stepping away from social media. … Kiermaier also won Wilson's award as the majors' top defensive centerfielder.

DIAMOND DUST: BBWAA awards are given out this week, with top rookies Monday and ending with MVPs Thursday. … Series champion Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said manager Joe Maddon, the longtime Rays skipper, is "going to be in the Hall of Fame someday." … Ex-Ray Aubrey Huff has his interesting book, Baseball Junkie, done, and a campaign to get it published by year's end. … Miami's Double-A Jacksonville team changed its name from the Suns to Jumbo Shrimp.