The Rays came away from the winter meetings with a new star catcher*, a long shot bullpen candidate and an impressive spin rate for the pitches exchanged in extensive and excessive talks on what they might do next.
Here are our four takeaways on their week:
Asking for a lot in trades
With a handful of controllable and inexpensive starters, the Rays are in a strong position, given the barren free agent market and limited trade options, and they know it. The word from several interested teams is the Rays are seeking massive returns on just about everybody asked about. Even heard chatter they wanted more for RHP Chris Archer than the haul the White Sox got for more accomplished — though less controlled (three years vs. five) — LHP Chris Sale. While that might be frustrating to other teams, and not conducive for quick deals, it is also the Rays' prerogative. And as long as they don't stubbornly price themselves out of the market and miss out on an opportunity, that seems like a smart strategy.
Have to be creative
Even though there is some risk with Wilson Ramos sidelined into July as he recovers from right knee surgery — thus the * — it still was a major coup for the small-market, low-payroll, woe-is-us Rays to land the best available catcher. They took advantage of the circumstances to do so at a relative bargain, an incentive-heavy deal maxing out at $18.25 million over two years that could pay off big with production and maybe a trade return. That's the kind of deal they have to do to compete with the big boys. Similarly, it's why they say they are open to anything, why you hear mentions of them talking with teams about players they don't want to trade, such as CF Kevin Kiermaier, RHP Alex Colome and 3B Evan Longoria. They have to at least listen, in case another team wants to get crazy, then decide from there. That approach fuels the potential for a one-year deal late in the off-season with a slipped-through-the-cracks slugger such as Jose Bautista, or a similar big bat.
Still trading starter, not Archer
Though they talked plenty about Archer, the Rays put sooooo much value in the combination of his skills, upside and contract (five years of control for $38.5 million) that there doesn't seem to be any way they could feel they were getting enough for him. While teams are starting to recognize the high value the Rays see in Jake Odorizzi, that price isn't likely to be met, either. That leaves the Rays pretty much where they were going into the meetings, most likely to trade LHP Drew Smyly or RHP Alex Cobb, albeit for a lesser return, with RHP Erasmo Ramirez next.
Still want to win
Seeing the White Sox being the latest team to go into total teardown mode raises a fair question of whether the Rays — coming off 94 losses and faced with fierce AL East competition — would be wise to do the same, trading several starters, Colome, Kiermaier, Longoria, Brad Boxberger, Logan Forsythe, etc. While they haven't conversely committed to hike their payroll into "go for it" mode, instead headed toward the $70 million range, there hasn't seemed to be any such talk of dismantling and rebuilding, either. That's certainly not in the plans of manager Kevin Cash, who is determined in his third year to improve.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Could be the Rays actually add two bats, an outfielder and a 1B/DH type. ... Expect the signing of Ramos to be official early this week. … Early fangraphs.com projections for the AL East have the Red Sox at 93-69 then, the Yankees (83-79), Rays (82-80), Blue Jays (82-80), Oriolest (76-86). … Foxsports.com ranked the current Rays rotation ninth best in the majors, with the Red Sox first. … Cool move by the Rays to bring back the well-liked Steve Henderson as a minor-league hitting instructor. … RHP Kevin Gadea was the Rays' first Rule 5 draft pick since 2010. … Minor-league pick RHP Ty Hensley has two Tommy Johns surgeries in his past, and a broken jaw from an well-publicized Dec. 2014 assault. ... Cash said the longer spring training due to the World Baseball Classic creates more time/innings to look at bullpen candidates. … RHP Parker Markel, 5-3, 2.52 in 34 games at Triple-A Durham last year, signed with the Korean Lotte Giants for a reported $525,000. … Former Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton is a good fit on the Blue Jays' staff, especially given his connection with top executives from their time together in Cleveland.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.