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Rays Tales: Why this roster may be set up just right

Rays are always tinkering, but what they have now may be what they want going forward.
The Rays are hoping for more celebrations like this, as first baseman Ji-Man Choi (26) is showered at home plate after hitting a two-run walk off homer giving the Rays a 6-5 win over the Cleveland Indians Monday, Sept. 10, 2018 in St. Petersburg. (CHRIS URSO | Times)
Published Jan. 19

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are never truly “done."

Team officials, from the numbers-crunching analysts all the way up to principal owner Stuart Sternberg, are constantly exploring ways to improve their team, considering further additions, pondering trades, seeking some ideas to get a little bit better, and often come up with something to at least pursue.

But with spring training now less than a month away, what you see on the roster now may be pretty much what you get come opening day.

Though Avisail Garcia doesn’t have the resume of Nelson Cruz, who got more money from the Twins than the Rays were willing to spend, or the potential overall impact of DJ LeMahieu, whom the Rays were very much in on before he went to the Yankees, he is a good fit with a decent shot at a bounceback season.

Overall, they like the talent, depth and versatility they have. “We’re trying to build as talented and as flexible a unit as we can," GM Erik Neander said.

As it looks now, the Rays have Mike Zunino and Michael Perez as catchers; Willy Adames, new addition Yandy Diaz, Matt Duffy, Daniel Robertson and Joey Wendle as infielders; Ji-Man Choi as a DH (and maybe occasional first baseman); and Kevin Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham and Garcia for outfielders.

That would seem to leave Brandon Lowe, a lefty swinger who can play second and corner outfield and will get a spring look at first base, ahead of defense-first outfielder Guillermo Heredia, a righty hitter acquired from Seattle with a minor-leaguer option remaining, and some others in competition for the final spot.

Pitching wise, they have starters Blake Snell, free-agent addition Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow, with tentative plans to use openers twice in five games. Among openers/bulk inning guys/relievers, Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Wilmer Font (if healthy), Adam Kolarek, Chaz Roe, Ryne Stanek and Ryan Yarbrough seem set, with Jalen Beeks, Jake Faria, Ian Gibaut, Emilio Pagan, Hunter Wood the leading candidates competing for the final spot or two.

So what, besides injuries, could change?

Until told otherwise, the Rays remain “in” on C J.T. Realmuto, whom the Marlins presumably are still looking to trade while trying the patience of interested teams. Getting him would be a big deal, and lead to more moves, including flipping Zunino. (If they were willing to find a way to get smooth fielding second baseman LeMahieu to fit, they could make Realmuto work.)

There’s still some whispers of seeking at least a bigger bat to put in the first base/DH mix; prices are likely coming down, but so is the inventory.

But most likely, and arguably most needed, is a veteran closer. As much as the Rays like Alvarado, Castillo and Roe and want to give them chances, they could benefit from someone with some “been there, done that” experience. They should be able to wait out the market, with opportunity a part of their pitch. Then again, with Cody Allen getting $8.5 million, plus $2.5 million in incentives, from Anaheim coming off a bad year, there may not be any bargains to be had.

This time, maybe they are done.

Rays rumblings

Spring camp invites seem likely to include minor-league LHP Colin Poche and INFs Nate Lowe, Nick Solak and Kean Wong; likely not LHP/1B Brendan McKay. … LHP Blake Snell, who has been helping coach his brother’s high school basketball team, gets his Cy Young Award at the New York baseball writers banquet Saturday (Jan. 26). … Opening over/under line at Caesars Palace is 85 ½ Rays wins; fangraphs.com projects 86. … The promotions schedule will be released and single-game ticket sales launched around the Feb. 9 Fan Fest. ... Joey Wendle was seventh on MLB Network’s list of top second baseman right now; Houston’s Jose Altuve was tops. … Portland baseball backers claim to have $1.3 billion in commitments, including singer Ciara and Seahawks QB/hubby Russell Wilson, toward the estimated $2.5 billion cost of a stadium and franchise acquisition. … Among a long list of moves and promotions, the Rays named Cole Figueroa, who had a career .208 average in the majors, assistant director, hitting development. … Craig Albernaz’s fast track continues with promotion to a minor-league field coordinator role, as the team went outside to hire two managers, Morgan Ensberg and Jeff Smith. … Off-field moves included promoting Rafaela A. Amador to vice president, public affairs and Dave Haller to VP, communications. … Garcia’s $2.5 million pool of incentives start with $250,000 for 350 plate appearances and top out with $1 million for 650, which he’s never reached. … The team is looking to hire bat/ball staff to work on the Trop field and in the clubhouse with myriad duties; see raysbaseball.com/jobs. … The March 28 season opener vs. Houston starts at 4 p.m. … Beeks, C Nick Ciuffo and OF Jesus Sanchez attended the MLB/union-run Rookie Career Development Program in Miami. … Snell’s curveball was ranked the fifth most nasty pitch in the game per an mlb.com poll of players; Boston Chris Sale’s slider was No. 1. … Hall of Fame election results are announced Tuesday.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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