That the Rays still haven’t done anything to address their top priority of improving their offense is not a concern.
If they don’t over the next couple of months, then it becomes a problem.
Their relative quiet at the just-concluded winter meetings amid a free-agent frenzy wasn’t a surprise as the team doesn’t place any urgency on acting then. Though the Rays have made some meetings headlines, such as striking deals with free agents Charlie Morton and Wilson Ramos, they tend to make some of their bigger moves afterward, even leading up to the opening of spring camp in mid-February.
Typically, they use the early part of the offseason to clear out players that don’t fit their plans, then the next period to further gather intel and determine what moves are realistic.
Having dropped 15 players from their roster and spent a franchise free-agent record $40 million to add starting pitcher Zach Eflin on a three-year deal, it will be most interesting to see what they do next.
“We’re happy with kind of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the course of the winter so far,” general manager Peter Bendix said as the meetings concluded in San Diego. “But it’s still early. And there’s no deadline, right? That’s a good thing and a bad thing. But I think there’s still things that we are hoping to accomplish for the rest of the winter that we haven’t yet.”
Their primary need is a veteran left-handed hitter who can fit at first base, outfield or designated hitter. They also could use an experienced catcher. But because they’re the Rays, they also could get creative, either via free agency or a trade, which is why they explore just about every plausible option.
“Outside of maybe a shortstop, there probably aren’t too many other areas where we’d say, ‘No, we don’t have any interest in that,’” Bendix told reporters in San Diego. “It all depends on the player, it depends on the price. We’re fortunate, because we have enough moving pieces and versatility with our players that there’s a lot of different players we could bring in and make it work.”
Of the left-handed hitters who seemed to fit their profile, only one signed — Cody Bellinger, who got a $17.5 million, one-year deal from the Cubs. (Brandon Nimmo, who the Rays checked in on, got $162 million over eight years to stay with the Mets. Switch-hitter Josh Bell, who wasn’t high on their list, got $33 million over two years from the Guardians.)
Michael Brantley, who if healthy would seem to be their best fit, is still available. So are Brandon Belt, Michael Conforto and Joey Gallo. Andrew Benintendi and Jurickson Profar are, too, but likely too expensive. Some lesser free agents (Corey Dickerson? Robbie Grossman? Dominic Smith?) may be explored, as will assorted trade options. The Rays also have said several times that getting full seasons from key players who were injured last year, such as shortstop Wander Franco, second baseman Brandon Lowe and outfielder Manuel Margot, will be key to their improvement, as well.
“I think we’d love to add more offense,” Bendix said. “I think that is probably something that’s going to be a challenge to do.
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“There’s various ways that you can do it. But ideally, you’d like to add somebody who is kind of a veteran, proven hitter who’s had experience, done it before. Those guys, there’s not many of them and they tend to be very expensive. And so that’s difficult to do. But that’s kind of the ideal.”
The catching market is much more limited.
Oakland’s Sean Murphy is the best available, but the trade price will be high amid significant interest from the Guardians, Astros and others.
The Cardinals were in but opted instead to sign Willson Contreras for a hefty $87.5 million over five years. A main reason? Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the A’s ask included outfielder Lars Nootbaar, infielder/outfielder Brendan Donovan (a Gold Glove winner who was third in rookie of the year voting) and a near-ready pitching prospect such as Gordon Graceffo.
What would be the Rays equivalent? Taj Bradley, Taylor Walls and Isaac Paredes (or Josh Lowe)? More?
Toronto’s Danny Jansen also is considered available in trade. Free-agent options include Tucker Barnhart, Austin Hedges and Omar Narvaez. Ex-Ray Mike Zunino is still available but likely headed elsewhere.
The Rays need to make a trade (Ryan Thompson? Francisco Mejia?) or otherwise open a spot on the 40-man roster, as Eflin’s signing will be official early this week. Might an option be dropping reliever J.P. Feyereisen, who will be out until at least late August after undergoing shoulder surgery? … Roster flexibility already is somewhat limited carrying two other pitchers (Shane Baz and Andrew Kittredge) sidelined while recovering from surgery and headed to the 60-day injured list once camp opens, and potentially another in Colby White. ... Eflin’s deal includes a $1 million payment if traded but no award bonuses. … ESPN.com graded the signing a C+, calling Eflin “a curious pitcher to bet on.” … Still no official word on spring training relocation plans, with a Disney/Tropicana Field split seeming most likely. Team president Matt Silverman told Bally Sports at the meetings the Rays “hopefully will be back in Port Charlotte” for spring 2024. ... Minor-league Rule 5 draft acquisition Nelson Alvarez pitched at USF in 2019, then was a 19th-round draft pick by the Yankees and spent the last two years with Class A Hudson Valley. … The Rays’ Class A Charleston affiliate was named Baseball America’s Minor League Team of the Year. … Brandon Lowe, limited to 65 games last season due to back issues, is said to be doing well and considered full-go for spring training with no lingering issues. … Ditching their gray road jerseys for this coming season (and thus wearing either navy or Columbia blue), the Rays in 2024 will join the growing number of teams with City Connect uniforms. But, we wonder, which city? ... The Rays and Rowdies did a series of “Week of Giving” events providing donations, meals, gifts and volunteers hours to nonprofit organizations and families in need. ... Silverman also told Bally the proposed new stadium as part of the Tropicana Field site redevelopment would have “an outdoor feel” with doors and windows that open. ... Reliever Jimmy Yacabonis, who finished the season with the Rays, signed a minor-league deal with the Mets. ... New Hall of Fame electee Fred McGriff said he has never been to Cooperstown. … The Rays as of now have four picks in the top 100 of the upcoming draft — Nos. 19, 31, 56 and 91 — though that could change slightly based on subsequent free-agent signings.
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