ST. PETERSBURG — Having mostly avoided the virus outbreak that forced an abrupt early end to the MLB general managers meetings in Arizona, Rays officials returned home after several days of talks with a slightly better sense of what trades and free-agent deals may be possible later in the offseason.
“Very, very preliminary,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said Friday. “We have a good group of players, and that was something that was reinforced by other teams. In terms of conversations with agents, we learned a little bit more about where we might be on some players’ (preference) lists and what we might have to offer. Nice to see faces and connect a little bit and catch up, but nothing dramatically different at this point.”
Neander, naturally, didn’t want to discuss specifics.
Tyler Glasnow was certainly a prime topic of discussion, given the industry-wide demand for starting pitching and his $25 million salary for 2024. Outfielder Manuel Margot, signed for $10 million, and DH Harold Ramirez, projected to make $4.4 million via arbitration, seem likely candidates to be traded, Ramirez perhaps sooner given Friday’s contract tender deadline.
With starters Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen out until the second half of the season and Shane McClanahan until 2025, adding pitching seems a focus, and even more so if the Rays trade Glasnow.
“Maybe (we do) a little balancing with the roster with some of the injuries that we have in terms of where we need to get to,” Neander said. “But at this time of year, I think more than anything else you’re just trying to understand the market.
“Understand other teams and their desires, make sure your communication with clubs and with agents are strong, and try to develop the best sense you can about what possibilities might be out there that fit for us.”
Of more current focus:
• The Rays “have no immediate plans” to fill the general manager’s job vacated when Peter Bendix was hired last week by the Marlins. The current trio of assistant GMs — Will Cousins, Chanda Lawdermilk and Carlos Rodriguez — will assume more responsibilities, along with other top officials, and there will be no outside search for a GM. (Of note, when Neander was promoted from GM to president in September 2021, the Rays waited three months before promoting Bendix.)
Senior advisor Jon Daniels, who had a huge hand in shaping the World Series champion Rangers roster before being dismissed in August 2022, also is likely to play a larger role, as well as provide mentorship to the group.
• Claiming lefty Tyler Alexander on Friday filled the 40-man roster, but more changes are coming soon, with two roster-shaping deadlines this week: 6 p.m. Tuesday to add prospects in advance of the Rule 5 draft, and 8 p.m. Friday to tender contracts, most notably to the 12 eligible for arbitration.
Though infielder Junior Caminero and pitcher Jacob Lopez were already called up (and catcher Blake Hunt and pitcher Michael Mercado traded), several other prospects are under consideration to be added, such as infielder Austin Shenton and pitchers Anthony Molina and Cole Wilcox.
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• For the fifth time in six years, Kevin Cash is a finalist for AL Manager of the Year honors that will be announced Tuesday, with Baltimore’s Brandon Hyde considered the favorite. Texas’ Bruce Bochy is the other finalist for the award based on regular-season play.
“All three managers that are nominated are really good,” Rays Silver Slugger-winning first baseman Yandy Diaz said by phone, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “In my opinion, Kevin Cash is the best, and hopefully he can win.”
MLB Network’s Sean Casey raved Cash in comparing him to his mentor, Terry Francona. Colleague Greg Amsinger said, “if you were doing power rankings of all the managers right now, he might be No. 1. ... If they were all free agents, he’d probably be the first manager signed. That’s how special Kevin Cash is.”
Reliever Tony Watson, who spent 11 seasons with the Pirates, Dodgers, Giants and Angels before retiring in April 2022, was hired in a player development role, working with Winston Doom, recently promoted to director of pitching. … The Rays stadium situation will be discussed at this week’s quarterly owners meeting, where the main event will be the vote on the A’s proposed move to Las Vegas. ... A cool nod to Shawn Armstrong’s unheralded strong season was being among the 24 relievers (along with Pete Fairbanks) nominated for all-MLB team selection (by fan vote and an experts’ panel). Josh Lowe was (along with Randy Arozarena) among the 20 outfielders selected. … Robert Stephenson’s four strong months in the Rays’ bullpen could really pay off in free agency — mlbtraderumors.com predicts he’ll get a four-year, $36 million deal. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel suggests three years, $30 million. … Among topics to be addressed soon: How to replace Triple-A manager Michael Johns, who was promoted to the big-league first-base coach job and will handle outfield and baserunning duties. … The 12 arbitration-eligibles include McClanahan and infielder Isaac Paredes, who qualified as Super 2s (the cutoff was 2 years, 118 days of service) and are now eligible four times. … The Rays have the third-best returning roster (as of now) per WAR calculations by fangraphs.com, behind the Braves and Astros, and are fifth in mlb.com’s initial team power rankings, behind the Braves, Rangers, Astros and Phillies. … Two cool Rays reunions in the latest wave of coaching hires: Miguel Cairo as the bench coach for Washington manager Davey Martinez, as they were original Devil Rays and in the lineup for the first-ever game; and Eckerd College product Craig Albernaz as the field coordinator for new Cleveland manager Stephen Vogt, as they were both catchers and played together in the Tampa Bay minor-league system. (And Vogt was in Albernaz’s wedding.) … Starter Taj Bradley was 13th on mlb.com’s list of 2023 rookies based on predicted career value; infielder Curtis Mead didn’t make the 35-deep list. ... Right-hander Dalton Mall, a 24-year-old who struck out 136 over 88⅓ innings at three colleges, signed a minor-league deal. ... Vogt in his introductory media conference Friday said his interest in managing began in 2009 playing for the Rays’ Class A Stone Crabs team. He was 24 with an injured shoulder and uncertain future, and asked then-manager Jim Morrison and player development officials Mitch Lukevics and Jim Hoff if he could stay in the dugout to learn about coaching: “It really started then and there.”
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