The New Year means pitchers and catchers report in fewer than six weeks. The Rays will begin the regular season seven weeks later, at home against the Orioles. Now that the holidays are behind us, let’s review what the Rays have left to do this offseason.
Expect Andrew Friedman to sign at least one more bat before camp opens, and perhaps two more if the winter’s rumors are true. While one of the additions would serve as designated hitter, the other would play a corner position—likely left or right field. Lance Berkman is the most attractive free-agent hitter remaining that falls within the Rays’ price range. We covered Berkman before and little has changed since. His tentativeness towards the DH position and playing in 2013 could prevent a potential deal. If not Berkman, the Rays could pursue Travis Hafner or even Jim Thome.
The hottest name on the trade market is Mike Morse, though he may not be available until other chips fall, if even then. Morse fans should root for the Red Sox and Mike Napoli to resolve their differences, and for Adam LaRoche to sign with the Nationals. From there, the Rays could be in the catbird seat for acquiring the slugger via trade. Tommy Rancel, who covered the Morse possibility earlier in the offseason, wrote about the bullpen last week. Those seemingly unconnected topics could have a link if the Nationals pursue relief help in exchange for Morse. (Friedman is likely to add another reliever or two, even if he doesn’t send another out the door via trade.)
One thing is for certain about the rest of the offseason: The free-agent market is low on certainties; however, there are plenty of flawed options available that could provide value in the right situation. Scott Hairston may be out of the Rays’ price range, but Jeff Baker or Ryan Raburn could serve as a decent Hairston proxy. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of formerly famous players. You have Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Lee, possibly Scott Rolen, Austin Kearns, and Juan Rivera out there, seeking jobs. None of those players will move the needle, and they may not need to if the Rays sign one to a minor-league deal (a la Hideki Matsui).
Lastly, the Rays need to resolve an organizational logjam at utility infielder. Friedman cleared some of the glut by trading Derek Dietrich and Tyler Bortnick, but there is a bottleneck situation developing at the top of the depth chart. As of now, the Rays have four utility infielders coming to camp on the 40-man roster: Sean Rodriguez and Ryan Roberts, the two with the most perceived trade value, and Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac, the two without options. It seems like a foregone conclusion that one, if not two, of those players will be in someone else’s camp sooner than later—the smart money is on Brignac, even if he’s unlikely to bring much back in return.
Those developments are just the anticipated ones. Friedman knows the market better than any outsider could dream, and so unexpected moves are bound to occur. The good news is that baseball is nearing, and it should bring resolution to the remaining roster questions.