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Yunel deal highlights Rays' memorable '12 WM

Trade with Marlins helped Tampa Bay improve infield defense
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- "Blockbuster" and "Rays" usually mix like oil and water at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

Tampa Bay has always maintained that it feels no pressure to get something done during the annual gathering because it is working to better the team throughout the entire calendar year. So normally, the Rays use their time at the Winter Meetings as an exploratory mission to uncover potential interest in players and free agents, and to make queries of teams and the agents of free agents about players they are interested in.

ST. PETERSBURG -- "Blockbuster" and "Rays" usually mix like oil and water at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings.

Tampa Bay has always maintained that it feels no pressure to get something done during the annual gathering because it is working to better the team throughout the entire calendar year. So normally, the Rays use their time at the Winter Meetings as an exploratory mission to uncover potential interest in players and free agents, and to make queries of teams and the agents of free agents about players they are interested in.

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Given that history, 2012 became one of the Rays' most active Winter Meetings.

Heading into those Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., Tampa Bay had pretty much locked up free-agent first baseman James Loney, giving the team some inertia. Loney was a perfect fit -- he was a tough out, and he could flash the leather. Under manager Joe Maddon, the Rays always had a quality fielder at first, including Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman and Loney.

Ben Zobrist had finished the 2012 season as Tampa Bay's shortstop, and even though Maddon liked to compliment Zobrist for having "no chrome" -- he made all the routine plays -- the Rays were in the market for a shortstop.

Day 2 of the Meetings brought such a shortstop to the forefront in Yunel Escobar.

The Blue Jays had traded the enigmatic 30-year-old shortstop to the Marlins earlier in the offseason. Less than a month later, the Rays and the Marlins were able to make a trade that saw Tampa Bay send Minor League infielder Derek Dietrich to Miami for Escobar.

The Marlins and Rays had been in discussions for two days, with the A's also in the mix. Escobar was under contract to make $5 million in 2013, and his deal included club options for '14 and '15 at $5 million per season. Meanwhile, Dietrich ranked 14th on MLBPipeline.com's list of Tampa Bay's Top 20 Prospects.

"Yunel is a quality Major League shortstop," said Andrew Friedman, then the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations. "He's a good defender, has occasional pop. We feel like he really helps solidify our infield defense, which should be a real strength next year."

Escobar's acquisition, along with Loney's, improved Tampa Bay's infield defense, allowing the club to move the versatile Zobrist primarily to second base, with occasional stints at short and right field.

While the Escobar trade closed out the Rays' dealing at the Winter Meetings, a bigger deal between Tampa Bay and Kansas City was being hatched behind closed doors.

On Dec. 9, the Sunday following the completion of the 2012 Winter Meetings, that Rays-Royals deal came to fruition in the form of a trade that sent former All-Star James Shields, fellow right-hander Wade Davis and player to be named Elliot Johnson to Kansas City for its top two prospects, Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi, along with Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard.

After pulling the trigger on the deal, Friedman explained the Rays' position: "We're constantly working to balance the present and the future and always trying to thread the needle. As an organization, we rely more on the contributions of our young players than anyone else in baseball. But with this trade, we're hoping to replenish our system and add a lot of players we feel can help us sustain this run of success we've had for the last five years."

The deal worked out well for both teams. Shields and Davis made significant contributions to the Royals, a team that eventually won the 2015 World Series. Meanwhile, Odorizzi became a staple in the Rays' starting rotation, and Myers won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in '13.

After the 2014 season, Tampa Bay sent Myers to San Diego as part of a three-team trade among the Rays, Padres and Nationals that brought  Steven Souza Jr., Rene Rivera, Burch Smith and Jake Bauers to Tampa Bay.

Montgomery was later sent to Seattle for Erasmo Ramirez, who pieced together a few quality seasons with the Rays.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays