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Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion on Rays' radar

After 90-win season, Tampa Bay has payroll flexibility to make splash
MLB.com @RichardJustice

LAS VEGAS -- Nelson Cruz? Yep, the Rays have checked in on him, gauging what his price would be. At 38, Cruz remains one of baseball's most productive hitters. Indians designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion is another option. He's being shopped, and the Rays have the Minor League depth to get a deal done.

Right-hander Charlie Morton would be a nice fit as well -- and according to a source, the club was close to a deal with the free agent on Wednesday. So would Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, even after the acquisition of Mike Zunino from the Mariners. In a nutshell, this is the Rays' strategy: To cast a wide net, consider a bunch of options and see if there's anything that makes sense.

LAS VEGAS -- Nelson Cruz? Yep, the Rays have checked in on him, gauging what his price would be. At 38, Cruz remains one of baseball's most productive hitters. Indians designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion is another option. He's being shopped, and the Rays have the Minor League depth to get a deal done.

Right-hander Charlie Morton would be a nice fit as well -- and according to a source, the club was close to a deal with the free agent on Wednesday. So would Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, even after the acquisition of Mike Zunino from the Mariners. In a nutshell, this is the Rays' strategy: To cast a wide net, consider a bunch of options and see if there's anything that makes sense.

Video: MLB Tonight: Rays rumored to be targeting Nelson Cruz

Unlike previous offseasons, the Rays have some money to spend. But they also have a young roster that just won 90 games and seems to be trending upward. So, their strategy is to shop for upgrades regardless of position. They don't have a pressing need, but would like to get better.

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"I think the advantage of having the array of young players that we have and having the depth we feel we have is that we're not seeking one specific upgrade," said Chaim Bloom, Rays senior vice president of baseball operations. "We have enough flexibility that there's a number of different ways we can get better.

"At the same time, we got in this position by being willing to give opportunities to young players and give them room to grow. They took that. They ran with that. We don't want to turn our backs on that because that's really how we got in this position."

Ask Rays manager Kevin Cash about all of this, and he is focused on one area.

"You know what, I'm pretty consistent," Cash said. "It's all about pitching. Pitching, pitching, pitching. I don't think you can ever have enough."

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The Rays have an ambitious offseason plan, thanks to a payroll projected to be only around $32 million. An impact bat is high on the list. And then there's pitching.

Tampa Bay's 3.74 team ERA was the second-lowest in the American League, and the Rays will begin Spring Training with as much pitching depth as almost any team, including 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.

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Cash would like more.

"Obviously the bats are nice, but we won a lot of games last year because we pitched well and we caught the ball behind our pitchers," Cash said. "And I know that's not going to change. The more pitching that we can add and allow these guys to continue to get good, the better we'll be."

Tampa Bay won 90 games in 2018 despite using 54 players, including 23 rookies. Of the 35 players on the season-ending active roster, 17 were rookies.

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Cash knows he has a very good core group going forward. And now a chance to get better from outside.

"Yeah, it's very exciting," Cash said. "The potential to have that, whether it's payroll flexibility, roster flexibility, to go and be in the market, whether it's acquiring through a trade or free agent."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Tampa Bay Rays, Nelson Cruz