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Rays enter Meetings with payroll flexibility

Team looking for designated hitter, bullpen help
MLB.com @RichardJustice

The Rays are in position to take on additional salary and have cast a wide net in discussing potential impact acquisitions, including big names like Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Trevor Bauer, Charlie Morton and Nelson Cruz. Team officials aren't focusing on a single area of the team, so the front office has the option of considering a variety of possibilities.

In a perfect world, the Rays would be satisfied to acquire a veteran starting pitcher and a hitter, perhaps, say, Cruz, a free agent. Those two would mesh nicely with a young core of players that won 90 games despite using 54 players.

The Rays are in position to take on additional salary and have cast a wide net in discussing potential impact acquisitions, including big names like Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Trevor Bauer, Charlie Morton and Nelson Cruz. Team officials aren't focusing on a single area of the team, so the front office has the option of considering a variety of possibilities.

In a perfect world, the Rays would be satisfied to acquire a veteran starting pitcher and a hitter, perhaps, say, Cruz, a free agent. Those two would mesh nicely with a young core of players that won 90 games despite using 54 players.

While acknowledging that giving so many young players an opportunity in 2018 was responsible for 90 wins -- which sets up a strong core group going forward -- Rays executives want to pursue avenues to add talent. Tampa Bay believes that core is capable of competing for a postseason berth without another addition.

Tampa Bay's biggest acquisition so far was acquiring catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia from the Mariners in a five-player trade that sent outfielder Mallex Smith to Seattle. The Rays also designated C.J. Cron for assignment, despite him hitting 30 home runs in 2018.

Besides Cruz, Seattle's newly acquired designated hitter/first baseman Carlos Santana is a possibility for the Rays if the Mariners are willing to pick up some of the $35 million he's owed over the next two seasons. With the Cardinals' acquisition of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt this week, Jose Martinez is another intriguing option.

Club needs: The Rays are searching for a veteran closer after parting ways with Sergio Romo, Alex Colome and Jonny Venters, who got 37 of their 52 saves last season. Having a designated closer isn't a high priority given how the team's relievers are used, but that's the only area of the club which seems certain of being upgraded. Journeyman Chaz Roe, who got his first career save in 2018, is the incumbent closer at the moment, and the Rays are likely to be patient in waiting out the free-agent market as the big-ticket names get deals.

Whom might the Rays trade? Having shed all but one of their large contracts over the last two seasons, they aren't actively shopping anyone. The only significant amount of money Tampa Bay currently owes is to outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who will make $8.2 million in 2019. Tommy Pham is also likely to draw interest on the trade market.

Prospects to know: First baseman and left-hander Brendan McKay might be the most intriguing prospect in the game and on track to make his Major League debut sometime in 2019. The Rays have developed him to be a two-way player from the moment they drafted him in '17, and he remains on track to be just that. He could be an intriguing trade chip in the right deal, but it would have to be for something extraordinary.

Top 30 Rays prospects

Rule 5 Draft: The Rays, who have a full 40-man roster, probably will lose at least one player in the Rule 5 Draft. Among the possibilities is infielder Kean Wong, who had a .750 OPS in 116 games at Triple-A Durham.

Payroll summary: The Rays' payroll is at about $32 million, and while club officials have not offered an exact target for 2019, they do have room to add significant salary.

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