LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As the bulk of the free-agent class continues to look for potential landing spots, a multitude of teams continue to be connected to players ranging from J.D. Martinez to Yu Darvish.The Rays are not one of those teams, yet Tampa Bay could help shape the
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As the bulk of the free-agent class continues to look for potential landing spots, a multitude of teams continue to be connected to players ranging from J.D. Martinez to Yu Darvish.
The Rays are not one of those teams, yet Tampa Bay could help shape the market thanks to a number of prominent players who could be on the move in what promises to be an active trade market.
Alex Colome continues to be a popular name among teams seeking a closer, while Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi have caught the eye of clubs looking to add to their starting rotations. Then there's Evan Longoria, the face of the Rays' franchise, who continues to be mentioned as a possible trade candidate.
So which direction will the Rays go?
• Hot Stove Tracker
Will Tampa Bay tear down its whole club and join its fellow Floridian Marlins in a complete rebuild? Might the executive triumvirate of Matthew Silverman, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom try to retool their roster with a couple of deals, looking to field a contender with a mix of veterans and youngsters? Or could the Rays stand pat, hoping their 80-win campaign in 2017 was that of an underachieving club, one that could take a step forward next season to compete for a postseason berth?
"We've got a lot to think about in terms of how to get our team to the level of quality that we feel like we need to be at," Neander, the Rays' general manager, said. "We're still considering a lot of different possibilities and directions, and that will probably be the case as we go forward throughout the winter here. We'll keep an open mind."
Here's a look at Tampa Bay's potential trade candidates, ranked by their likelihood to be moved in the days or weeks ahead.
• Cash emphasizes value of 'pen, middle relievers
Alex Colome: The right-hander has thrived in the closer's role during the past two seasons, notching 84 saves including a Major League-high 47 in 2017. Colome, who will turn 29 on New Year's Eve, has been one of the most mentioned trade targets of the offseason, with teams including the Cardinals and Rockies reportedly making aggressive pushes for him.
Colome is arbitration-eligible for the first time, leaving him under team control for the next three seasons. Given the prices we've already seen on the relief market -- Brandon Morrow agreed to a reported $21 million over two years from the Cubs and Pat Neshek agreed to a two-year, $16.5 million pact with the Phillies, according to sources -- it stands to reason that the Rays should be able to bring back a nice return for Colome.
Colome is the most likely Tampa Bay player to be on the move, especially given the plethora of hard-throwing arms in the Rays' system. Whichever team manages to land him will fall out of the mix for free-agent closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who should land deals in excess of $50 million.
Jake Odorizzi: The Rays' history suggests Odorizzi's days with Tampa Bay are numbered. They traded James Shields away with two years of control remaining in December 2012, then shipped David Price away with 1 1/2 years of team control left in the summer of 2014.
Odorizzi's 3.83 career ERA is actually slightly lower than Shields' (3.89) at the time the Rays traded him, and given his expected arbitration raise, this would fall in line with Tampa Bay's trend of trading controllable starters as they begin to make more money.
Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson are in similar situations. The Rays could save another $10 million or so by dealing them and replacing them with internal options they believe are ready for the task.
Plenty of teams would love to add Odorizzi to their rotations, especially those that either miss out on the likes of Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb or don't want to spend the money required to sign one of those starters.
With Archer -- we'll get to him momentarily -- Blake Snell, Matt Andriese and Jake Faria all returning and Nathan Eovaldi coming back from Tommy John surgery, there are plenty of rotation options even without Odorizzi.
Top pitching prospects Brent Honeywell and Yonny Chirinos also appear ready to graduate to the Majors at some point this season, giving the Rays further reason to explore trade options with their current starters.
Chris Archer: This is the biggest trade chip the Rays have; Archer is under control for four more years (his contract includes club options for 2020 and '21) for a total of $33.75 million.
That said, Tampa Bay isn't expecting to enter into full rebuilding mode, so holding on to the cost-controlled pitcher would be a key component to its plan to contend. He's 29, he's a two-time All-Star, and unlike Shields and Price -- and Odorizzi -- the Rays know exactly how much he'll cost for the next four seasons.
Acquiring an ace is an expensive proposition, so trading one that will earn slightly more over four years than the top pitchers in the game will make in one seems counterproductive for a team that prides itself on contending despite its financial limitations.
The only probable way that Archer gets traded would be a team simply overwhelming the Rays with an offer, one similar to the five-player package -- one which included Archer himself -- that the Cubs gave them for Matt Garza in January 2011.
Evan Longoria: Here's the trickiest one of all. Longoria has been the face of the franchise since the first week he arrived in Tampa Bay, signing an extension only one week into his big league career. That contract was replaced less than five years later as he inked a new extension worth $100 million over six years that included a club option for 2023.
Longoria's contract does not include a no-trade clause, but he'll earn 10-5 rights on the third day of the 2018 season, taking away the Rays' ability to deal him without his consent. If they believe a rebuild is part of their future, the time to move Longoria is now.
The Cardinals are said to be interested in Longoria, who has played at least 156 games in each of the past five seasons and remains a consistently productive player at the plate, averaging 26 home runs, 87 RBIs and a .782 OPS during that span.
Given the glut of prospects the Rays expect to make an impact in the next season or two -- they have three of MLBPipeline.com's Top 20 prospects in the game and six of the Top 100 -- Longoria will likely play a major role as the leader of a young team. Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, Joe McCarthy, Jesus Sanchez and Brendan McKay have all the physical talent in the world, but Tampa Bay knows that a mentor such as Longoria would be crucial to their big league development.
"I do very much believe strongly that Evan is everything that you could ask for in a franchise player, a face-of-the-franchise type guy," Neander said. "The way he helped change the shape and look of this franchise in 2008 and the experiences he's been a part of here, he's a consummate professional. The example that provides to younger players as they learn how to find their way at the Major League level is extremely valuable."
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.