ST. PETERSBURG -- Making deals is the sexy part of the Winter Meetings. However, that lure won't necessarily prompt the Rays to agree to any deals.
"We've had a lot of conversations so far this offseason and expect plenty more as we move into the Winter Meetings," said Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom. "Whenever all 30 clubs gather in one place, you can expect it to be busy; there will be a ton of dialogue and many different things to consider. We'll look forward to exploring the landscape thoroughly and seeking opportunities to improve our club."
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MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C., beginning Monday. Fans can catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 9 a.m. ET.
Thus far this offseason, the Rays have traded infielders/outfielders Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer to Seattle for Minor League prospects. Both were once considered top prospects, but each appeared blocked given the other options available to the team.
Where do these moves leave Tampa Bay? In a flexible position where the team can listen but doesn't have to deal.
Historically, the Rays have not been big players at the Winter Meetings. But they have explored possible deals while gathered with the other 29 teams, and that exploration has led to deals coming to fruition after the Meetings.
At times, the initial conversations Tampa Bay had brought forth future conversations a year or two later that also launch movement. But it's always hard to predict whether anything concrete will happen in and around the Meetings.
The Rays feel confident that 2016 was an aberration and that the '17 squad can compete for the postseason. Their organizational philosophy mandates that they always balance the present with the future. To accomplish that often delicate task, Tampa Bay strives to make sure the organization has the runway of players and prospects to stay competitive given its financial resources. That philosophy factors into the way the Rays view possible trades and evaluate potential moves.
"For us to compete over the course of 162 games, we need a functional, flexible roster with players who complement each other and can win games in many different ways," Bloom said. "Front-line talent matters, but so does depth. So while we might have areas of greater surplus or need, the bottom line is that we're looking to make ourselves better however we can, and we won't close off any avenues to accomplish that."
One thing is for sure -- Rays fans should not look for their team to make a play for the top-market free agents given the financial imbalance the organization faces, particularly in comparison to their American League East rivals.
The Rays are looking for a left fielder and a catcher.
Tampa Bay doesn't dislike the candidates it has for left field or for catcher, and it would feel fine about heading to camp with what it has. But the front office would certainly be tempted to make a deal if an upgrade at either position became available.
If such a player did become available -- and the Rays do keep a target list for said possibility -- the return for acquiring such a player would likely be a starting pitcher, given the depth of the rotation and the young arms pushing from the farm system.
Whether it's at the Winter Meetings or before Spring Training, Tampa Bay can be counted on bringing in some veteran position players, relievers and starters. The team has had luck rejuvenating the careers of relievers. But primarily these signings would be Minor League deals with invites to Major League camp for protection in the event of an injury.
Who they can trade if necessary
The Rays are willing to listen to any possible suitors. Their philosophy is simple: You never know what might line up for a deal that benefits both clubs.
Would Tampa Bay trade Evan Longoria? It's unlikely the club would trade the face of the franchise unless somebody blows its socks off.
Chris Archer and Drew Smyly might be available for the right price since Archer will make $4.98 million in 2017 and Smyly is again arbitration-eligible after making $4.75 million in '16. Given the lack of quality free-agent starters, the Rays would be able to drive a hard bargain if any team wanted to acquire either.
If Tampa Bay trades Archer, Smyly or both, the likes of Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Matt Andriese, Blake Snell, Chase Whitley and perhaps even Erasmo Ramírez could be in the rotation, or top Minor Leaguers such as Austin Pruitt, Jaime Schultz, Taylor Guerrieri, and Jacob Faria could be in the mix.
Other options might include shipping Brad Boxberger to a team needing a closer. The 2015 AL saves leader will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason.
The Rays' cupboard once again appears chock full of prospects.
The organization's Top 10 prospects, as per MLBPipeline.com, are: shortstop Willy Adames, right-hander Brent Honeywell, first baseman/outfielder Jake Bauers, third baseman Joshua Lowe, right-hander Jacob Faria, right-hander Chih-Wei Hu, shortstop Lucius Fox, outfielder Garrett Whitley, first baseman Casey Gillaspie and shortstop/third baseman/second baseman Daniel Robertson.
Rule 5 Draft
The Rays' 40-man roster is full, so they won't be active in selecting players unless a vacancy is created by trade before the Rule 5 Draft. However, they will hope that they placed their farmhands at the right levels of the organization to prevent other teams from preying on their young talent, as the Orioles did last season when they plucked Joey Rickard from the Rays in the Rule 5 Draft.
To be tendered
Friday at 11:59 p.m. ET marks Major League Baseball's deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. If the Rays do not tender contract to an arbitration-eligible player, that player can become a free agent. These Rays (with their 2016 salary in parenthesis) are eligible for arbitration and are waiting to be tendered contracts:
Cobb ($4 million), Smyly ($3.75 million), Ramirez ($2.37 million), Brad Miller ($527,000), Odorizzi ($520,700), Boxberger ($519,200), Xavier Cedeño ($524,000) and Corey Dickerson ($522,900).
The team also has four players who might qualify for arbitration via Super Two status: Tim Beckham ($514,500), Danny Farquhar ($527,600), Kevin Kiermaier ($514,400) and Whitley ($524,525).
Big contracts they might unload
Longoria ($13.1 million), Archer ($4.91 million) and Logan Forsythe ($7 million) are Tampa Bay's highest-paid players. Of that group, Archer might be available, but he'll be costly. Longoria and Forsythe are not likely to be going anywhere.
The Rays are always looking to lower the payroll without weakening the club. Last season's $66,681,991 million Opening Day payroll was down from $75,794,234 million in 2015, and could drop again before '17. That doesn't necessarily equate to a lesser product on the field.
James Loney's $9.6 million is off the books. Also gone are Matt Moore ($5.1 million), Steve Pearce ($4.75 million), Logan Morrison ($4.2 million), Desmond Jennings ($3.3 million), Hank Conger ($1.5 million), Brandon Guyer ($1.18 million) and Ryan Webb ($1 million). Though the Rays will feel the increases from having arbitration-eligible players, they should have some room for flexibility with their payroll.