ST. PETERSBURG -- Attending the Winter Meetings doesn't necessarily translate to making deals. And that's where the Rays will sit when they head to Nashville, Tenn., on Monday.
"As usual, we approach the Winter Meetings with open minds," said Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman. "What we know is that it will be a busy week, full of conversations as well as rumors big and small. Whether anything actionable will come from it is pure speculation."
• Hot Stove Tracker
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 11 a.m. and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 10 a.m.
• Rays still have needs as Winter Meetings near
The Rays already have experienced a busy offseason, acquiring shortstop Brad Miller, first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison and right-hander Danny Farquhar in a Nov. 5 trade that sent right-hander Nathan Karns, left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser and Minor League outfielder Boog Powell to the Mariners. They also traded right-hander Kirby Yates to the Indians after he had been designated for assignment. On Wednesday night, they acquired catcher Hank Conger from the Astros.
Where do these moves leave the Rays? Basically in a flexible position where they can listen but don't have to deal if nothing interests them.
"At this time of year, big deals are explored, many things are talked about," Silverman said. "Lots of rumors fly and there's usually very little substance to them. But we certainly have the freedom to explore some of those wild ideas and see if it takes us in a certain direction.
"Often times these things bear fruit a year from now. You have the initial conversation now, and then you revisit it over the course of a year or two, and something might happen down the road because you expressed interest in certain players. But it's hard to predict anything concrete could happen in the next week or so."
Silverman did allow that they view the "club as one that can compete."
"And so, because we have the confidence in the group and we feel that we have the talent to compete for a playoff spot, we keep a stronger focus on this year," Silverman said. "But we're always balancing the present and the future. We're always trying to make sure that we have the runway of players and prospects to stay competitive given our financial resources. And that factors into the way that we look at trades and the way that we evaluate potential moves."
One thing is for sure: Rays fans should not look for their team to make a play for the top-market free agents. Silverman spoke of that reality when addressing the Red Sox agreeing to a seven-year, $217 million deal with former Rays ace David Price.
"Since we became the Rays we've spent less than $150 million in free agency, and with one stroke of the pen the Red Sox spend basically 50 percent more than that," Silverman said. "It shows the magnitude of our challenge. It shows the imbalance in the sport that we're constantly trying to address.
"At the same time, it fires up our competitive juices. It's fun to take on the financial giants and see what we can do. We've had great success the last several years, and it gets us even more fired up for this season to compete in the East and especially with Boston and their revamped pitching staff."
A reporter teased Silverman by asking if the Rays were close to signing Price, which drew a chuckle.
"We don't comment on negotiations for potential free-agent acquisitions," Silverman said. "I did ask Bo McKinnis [Price's agent] if we could get him on layaway, and that wasn't an option. I think we were out of the running pretty early."
Silverman noted that they "don't see a glaring need for the ballclub right now."
"We could go into camp and feel good about the team we could field and the depth that we would have in the Minor Leagues," Silverman said. "That gives us the freedom to explore a number of deals."
However, if the Rays had a wish list to be filled, acquiring an impact bat would be at the top. The likelihood of that happening is remote, though. If such a player did become available -- and the Rays do keep a target list for said possibility -- the tender for acquiring such a player would likely be a package deal.
At some point in the offseason, whether it's at the Winter Meetings or prior to Spring Training, the Rays can be counted on to bring in some veteran position players, relievers and starters. The team has had luck in the past rejuvenating the careers of relief pitchers for Major League use. But these signings would primarily be Minor League deals with invites to Major League camp for protection in the event somebody got hurt.
Who they can trade if necessary
Basically, the Rays are always willing to listen to any possible suitors. Their philosophy is simple: You never know what might line up as a deal that benefits both clubs.
Would the Rays trade Evan Longoria? It's unlikely they would trade the face of the franchise unless somebody blew their socks off.
Jake McGee would be an attractive bullpen piece for any team. While the Rays like what he gives them at his salary (the hard-throwing left-hander made $3.55 million in 2015 and is arbitration-eligible), they have others in the bullpen who could shore up the gap if he is dealt.
If the Rays don't have McGee for the late innings, they would still have Brad Boxberger and Alex Colome. As for a hard-throwing lefty? Enny Romero appeared to take strides in being able to fill that role late last season. And they have Xavier Cedeno as well.
Other options for the Rays might include shipping McGee or one of the team's young outfielders for prospects. In addition, the Rays have starting-pitching depth if they find a player they want to pursue.
The Rays' cupboard once again appears chock full of prospects.
Among those are the following standouts: Shortstops Willy Adames, Daniel Robertson, and Adrian Rondon; left-hander Blake Snell; right-hander Brent Honeywell; catchers Justin O'Connor and Chris Betts; outfielder Garrett Whitley; second baseman Ryan Brett; first baseman Casey Gillaspie; and third baseman/first baseman Richie Shaffer.
Rule 5 Draft
The Rays' 40-man roster is full, which means they cannot make a Rule 5 Draft pick if they desire. But given the organization's rich farm system, other teams can be expected to poach a player or two from Tampa Bay.
"Whenever we have a full roster and we're struggling to make the decisions on whom to protect, it creates more risk that we'll have a player taken in the Rule 5 Draft," Silverman said. "We like being in the situation where we have a talented system. But that is one of the negatives that comes along with it, in that there aren't necessarily enough spots on the 40-man to be able to protect all of the players that we would have wanted to."
Big contracts they might unload
Though James Loney has played well for the Rays, they would trade the veteran first baseman in a heartbeat if they find the right deal.
Loney is a hybrid of sorts for the position he plays. He is a dangerous hitter in that he gives quality at-bats and he has power to drive the ball in the gaps. He just doesn't hit many home runs. His value is further enhanced because he is a plus fielder. But he will make $9.66 million this season. Thus, he would be tough to move, unless the Rays sweeten the package -- which they might consider since moving him would allow Morrison to play first in addition to freeing up some payroll.
The Rays are always looking to lower the payroll without weakening the club. Last season's $75.79 million Opening Day payroll could look high compared to what the 2016 payroll will be, but the team should be improved.
Grant Balfour's $7.5 million won't be on the 2016 payroll, nor will David DeJesus' $5.1 million, and it's highly unlikely that free agents Asdrubal Cabrera ($5.12 million in 2015) or John Jaso ($3.175 million) will be back. That leaves Longoria, who is slated to make $12.1 million this season, and Loney as the highest-paid players on the roster.
"It feels like [the payroll is] going to be in a similar range [to 2015]," Silverman said. "But that depends a lot on the rest of the offseason."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.