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Rays must address 1B, 'pen in Hot Stove season

MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETESRBURG -- By finishing two games under .500, the Rays showed improvement in 2017, but they still fell well short of the expectations for a playoff-contending team. Now Tampa Bay's front office must address what needs to be done to patch the leaks in the rowboat.

If the 2018 season were to start today, the Rays would be strong up the middle with solid starting pitching and a deep bullpen. But as anybody who follows the Hot Stove knows, a roster can change dramatically from one season to the next.

ST. PETESRBURG -- By finishing two games under .500, the Rays showed improvement in 2017, but they still fell well short of the expectations for a playoff-contending team. Now Tampa Bay's front office must address what needs to be done to patch the leaks in the rowboat.

If the 2018 season were to start today, the Rays would be strong up the middle with solid starting pitching and a deep bullpen. But as anybody who follows the Hot Stove knows, a roster can change dramatically from one season to the next.

Free agents: Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek, Peter Bourjos, Trevor Plouffe, Colby Rasmus.

Arbitration-eligible: Shawn Tolleson, Adeiny Hechavarria, Dan Jennings, Brad Boxberger, Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Xavier Cedeno, Jake Odorizzi, Jesus Sucre, Chase Whitley, Alex Colome, Steven Souza Jr., Matt Duffy.

How will the bullpen shake out?
Hunter and Cishek are locks to go elsewhere, while Romo might be affordable enough to return. Meanwhile, Boxberger and Colome might come down to a one-or-the-other choice, given the fact both will likely earn increases via arbitration. Boxberger made $1.6 million in 2017, and Colome, who led the Major Leagues in saves, made just $547,000, but should be well north of that in '18. The fact that Tampa Bay did not use Boxberger much in late-inning situations in the second half might indicate which way it plans to go.

Video: BAL@TB: Kiermaier solidifies the save for Colome

Is Willy Adames ready?
Adames has been near the top of the Rays' prospect list since coming to the organization from the Tigers in the 2014 David Price trade. MLB Pipeline has the 22-year-old shortstop ranked as Tampa Bay's No. 2 prospect behind right-hander Brent Honeywell.

In addition to having impact-type tools on offense and defense, Adames has an off-the-charts makeup. However, the Rays have Hechevarria, who is arbitration-eligible. It's highly likely that Tampa Bay will tender Hechevarria an offer, which means Adames will either start the season as the Rays' backup shortstop/second baseman or at Triple-A Durham.

The latter of those scenarios would seem most likely. If the team is not in contention early, Hechevarria could be traded and Adames could be brought to The Show at that point to play shortstop.

Video: Tampa Bay Rays highlight top prospects

What happens at first base?
Morrison and Duda gave the Rays plenty of firepower at the position in 2017. Both are free agents, and unless the market is unkind, there's a good chance both will sign elsewhere. Jake Bauers, who spent the season at Triple-A Durham and has power and a good eye, will get consideration for the job.

If Bauers is not able to win the job in the spring, Tampa Bay might try and re-sign Duda or Morrison, if one or the other doesn't get the offer they are looking for. Mike Napoli also might serve as an interesting option. The Rangers have an $11 million option for the veteran's services in '18 with a $2.5 million buyout. He could provide a right-handed bat that could complement Bauers, who hits from the left side.

Video: NYY@TB: Bauers rips a two-run double to left

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays