Rays Offseason Hot Stove: 1st Edition

The Tampa Bay Rays have never been known to spend the ‘big bucks’ when it comes to free agency. Two of the bigger free-agent signees the Rays have ever had were from the Devil Ray days: Vinny Castilla and Juan Guzman. Guzman was given a two-year $12 million-dollar contract and famously pitched less than two innings and blew his arm out never to return again.

Castilla was also signed to a two-year deal worth $13.5 million dollars and played in only 109 games and hit .219 with just eight home runs. That was then, this is now.

The Rays have without a doubt some of the best scouts in the spectrum of professional baseball, both minor and major. David Price has now closed an American League Championship clinching-game, started an All-Star Game and now has won pitching’s ultimate prize: the Cy Young Award. Price like Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore are all Rays draftees and have been major contributors to the Rays recent string of success. However, the Rays have not had a single draft pick since 2008 to reach the major league club, the only major league team to have that dubious claim.

Tim Beckham was selected first-overall in the 2008 draft fresh out of high school, four picks ahead of the 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey. The Rays chose Beckham because of his youth and his cost-effectiveness, but one has to wonder what could have been with Posey as the Tampa Bay backstop. Beckham spent 2012 on the suspended list and in Durham with the Rays AAA affiliate. Beckham hit .256 with six home runs and 28 RBI while splitting time between shortstop and second base. The Rays more immediate need is at the shortstop spot but Beckham could fill the second base position if Tampa Bay acquires a shortstop.

Mike Napoli is a name that has been circulating around the Rays offseason priorities. The powerful catcher had a down year but would be a coup for the Rays organization that has never had a solid backstop. If the Rays are willing to spend around $10-million per year for a very good hitter, then expect the Florida native to sign with Tampa Bay.

When it comes to trades the Rays have been rather quiet in recent seasons. Aside from trading Matt Garza for Chris Archer, Sam Fuld and others the Rays have added through free agency. The bullpen was the best in the American League and nobody saw it coming. The signing of Fernando Rodney was barely even mentioned by media outlets and the Dominican reliever had one of the best seasons ever by a relief pitcher. Rodney’s 0.60 ERA and 48 saves rival Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley’s 1990 season as the two best. Jake McGee, Wade Davis and JP Howell were all key arms for the bullpen before handing the ball off to Rodney for the 9th. The Rays front office has mentioned that the bullpen is once again one of their priorities for this offseason.

All these superlatives about pitching became moot when the hitting couldn’t get the Rays into the postseason. The Rays finished with 90 wins (two more than the AL Champ Tigers) but the Yankees and Orioles had the bats to get them into the dance. The AL B-East is the best division in baseball and it’s only getting better. The Toronto Blue Jays picked a few key pieces off of the tire fire in Miami, obtaining Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Mark Beuhrle via trade.

The Rays signed ‘glue guys’ like Jeff Keppinger and Jose Molina, players who aren’t huge signings but are key cogs for a team, last offseason. The sentiment amongst fans is that the Rays need to make a move somewhat similar to the Blue Jays recent trade. The Rays have a surplus of pitchers and perhaps a trade for Justin Upton could be the move that gets the Rays over the hump and into perennial contender status. Pitchers like Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields and maybe even Matt Moore could all be traded to improve the offense.

The Tampa Bay front office is always mum about their intentions for the offseason but everyone knows it’s the offense that needs the upgrades.

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