To make a trade for the sake of making a trade or to sign a free agent just for the sake of it, is not part of the Rays recipe or as many have come to know the “Rays’ Way.”
VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman takes one day at a time, doing his due diligence before making any decisions. He is in no rush to complete his off-season agenda of finding a first baseman or a designated hitter. There is still plenty of time remaining on his clock, though fans may see or feel otherwise.
Waiting is part of Friedman’s philosophy; it’s a virtue that has paid dividends for the mastermind behind the off-season moves in season’s past. There is no need to change – as the saying goes, “why fix something if it isn’t broke.”
During the Winter Meetings last month the Rays weren’t involved in any trades and didn’t sign any significant free agents. However, despite the silence of major moves, they weren’t totally quiet. They listened to offers and they may have even made some… in the long short of things, what may have been discussed could lead to something that comes to fruition next month.
The month of January has become somewhat of a popular month for Friedman to do his magic. Look no further than last year when the trades of Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza took place. They didn’t happen overnight – the discussions began during last year’s Winter Meetings.
The same can be said for the free agent signings of Kyle Farnsworth, Casey Kotchman, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez all signed due to the discussions with the player’s agents that were prevalent throughout the week of the meetings.
Next month could prove to be another January 2011 for Friedman with yet additional players available after other teams evaluate their plans following the arbitration deadline (January 17) of those tendered.
There are handfuls of arbitration eligible players that have been tendered contracts by their teams, but since they have until January 17 to accept or decline, there is no way, right now of knowing who may or may not become available.
There has been plenty written about the team’s need to add more power to the lineup. In most cases and as it is with the Rays falls back to the needs that remain, a designated hitter and first baseman.
Friedman maintains that Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman still remain a possibility of being re-signed and both have said that they would like to return… but, as stated numerous times it all comes down to the finances.
Currently, there are 10 free agent first baseman available: Russell Branyan, Prince Fielder, Casey Kotchman, Brad Hawpe, Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady, Carlos Pena, Ross Gload and Matt Stairs.
Of the possibilities, of course it would be nice to have Pena back – but that’s a long shot and a big one at that – in the same breath, the same can be said for Fielder.
Branyan and Hawpe are former Rays and while Branyan has possessed power, he has spent more time disabled than on the field. Hawpe on the other hand hasn’t done much with the bat (home runs) since his time in Colorado where he put together four consecutive 20 plus home run seasons. Neither player has the defensive abilities of Kotchman and would be a down grade at the position.
As for the remaining free agents in Lee, Nady, Gload and Stairs all have seen their playing time diminish in the last three to four years. Lee and Nady have spent plenty of time on the disable list, Gload has no power whatsoever and Stairs has combined to hit just 11 home runs with 41 RBI in his last three seasons.
The best has been saved for last, that being Casey Kotchman. Kotchman had a fantastic year offensively (.306, 10 HR, 48 RBI, .378 OBP) and defensively (2 errors in 1201 total chances) and of course, came very cheap. His numbers of course are likely to result in a hefty salary increase (upwards of $2 million), but with what is available, would still be a good deal.
On the designated hitter side there are only three available: Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada… and for good measure Johnny Damon (he’s listed as an outfielder).
Damon hit 16 home runs (.261 BA, 73 RBI) as the primary designated hitter he is the most logical choice to be re-signed. While 16 home runs out of the DH position may seem unproductive, those 16 home runs were the third most among designated hitters.
David Ortiz of the Red Sox hit more than 20 (29 HR, 96 RBI, .309 BA) led all designated hitters, followed by Billy Butler (Kansas City) who hit 19 (95 RBI, .291 BA).
Of the 17 players with more than 100 at-bats as a designated hitter, only 10 players hit more than 10 home runs.
Guerrero (30 2B, 13 HR, 63 RBI, .290 BA – 145 Games) could potentially fill the power numbers production, but speed kills and his case speed would be death. Matsui’s knees are his problem and though he wouldn’t be playing the field much, he did establish new career lows in nearly all offensive categories in 2011.
Jorge Posada situation is interesting as numerous sites, specifically ESPN Desportes said that the Rays are “interested in exploring” the possibility of signing Posada. Posada would be used primarily as a DH, but would also see playing time at first base and catcher.
Posada played just six innings (1 game) behind the plate in 2011 and to top that had the worst year of his career (.235, 315 OBP, .398 SLG). His .814 OPS (on-base plus slugging) came against right-handed pitching and as well all of his home runs.
As for arbitration eligible players from the Rays, they began with six (Joel Peralta, Burke Badenhop, J.P. Howell, Jeff Niemann, David Price and outfielder B.J. Upton) and are now down to five as reliever Joel Peralta signed a new one-year, $2.175 million deal last week more than doubling his salary ($925,000) from last season.
Peralta, made 71 appearances in 2011, his first season with the Rays, finishing with a 3-4 record, 6 saves and a 2.93 ERA. Opposing hitters hit just .188 against him. Additionally, he held the first batter faced to a .072 batting average (the best in the majors), left-handed batters to a .155 average (second lowest among major league relievers) which was the lowest single season mark in Ray’s history (minimum of 100 at-bats).
For more info: Tampa Bay Rays, Cot’s Baseball Contracts
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