- Winter Strategy----Tampa Bay Rays:
I was right about the 2009 Rays. Just thought I'd point that out. Again.
What they need: A veteran closer on a short-term deal; a reliable, veteran, innings-eating starter; an outfield bat; a backup catcher who can start if needed.
Free agents: RHP Chad Bradford; RHP Jason Isringhausen; RHP Troy Percival; LHP Brian Shouse; RHP Russ Springer; C Gregg Zaun
None of the Rays free agents will be back. Bradford, Isringhausen and Percival were all hurt; Shouse is a journeyman; Springer will be picked up by a contender, as will Zaun.
Players available via trade: C Dioner Navarro; SS Jason Bartlett; LF Carl Crawford; CF B.J. Upton; DH Pat Burrell; RHP Andy Sonnanstine
Navarro was atrocious at the plate last year; so bad in fact that the club traded for veteran Gregg Zaun to take a chunk of Navarro's playing time over the second half of the season. Could 2009 have been a sophomore slump for him after getting his first real chance to play every day in 2008 and doing great work offensively and defensively? Or did the pitchers figure him out? He's arbitration-eligible and the Rays could look to move him and bring in a cheaper alternative.
What is Jason Bartlett? Is he the solid but average (or slightly above average) player he always was before 2009? Or is he the All Star he was in 2009? I kept waiting for him to fall off the planet after his blazing hot start, but he wound up hitting .320 with 14 homers and 30 stolen bases, while playing fine defense. He's arbitration-eligible and is going to get a massive raise----possibly too massive for the Rays to keep him. Add in that he may have had his career-year at age 29 and he could be dealt. What would the Rays do if the Red Sox came with an offer for Bartlett? Or some other team hungry for a shortstop and willing to give up a chunk of young players?
They also have Reid Brignac ready to replace Bartlett. He has some maturing to do, but he'll only be 24 in January.
Crawford isn't specifically on the trading block; but he's not out-of-bounds either if a team calls Rays GM Andrew Friedman to have a "chat". The Rays would be foolish not to listen to offers for Crawford. He's one of the best all-around players in baseball and he's proven that year-after-year; he's in his prime at 28; he's going to be a free agent at the end of 2010 and he wants to get paid; and the Rays have no chance whatsoever of keeping him.
It'd be easier to name the teams that wouldn't want to get their hands on Crawford than vice versa. The Yankees have long been enamored of him, as have the Mets; the Red Sox, Cardinals, Angels, Mariners, blah blah blah----all would love to get Crawford and lock him up long term. The Rays showed guts in making the right call to trade Scott Kazmir when the Angels came up with a good offer (and it was a very good deal for the Rays to get out from under Kazmir's contract, his up-and-down performance and potential for injury); they should do the same with Crawford.
Upton's lackadaisical performance and wanting attitude has put his name in play. But he had a rotten year in 2009; he's arbitration-eligible and his value is down. I'd expect Crawford to be traded before Upton unless they traded Upton for another team's headache, which would make no sense.
Someone might be willing to take Burrell for their own bad contract. He's making $9 million next year and was heinous in 2009. That said, Burrell isn't as terrible as he was this past season; he could have a bounce back year if for no other reason than he's going to be a free agent again. He looked fat and disinterested, but he's not exactly old (33). They might find someone to take him off their hands.
Andy Sonnanstine isn't any good and the only reason he might not be traded is because he won't bring enough back to justify it. At the very least, he's not arbitration-eligible until next year, so he's still cheap.
Non-tender candidates: LHP Randy Choate; RHP Lance Cormier; OF Gabe Gross; C Shawn Riggans
The side-arming lefty journeyman Choate was used as an occasional closer in the Rays bullpen-by-committee and did a good job overall, but he's arbitration-eligible. He's gone.
Cormier is another replaceable, inexpensive journeyman that the Rays got some use from and with whom they're going to cut the ties since he too is arbitration-eligible.
Gross reverted to the weak hitter he was before a stunning show of clutch power in 2008 made him an integral part of the Rays' pennant winning club. Gone.
Riggans is a backup catcher who spent most of 2009 in the minors and will only be back if no one else wants him after he gets non-tendered.
Players to pursue:
Free agents: LHP Billy Wagner (Red Sox); RHP Kevin Gregg (Cubs); C Ramon Castro (White Sox); OF Jermaine Dye (White Sox); RHP Jason Marquis (Rockies); SS Adam Everett (Tigers); RHP Fernando Rodney (Tigers); RHP J.J. Putz (Mets); C Brian Schneider (Mets); SS Bobby Crosby (Athletics); LHP Erik Bedard (Mariners)
Wagner would be happy to pitch in Florida, not far from his West Virginia home; he'd take a short-term deal to again become a closer since he's taking his career year-by-year now anyway.
I'm no fan of Gregg, but as a cheap alternative who could close if necessary and won't complain about being a set-up man, he's not the worst option.
Putz is going to have no choice but to take a short-term flier from a reliever-hungry club; he might get a chance to close in places like Detroit, but the Rays should check in with him.
Rodney's better than Gregg and would also accept a set-up role if no job as a closer is available.
Everett and Crosby are solid defensive shortstops who could function as stop-gaps if the Rays trade Bartlett and Brignac's not ready.
Castro and Schneider are veteran catchers who'd come cheaply and wouldn't chafe at being part-timers (Castro seemed to prefer it in his time with the Mets). Schneider's a good handler of pitchers and is a better hitter than he showed in his two years with the Mets. Castro has power.
Dye will probably get a reasonable 3-year contract from someone that will put him out of the Rays' price range, but similarly to the way Bobby Abreu fell to the Angels last year, that could happen to Dye, a solid citizen and still a good player.
Bedard will end up somewhere on a cheap contract to prove his health and attitude are sound. Bedard falling to the Rays isn't an absurd notion.
Via trade: Joba Chamberlain (Yankees); Phil Hughes (Yankees); Clay Buchholz (Red Sox); Michael Bowden (Red Sox); Daniel Bard (Red Sox); Jeremy Accardo (Blue Jays); Bobby Jenks (White Sox); Brandon Morrow (Mariners); Bobby Parnell (Mets)
I'd find out exactly how enamored of Carl Crawford the Yankees and Red Sox are. What if Friedman called Brian Cashman and said, "Joba Chamberlain for Crawford, straight up, right now." Would Cashman do it? Would he think about it? It'd take more than Hughes straight up, but would Cashman think about that? Doesn't hurt to ask.
The same holds true for the Red Sox. A nice young package for Crawford and Bartlett with lots of pitching going back to the Rays might do the trick; and the Red Sox are willing to discuss anything and everything.
Accardo is the typical reliever whose value is down and could replenish himself with the Rays. He's closed before and is probably going to be non-tendered by the Blue Jays.
Jenks is arbitration-eligible; White Sox GM Kenny Williams has him on the block; he's closed in big games and gotten the job done; and Williams is willing to do just about anything. If the Rays want to get a better closer than what's out there on the cheap or stick with J.P. Howell, Jenks is an idea.
How about a package for Crawford that start with Morrow? The Mariners have screwed with Morrow just about as badly----and in a far less publicized story----than the Yankees have with Chamberlain. Morrow may have to get out of Seattle to escape ghost of Tim Lincecum hovering over him. (Morrow was drafted by the Mariners ahead of Washington State native Lincecum and never hears the end of it as if it's his fault.) Much as the debate regarding Chamberlain has centered around starting or relieving and how he's been messed with, the same has gone on with Morrow. For the record, I think Chamberlain should be a reliever; Morrow a starter. He's got star-quality stuff; he needs a new home.
Any deal involving anything with the Mets would involve Parnell. Parnell tired down the stretch after a great start, was tried in the starting rotation and faltered. His 100-mph fastball makes him an alluring talent.
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