Baseball’s long winter is finally coming to an end. Today, pitchers and catchers will report to camp, concluding the four month offseason in the return of our national pastime. As expected, the financially-limited Rays didn’t make too much noise this winter. Coming into the offseason, there were a lot of questions regarding the multiple holes on the roster. The Rays knew they had to address the open spots at DH, first base, and catcher. Fortunately, the front office was able to fill in the holes during the winter, in efforts to bring back another successful season to Tampa Bay. Although the Rays did not make a huge splash in MLB’s Hot Stove frenzy, they have a pretty good amount of new additions joining the club this spring. Here’s an evaluation of every single Rays offseason move.
Back in October, the Rays were met with their first main task of the offseason. A decision had to be made on whether the Rays were going to exercise their club option on James Shields, Kyle Farnsworth, and Kelly Shoppach. The Rays picked up the options on Shields and Farnsworth, but declined Shoppach. By exercising Shields’ option, the Rays will be paying him $7.5 million in 2012. Farnsworth will be making $3.3 million during the 2012 season, which is $700 thousand more than he made last season. Shoppach, who’s now a member of the Boston Red Sox, recieved a $300K buyout by being declined. To recap the Rays’ decisions on club options, they were able to bring back their ace and closer from last season. Both Farnsworth and Shields were obviously a huge part of the Rays’ success last year. At 35-years-old, Farnsworth may of had the best season of his 13-year career with the Rays, posting a 2.18 ERA with 25 saves and a 5-1 record. Shields also had a career year, leading the Rays’ pitching staff in 2011 with ridiculous numbers. Shoppach on the other hand, was a disappointment. The backstop batted an atrocious .176 average while driving in just 22 RBI’s. Although he did much better down the stretch and his defense was not bad, it’s easy to see why the Rays decided not to keep Shoppach, even with their catching situation.
Overall Grade: A
John Jaso-Josh Lueke Trade
Even after signing Molina, the Rays surprised everybody by parting ways with another backstop. This time it was John Jaso, who was traded to Seattle back in November. In exchange for Jaso, the Rays recieved relief pitcher Josh Lueke and cash considerations (or a player to be named). Lueke has one year of big league experience under his belt, after pitching 32.2 innings out of the Mariners’ bullpen last season. He posted a high 6.06 ERA while struggling through his rookie year. Lueke’s under-par numbers may not be the biggest concern the Rays have about him. Lueke’s criminal past is something the Rays are very aware of. While playing in the Rangers’ organization in 2008, Lueke was charged with rape and would serve jail time. The Rays seem confident that Lueke’s legal trouble won’t be an issue in the future, and believe that he can help reinforce the bullpen. As for losing John Jaso, he probably won’t be missed much in Tampa Bay. The 28-year-old saw a big decline in his offensive numbers last year, while continuing to struggle defensively.
Overall Grade: C+
Acquiring Jose Molina
Once the Rays cut ties with both of their main catchers from 2011, it was imminent that they were going to find a backstop to fill in that big hole on the roster. The Rays took their first dip into free agency, and emerged with veteran Jose Molina. The 36-year-old was signed to a one-year deal including an option for 2013. Molina will be paid $1.5 million this season, and $1.8 million next year if the Rays exercise his option. He batted a career-best .281 last year through his 55 games with the Blue Jays. His defense and experience is what’s most attractive to the Rays, as Molina has a gun of an arm behind the plate. Molina threw out 36.5% of runners attempting to steal during the last four seasons, which is the MLB’s highest percentage during that span. Throwing out baserunners was one of the Rays’ weaknesses last year, and Friedman did a good job of addressing that by signing Molina.
Overall Grade: B+
Matt Moore Contract Extension
The contract extension of phenom Matt Moore was probably the highlight of the Rays’ offseason. The Rays were able to pull of a great move, locking up baseball’s most hyped-up prospect long-term. With the ridiculous potential that he has, the huge eight-year contract extension they signed with Moore is a bargain. Moore is guaranteed $14 million through five years, and has an additional three years of options. If Moore plays through all eight years of his contract, the overall value will be worth around $40 million. It’s a lot of money for a team like the Rays, but it’s well worth it considering the type of player Moore is. Below is a breakdown of Moore’s eight-year deal (courtesy of spotrac.com):
Overall Grade: A+
Burke Badenhop Trade
The Rays made their second offseason trade for a relief pitcher back in December, when they traded minor league catcher Jake Jefferies to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Burke Badenhop. “The Hopper” posted a 4.10 ERA and a 2-3 record out of the ‘pen last year, and owns a career ERA of 4.34 through his four big league seasons. As for the Marlins’ side of the deal, the Rays didn’t give away much at all by trading minor leaguer Jake Jefferies. The 24-year-old backstop has never made is a career .254 hitter, and has never made it past the Class-AA level.
Overall Grade: A
Signing Fernando Rodney
The Rays continued their emphasis on bullpen help when they signed veteran right-hander Fernando Rodney to a one year deal. This time though, they picked up a bullpen arm via free agency. The Rays signed the 34-year-old to a one-year deal worth about $2 million. Rodney struggled with his control last year during his season with the Los Angeles Angels last year, resulting in some disappointing numbers. He posted a 4.50 ERA with just three saves. Rodney has had success in the past, however, saving 37 games with Detroit in 2009. He has been on a downslide since then, but keep in mind that the Rays seem to have the magical touch of reviving relievers who are past their prime. Hopefully, Rodney can continue that trend and be solid arm in the bullpen this season.
Overall Grade: B-
Non-Tender Deadline Deals
The Rays had tender choices to make on seven arbitration-eligible players before the deadline last December. B.J. Upton, J.P. Howell, Joel Peralta, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and the newly-acquired Burke Badenhop were all tendered. The one player non-tendered was Andy Sonnanstine, who is now a Chicago Cub. The only unpredictable news that came out of the Rays’ non-tender deadline deals, was the tendering of J.P. Howell’s contract. As the deadline loomed, there was a big question whether Howell would be a Ray next year. The organization’s steadfast belief in Howell prevailed, and J.P. will get another shot to return to his top form with Tampa Bay.
Luke Scott Acquisition
With Johnny Damon a free agent, the Designated Hitter role was one roster hole the Rays knew they needed to fill in. They did exactly that, picking up veteran slugger Luke Scott off the free agent market. The 33-year-old was signed to a one-year deal worth $5 million, including a 2013 option worth $6 million ($1.5 buyout). Scott has spent the last four seasons in Baltimore, ending his tenure there with an injury-riddled 2011 season. Before 2011, however, Scott established himself as a consistent 20+ homer guy with the Orioles. He also owns a career line of .264/.349/.494 and a 162-game average of 79 RBI’s. Scott is the kind of quality hitter that the Rays need, and the stats definitely show that. His powerful left-handed bat fits perfectly in the meat of the Rays’ lineup, and is exactly what the Rays lacked last year.
Overall Grade: A-
Arbitration Deadline Deals
As the January arbitration deadline drew near, the Rays had six arbitration-eligible players to negotiate with. B.J. Upton, David Price, Burke Badenhop, Jeff Niemann, Joel Peralta, and J.P. Howell were all looking to work out a deal to avoid an arbitration hearing. Everyone except Jeff Niemann was able to agree to a deal, which resulted in just one player entering an arbitration hearing. Below are the details on all five of the deadline deals. Note that all projections are from MLBTradeRumors.com’s Projected Arbitration Salaries list.
- B.J. Upton- $7 million; $7.6 million projected.
- David Price- $4.35 million; $7.8 million projected
- J.P. Howell- $1.35 million; $1.4 million projected
- Joel Peralta- $2.175 million; $2 million projected
- Burke Badenhop- $1.075 million; $1.1 million projected
As you can see, the Rays did an outstanding job of negotiating before the deadline. The Rays agreed to a deal that was cheaper than the projected salary of every player, except for set-up man Joel Peralta. The highlight of the deadline deals was Price’s salary agreement, where the Rays saved some big bucks. Price will earn $4.35 million this season, in contrast to the $7.8 million that was projected. They also worked out a pretty good deal with Upton, keeping his 2012 earnings at just $7 million. As for Niemann’s arbitration hearing earlier this month, that also went well for the Rays. Not surprisingly Niemann lost, resulting in an agreement of $2.75 million. The salary is $350,000 less than the projection, and $450,000 less than the Niemann asked for. The penny smart Rays continue their undefeated arbitration record, as they’re now 6-0 (5-0 under Friedman).
Overall Grade: A+
The Return of Carlos Pena
Bringing back Carlos Pena to Tampa was probably the offseason’s most exciting moment for the Rays and their fans. With Casey Kotchman a free agent, the Rays were in desperate need of a first baseman. They found their man (our re-found) in Pena, signing him to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million. Pena spent four years in Tampa Bay (2007-2010), compiling a total 144 homers and 407 RBI’s with a line of .238/.368/.516/. He played one season with the Chicago Cubs last season, batting .225 with 28 home runs and 80 RBI’s. Pena’s big-time power is something the Rays really could of used last year. If Pena can continue his homerun-hitting consistency, his presence in the lineup can make the Rays a scary good team.
Overall Grade: A-
Signing Jeff Keppinger
Picking up someone to add to the middle-infield was apparently one of the Rays’ tasks this offseason. The Rays signed veteran Jeff Keppinger to a one-year, $1.525 million deal. Keppinger, who owns a career line of .281/.332/.388, is a pretty solid contact hitter. He’s not impressive on the base paths, defensively, or power-wise; but he has the ability to get on base. The Rays are looking forward to his right-handed average-hitting type of bat in the lineup. Keppinger also has some versatility; filling in at shortstop, second (main position), and third base.
Overall Grade: B
Russ Canzler Trade
In a trade that surprised many, Rays’ farmhand Russ Canzler was traded away to the Cleveland Indians for cash considerations. Canzler had a terrific season at Class-AAA last year, earning him the International League MVP award. He batted .314 with 83 RBI’s and 18 homers last year for AAA Durham. Despite good numbers throughout his minor league career, Canzler has never been considered a high-ranked prospect in either the Rays’ organization or the Cubs’ organization. The reason why he was traded to Cleveland was solely because he has no spot on the Rays’ roster. Canzler simply does not fit in on the Rays defense-based infield. Canzler can also play some corner outfield, but he also has no defensive value there. As for the DH position, that too is occupied with signing of Luke Scott.
Overall Grade: C
Joe Maddon Contract Extension
Skipper Joe Maddon’s three-year contract extension is the most recent news of the Rays’ offseason. This move may of been the biggest no-brainer of them all, as keeping Maddon was an absolute must-do. The two-time AL Manager of the Year will be paid about $6 million over the course of three years. Considering how much Maddon means to an MLB team, it’s one of the biggest bargains you’re ever going to see in the business. The Rays are going to love getting used to seeing Joe Maddon around, if they aren’t already.
Overall Grade: A+
Minor League Signings
The Rays signed a total of nine players to minor league contracts this offseason. Below is a list of all of them.
- OF Jesus Feliciano
- INF Matt Mangini
- 1B Juan Miranda
- LHP Jhonny Nunez
- INF Will Rhymes
- RHP Romulo Sanchez
- C Chris Gimenez
- OF Brad Coon
- OF Jeff Salazar
Players to keep an eye out for:
- Matt Mangini- The former first-round draft pick, owns a .321 with 104 RBI’s and 20 home runs through 175 games at Class-AAA ball. Mangini plays first base and third base.
- Juan Miranda- The 28 year-old first baseman possesses raw power, but his just .226 through his 111 career MLB games. Miranda also hit 37 RBI’s and 11 home runs in his four seasons of big league experience.
- Will Rhymes- The 5’9″ second baseman has spent his whole professional career with the Detroit Tigers’ organization. Rhymes has established himself as a good contact hitter, owning a career line of .283/.341/.370 through his 83 big league games and a career .291 average in the minors. His defense at second is maybe average, and his speed is pretty good.
Overall Grade: B
If one thing’s for sure, the Rays have to be satisfied with themselves entering Spring Training. The Rays were successful in filling in all three of their main roster holes; catcher, first base, and DH. Not only were they able to get the guys they needed this winter, but they also did plenty of bargaining. For a small-market team like the Rays, making penny-wise deals is crucial during the offseason. The Rays set a perfect example of how financially-limited teams should operate, by doing a terrific job of negotiating free agent acquisitions and contract extensions this winter. However, I don’t think it was a perfect offseason for Friedman & Co. The Rays may of whiffed at a few possible trades that should of been made, which would of traded away their surplus of pitching for a bat. One example of where the Rays could of been more aggressive was trading for top prospects Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, who were both on the trade block and were perfect fits in Tampa. Instead, both of those big bats ended up in San Diego after a five-player swap with the Reds. Another player the Rays might of missed out on was Anthony Rizzo, who was traded to the Cubs last month. Looking at the players Chicago had to give up to acquire Rizzo, the Rays likely will regret not snagging a phenom first-base prospect like Rizzo. Back to the bright side of things, the Rays did avoid one trade that wouldn’t be such a smart idea. Despite trade rumors throughout the whole offseason, the Rays were able to hang on to B.J. Upton. Many will argue that trading away the Rays’ centerfielder is the right choice, but Upton is actually a big part of an offense that’s lacking. Along with Upton, the Rays were able to keep (or replace) all their main offensive figures from last season.As for the rotation, all the starters from last year will be back in Tampa this season, with addition of Matt Moore’s superstar talent.
At the end of the day, it’s hard not to say the Rays’ front office got the job done this winter.
Overall Grade for the Rays’ Offseason: A-
Rays’ farmhand Russ Canzler was traded to the Cleveland Indians today in exchange for cash, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Canzler won the International League’s MVP award last season, batting .314 with 18 homers and 83 RBIs in 131 games last season for Durham. The trade came less than a week after Canzler was designated for assignment to make room for the newly-acquired Jeff Keppinger on the roster. Although it may not seem to make sense for the Rays to trade away someone who’s produced big numbers offensively in the minors, Canzler doesn’t really have a future in Tampa. The corner infielder/outfielder’s lack of defensive ability is the main reason why he doesn’t fit on the Rays’ roster. The Rays could use some extra cash anyways.
The Rays lost another Triple-A player this week, after Justin Ruggiano declined his minor league assignment on Monday. Ruggiano has been in the Rays’ organization since 2006, when he was acquired in a trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 29-year-old outfielder had a .226 average with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 195 career Major League at-bats with the Rays.
Since the offseason began, rumors have swirled about the possibility of the Rays trading away some of their excellent starting pitching. With Matt Moore appearing to join Tampa’s rotation this season, it looks like the Rays will have a surplus of starters in 2011. Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann, will for the fifth spot in the rotation in the spring, are two players that could very possibility be traded before deadline this summer. Last year’s ace James Shields has also been in the discussion, as teams have been interested in his services for a while now. Although the Rays have filled in their main roster holes via free agency this offseason, it’s still pretty likely that the Rays will seek a trade. Most of the offseason’s action is over, but the trade possibilities have not exactly faded. Recently, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Rays’ president Matt Silverman said he isn’t finished looking to trade away a starter. Considering how much sense it makes for the Rays to trade away pitching in exchange for offense, it’s no surprise that the front office is mulling this over. When a team lacks hitting and has a surplus of pitching, a trade is the obvious solution. Let’s take a look at eight possible deals that could get the Rays to trade away starting pitching. The bats on the trade market are limited, but there still are some intriguing possibilities for the Rays.
The Toronto Blue Jays are one team that would love to add to their starting pitching this offseason. Toronto’s rotation had their struggles last season, which is why a trade for Wade Davis could possibly light up their eyes. Most of what the Jays have to offer is down in their farm system. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria are two young players that should interest the Rays. Both are part of Toronto’s top 10 prospect list in 2011 (according to MLB.com). Blue Jays’ top prospect and former first-round pick Travis d’Arnaud is one exciting young prospect. The 22 year-old hit .311 with 78 RBI’s in 21 homers in Class AA New Hampshire last season. With impressive skills both offensively and defensively, d’Arnaud has the potential to be a successful big league catcher. A good backstop is something the Rays will be needing in the future, as their 36 year-old acquisition Jose Molina was only signed for a one-year deal. Because of the emergence of the young J.P. Arencibia, it is possible the Jays will think about trading d’Arnaud soon. According to sources, the Philadelphia Phillies have actually discussed obtaining d’Arnaud earlier this offseason. Adding prospect shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria to the mix would really make a great deal for the Rays here. Shortstop is another area of need for the Rays, which should make Hechavarria pretty attractive. The 22 year-old Cuban-native batted .305 with 57 RBI’s and 20 stolen bases in the minors last year (AA and AAA).
Possible Trade: Wade Davis to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for minor league C Travis d’Arnaud and minor league SS Adeiny Hechavarria
Although the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t made any big moves for starting pitching in recent years, they may have the pieces to put together a potential deal with the Rays. Young outfielder Jose Tabata and former All-Star relief pitcher Evan Meek should be able to get the Rays to discuss a four-player swap. The Pirates would get Jeff Niemann and prospect starter Alex Torres, who went 9-7 with a 3.08 ERA and 156 strikeouts last year during his season with AAA Durham. Tabata would be a great guy for the Rays to pick up, as he seems to have a bright future in the MLB. However, it’s very unlikely that the Pirates would give away Tabata, especially after the huge contract extension he received this August. The 23 year-old leftfielder had a rather dissapointing 2011, after a pretty impressive rookie season. Tabata batted .299 with 121 hits and 19 stolen bases through his 102 games in 2010. He saw a decline last season, batting .266 through his 91 games. Still, Tabata is a talented player who could easily develop as a star in the big leagues. Make no mistake, this is one guy the Rays would love to have in leftfield. The Rays have done a lot of work this winter continuing to build their young bullpen. Right-handed reliever Evan Meek is somebody the Rays would love to add to their ‘pen, even if it’s worth giving up a prospect like Torres. Meek’s career stats include a 3.08 ERA and 7-7 record through four seasons (160.2 innings pitched).
Possible Trade: Jeff Niemann and Alex Torres to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for LF Jose Tabata and RP Evan Meek
Here’s a trade that’s a great idea for the Rays, as well as a win-win for both sides. Ryan Hanigan is exactly what the Rays need. He’s a catcher who’s consistent, has a high on-base percentage, and a very reasonable salary. Hanigan owns a career line .275/.371/.368. It’s nothing special and he doesn’t produce many runs, but his good defense and ability to get on base is something that must attract the Rays. As for Cincinnati’s point of view; they definitely get their end of the deal here. Alex Cobb is an underrated pitching prospect, and he’s proved that he can succeed at the big league level. Cobb went 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in his brief MLB stint last season. He also went 5-1 with a terrific 1.87 ERA at AAA Durham. This is a move the Rays need to continue to pursue. If the Rays want Ryan Hanigan, the chances of them working out a deal is not bad at all. The Reds will probably not be too hesitant to send their veteran catcher to Tampa, as they may have a franchise catcher in the making. Reds’ top prospect Devin Mesoraco could possibly take over the catching spot pretty soon, potentially making Hanigan a possible trade piece for Cincinnati. Interestingly, Hanigan was almost dealt to the Rays earlier this offseason. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Rays discussed trading for Seth Smith (who was on the Colorado Rockies then) and then sending him to Cincinnati in exchange for Hanigan. Even before that, ESPN’s David Schoenfield mentioned his name in article about trades he thought were reasonable. So if Hanigan does end up in Tampa Bay, nobody should be too surprised.
Possible Trade: Alex Cobb and C Robinson Chirinos to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for C Ryan Hanigan
Unfortunately for the Mets, they haven’t been able to add to their struggling pitching staff during their miserable offseason. Here’s a four-player deal that would make sense for both sides. The Rays did find their first baseman when the picked up Carlos Pena earlier this month, but it still could be an area of need in the future. Mets’ first baseman Daniel Murphy may not get much attention at all, but he’s a perfect fit in Tampa. The 26 year-old is a career .292 hitter (.320 in last year), and he’s even shown he has some pop in his bat during his three big league seasons. Murphy could be a serious trade target for the Rays in the future, as he probably doesn’t have a future with the Mets. Ike Davis seems to be emerging into a quality baseball player in New York, and it looks as if he’ll become their everyday first baseman. It shouldn’t shock anybody if the Rays pursue this guy in the future. Wilmer Flores, who is one of the top prospects in the Mets’ organization, is another player that I could imagine the Rays would like in the trade package. Being a shortstop, the 20 year-old would be a great addition to the Rays’ farm system. Although Flores hasn’t done that much statistically yet in the minors, scouts seem to be convinced that this youngster has what it takes to succeed.
Possible Trade: Jeff Niemann and Alex Cobb to the New York Mets in exchange for 1B Daniel Murphy, and minor league SS Wilmer Flores
This trade is very simple, yet very effective. I don’t see anything wrong with a Davis-Trumbo trade. Since Albert Pujols is now the first baseman in Anaheim, Trumbo’s future with the Angels is questionable. Trumbo himself has already acknowledged the fact that he may be traded. The question is, would the Angels be interested in one of the Rays’ starters? Right now it looks like their five-man rotation is set to go. However, I think Davis could actually give an already great rotation a boost. The Angels don’t have a solid starter in the fifth spot, and there’s a good chance that Davis can put up better numbers than Ervin Santana (fourth spot) this season. From the Rays’ side of things, Trumbo would obviously be a terrific acquisition. The 26 year-old has all the tools to become a big-time slugger in the majors. Trumbo had an outstanding rookie season, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He smacked 29 dingers and drove in 87 runs, showing off some raw power.If the Rays want a long-term first baseman, Mark Trumbo is their answer.
Possible Trade: Wade Davis to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for 1B Mark Trumbo
Mitch Moreland could potentially be another first base option for the Rays. He may not be the same type of player as Trumbo, but he sure does know how to hit. In his first full season last year, Moreland put up a .259/.320/.414 line including 16 homers and 51 RBI’s. He’s also pretty good defensively at first, even though he doesn’t play the position everyday. With catcher Mike Napoli very capable of playing first, it seems likely that he’ll get a lot of playing time their this year. That means that Moreland’s name may soon pop up in trade rumors. It will be interesting to see if the Rangers negotiate with the Rays, as Texas would love to strengthen their starting rotation. Minor League outfielder Jake Skole is the another piece that could complete a trade package for Davis. The first-round draftee excites scouts with his excellent athletic ability. At just 20, he hasn’t done that much yet statistically speaking. Skole batted .264 with nine homers, 62 RBI’s, and 21 stolen bases during his season at Class A ball last year.
Possible Trade: Wade Davis to the Texas Rangers in exchange for 1B Mitch Moreland and minor league outfielder Jake Skole
The Kansas City Royals could really use one of the Rays’ starting pitchers. They actually offered a deal for James Shields back in the Winter Meetings. They might not have what it takes to bring Shields to Kansas City, but they probably could work out a trade for Jeff Niemann. For Shields the Royals offered closer Joakim Soria, their top prospect, and prospect Christian Colon. For Niemann, the Royals could offer Soria and prospect Clint Robinson to make a deal. The Rays would love to add a solid closer like Soria to their ‘pen. The future of the closer role is very questionable, as Kyle Farnsworth will be a free agent after the 2012 season. Soria owns a career ERA of 2.40 and 160 saves (162 game average of 37). He had the worst season of his career last year, but he’s still an effective closer. It wouldn’t be a shocker if Soria is traded, as his name has come up multiple times in trade rumors. First baseman Clint Robinson is one of top position prospects in the Royals’ farm system. The 26 year-old left-handed slugger is putting up huge numbers in minor leagues. Last year in AAA Omaha, Robinson posted a .326/.399/.533 line while blasting 23 home runs and 100 RBI’s. With Kansas City’s young star Eric Hosmer appearing to be their future first baseman, it’s possible that Robinson could end up as a trade piece for the Royals.
Possible Trade: Jeff Niemann to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for RP Joakim Soria and minor league 1B Clint Robinson.
The Orioles have been looking to upgrade their starting pitching for a while now, and a trade may be the best way to find their man. Adam Jones’ name immediately comes to mind, who has been subject to trade rumors throughout the offseason. The 26 year-old outfielder owns a career line of .275/.319/.437, and hit 20+ homers and 80+ RBI’s for the first time in his career last season. Jones has great potential in the MLB, and his offensive could really be used in Tampa. There is a question as to how well Jones would suit the Rays, though. Being a centerfielder, it would be interesting see how he would fit in the same outfield as B.J. Upton. However, if Upton is traded at some point in the future, this could become a serious trade possibility. The chances of a Adam Jones trade happening for the Rays are very slim. This is more of a “what-if” trade scenario.
Possible Trade: Wade Davis and Alex Cobb to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for CF Adam Jones
The Rays ended their search for an extra infielder yesterday, agreeing with Jeff Keppinger for a one-year deal. The 31 year-old veteran, who plays three positions (2B, SS, and 3B), will bring some versatility to the Rays’ infield. With Ben Zobrist at second base and Sean Rodriguez probably starting at shortstop, Keppinger will likely take over one of the bench spots on the Opening Day roster.
Keppinger played 99 games for both the Houston Astros and the San Francisco Giants last year, posting a .277/.300/.377 line through 379 at-bats. After seven seasons of MLB experience, Keppinger owns a career line of .281/.332/.388 playing for five different teams. His right-handed bat doesn’t produce many runs, but he has established himself as a solid contact-hitter in the big leagues. Keppinger doesn’t play well defensively or run well on the bases, but his ability to make contact with the baseball is something that apparently attracts the Rays. Picking up Keppinger wasn’t the only move the Rays made for a backup infielder this offseason, as ex-Detroit Tiger Will Rhymes was signed to a minor league contract earlier this January. Adding Keppinger to the roster probably ended the Rays’ search for a right-handed infield bats, but there’s no guarantee that Andrew Friedman won’t take another dip into free agency.
Although no financials have been publicized yet, I believe the Rays made a pretty good move here. They add a versatile contact-hitter that should improve a rather offensively-weak bench. Tampa Bay’s baseball team is looking pretty good right now, as Friedman continues to put together more pieces of the puzzle.
Also in Rays news, Matt Moore was recently ranked #1 on MLB.com’s 2012 Top 100 Prospects list. The Rays’ young fireballer was ranked ahead of some huge prospect names such as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Moore was one of six Rays that made Jonathan Mayo’s list. The five other Rays prospects on the list included shortstop Hak-Ju Lee (#43), right-handed pitcher Chris Archer (#74), shortstop Tim Beckham (#92), outfielder Mikie Mahtook (#96), and right-handed pitcher Taylor Guerrieri (#99).
The Rays continued their January search for offense yesterday, signing former Rays slugger Carlos Pena. Tampa Bay’s search for a first baseman is finally over, and the Rays have to be satisfied with the move. Pena, who played for the Rays from 2007-2010, agreed to a one-year contract worth $7.25 million. The deal is great news for both the Rays and Pena. By signing Pena, the Rays filled in a big hole on their roster. They picked up a power-hitting and run-producing first baseman, which was exactly what they needed. Pena seemed even more thrilled when learning he would reunite with the Rays this season. Pena texted “Sooooo excited … !!!!!” when first finding out about the news. The joyful reaction is not a surprise, as all of Pena’s best memories were during his four years in Tampa.
Pena, now 33 years old, smashed 144 homers and 407 RBI’s with a career line of .238/.368/.516 during his four seasons for the Rays. During those seasons, Pena collected a Silver Slugger Award, a Gold Glove Award, and an All Star selection. He also put up some impressive home-run totals, belting 46 dingers in 2007 and hitting a league-leading 39 round-trippers in 2009. His big bat in the middle of the lineup and his slick fielding at first were both a huge part of the Rays success in past years.
When signing Pena, the Rays essentially picked the veteran first baseman over Casey Kotchman. Kotchman had a surprisingly successful season in 2011, batting a high .306 average while playing terrific defense. Did the Rays make the right choice by choosing Pena instead of Kotchman?
Considering the offensive numbers starting first basemen are expected to put out in the MLB, Pena is definitely the more valuable player. A healthy Carlos Pena pretty much guarantees you 25+ homers and 80+ RBI’s. Kotchman is a much better contact hitter who’ll probably strikeout a lot less and hit for a higher average, but he simply is not capable of producing as much runs as Pena in the middle of the Rays’ lineup. Ten home runs with 48 RBI’s and .306 average is numbers you more often see from a middle infielder, not a starting first baseman. I don’t want to take anything away from Kotchman’s excellent 2011 season, though, especially considering he didn’t enter the season with high expectations.
In conclusion, the Rays are doing a great job of continuing to add bats to their roster. Bringing back Pena is a real sigh of relief for Rays Republic after long winter months without a first baseman. It will be fun to watch Pena return to Tampa in 2012, where he is needed more than ever before.
The Rays made a few minor moves earlier today. According to a Tweet by Matt Eddy of Baseball America, the Rays signed three players to minor league contracts. Among the new acquisitions, are ex-Detroit Tiger infielder Will Rhymes, outfielder Jesus Feliciano, and relief pitcher Romulo Sanchez. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that all three were handed an invitation to Spring Training.
Will Rhymes, who is incredibly just 5’9″ and 155 pounds, played a total of 83 MLB games through his two seasons in Detroit. He owns a career line of .283/.341/.370 in the big leagues, but had a much better 2010 (.304 BA) than 2011 (.235 BA). The 28 year-old second baseman is a good fielder and a good contact hitter; two things you must be if you’re under a 160 pounds in the majors. The Rays seem to be pretty set at second base with Ben Zobrist, but you’ll likely see Rhymes get some big league playing time in 2012.
Jesus Feliciano, 32, has spent the past five years of his pro career in the Mets’ farm system. The left-handed outfielder played 54 Major League games in 2010, batting .231 through 108 at-bats. Feliciano struggled in the minors last year (AA and AAA), after batting over .300 through four straight years (2007-2010) in Triple-A ball.
Right-handed reliever Romulo Sanchez is returning to the MLB after spending all of 2011 in Japan. Sanchez does have some big league experience, though, playing in both the Pirates’ and Yankees’ organizations. The 27 year-old Venezuelan has a career ERA of 4.04 through 35.2 innings pitched in the majors.
Yesterday, before the arbitration deadline, the Rays had choices to make with five remaining arbitration-eligible players. David Price, B.J. Upton, J.P. Howell, and newly-acquired reliever Burke Badenhop were all signed to one-year deals avoiding an arbitration hearing in February. Jeff Niemann, though, wasn’t able to work out a deal with Rays and is heading into arbitration.
Niemann asked for 450,000 more than the $2.75 that the Rays offered him, and apparently it’s worth the 17-day arbitration debate. I’m not sure what Niemann was thinking when deciding to test arbitration, as his chances of winning are extremely slim. The Rays are undefeated in all five of their past arbitration cases (4-0 in the Friedman era). Considering the circumstances, it would be a shocker if Niemann won the arbitration case. The 6-foot-9 righty posted an ERA of 4.06 last season while struggling with some injuries, and has also a been a likely trade piece. That is why a multi-year deal, which is the only thing that can still avoid arbitration, is probably not going to work out for Niemann.
As for the other four arbitration eligibles who tried to work out a deal before the deadline, the result much better. David Price’s deal was pretty much a bargain for the Rays. Price, who opted out of his contract earlier this offseason, was predicted to make $7.8 million next season by MLBTradeRumors.com’s salary projections, assuming that he would go through arbitration. The Rays pulled off an excellent deal, signing Price to a one-year agreement worth $4.35 million. Of course, a long-term contract extension with Price would be ideal, but the one-year deal is still good news for the Rays. Price’s $4.35 million agreement tied Dontrelle Willis’ record for the highest ever for a first-time arbitration eligible pitcher. When you look at the kind of unbelievable potential Price has, the Rays can’t have any regrets on this deal.
B.J. Upton, Burke Badenhop, and J.P. Howell were still without a contract agreement as the deadline loomed. Upton, along with Price, highlighted the Rays’ arbitration chatter. B.J., who batted .243 last year with 36 stolen bases, 81 RBI’s, and 23 homers, was expecting a pricey salary for 2012. Upton’s salary projection had him at $7.6 million for next year, with a possible arbitration hearing in consideration. The Rays were able to come to terms on a reasonable deal with Upton, which will pay him $7 million in 2012. B.J.’s $7 million is an over $2 million increase from 2011’s $4.825 million salary, and will make him the second-highest paid player on the team next year. There’s a lot of money going to Upton here, but the Rays have to feel pretty good about the move at the end of the day. Burke Badenhop’s one-year deal was a bit more predictable than Price and Upton’s. Badenhop, who was acquired in a trade from the Miami Marlins over a month ago, signed a one-year agreement worth $1.075 million ($1.1 million projected) before the deadline yesterday. Badenhop went 2-3 with a 4.10 ERA out of the Marlins’ bullpen last season. J.P. Howell had a disappointing year in 2012, after recovering from a major shoulder injury. The Rays continued to show that they have confidence in the 28 year-old reliever, signing Howell to a one-year deal worth $1.35 million on Monday. Howell posted a lopsided 6.16 ERA last season, but has eyes to get back on track in 2012.