12/07/11 8:39 PM EST
Rays sorting options on how to beef up offense
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
However, while several possibilities are being speculated about, no trades or signings seemed imminent at the end of the third day of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings at the Hilton Anatole.
The Rays scored just 707 runs in 2011, which represented a significant drop from the 802 times the Rays crossed the plate in 2010. So adding a DH/first-base type is a priority, which has led to speculation about whom the Rays might find to fill that role.
One line of speculation is contingent upon what happens with high-priced free agents Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. In theory, if either signs with Miami, the Marlins would then look to trade incumbent first baseman Gabby Sanchez.
Sanchez hit .266 with 19 home runs and 78 RBIs in 2011, which would be a power upgrade over last year's first baseman, Casey Kotchman, who hit .306 with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs. In addition, Sanchez is not eligible for arbitration until 2013 and he's not eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season. However, he hits and throws right-handed. Typically the Rays like having a left-hander in that role.
Other speculation includes the possibility of signing free agents Josh Willingham or Carlos Pena and the possibility of trading for Yonder Alonso of the Reds.
On the subject of the latter, the Reds want pitching, which the Rays have. When asked about any possible trade, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said on Wednesday: "I've talked to them several times. I don't think we're close to anything."
In addition, there remains the possibility that Johnny Damon could return to be the Rays' DH and also that Kotchman could return. Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations, spoke of Damon on Wednesday.
"Look, we've talked extensively about the value of Johnny, both what he did on the field and off the field," Friedman said. "His obvious value and his kind of under-the-surface value is not lost on us at all and it's a big part of the reason that he's been a part of our discussions."
"It's more just how everything comes together. Handedness, skill sets, how they complement one another. We're just going through a bunch of different scenarios, laying it out and trying to maximize what we're projecting for our offense in terms of runs scored. There are different ways to score runs. Some ways are more expensive than others. We just have to get creative to find the optimal mix."
Thursday morning will bring the conclusion to this year's Winter Meetings when the Rule 5 Draft is held. In the past, the Rays have been active players in the Draft, but Friedman didn't sound as though the Rays would be too busy this year.
"We've discussed it at length," Friedman said. "There are a couple of guys who are of interest. But I don't anticipate us being active."
The Rays have 39 players on their 40-man roster, but Friedman said that is not the inhibiting factor for what the team might do on Thursday.
"It's more that you have to carry that guy until March 12 and that just ties up roster flexibility," Friedman said. "You have to have a pretty high level of conviction with the number of guys we'd still like to add to our 40-man to where I don't think anybody is going to surpass that level that we would have to have to do something."
In addition to the possibility of adding players through the Draft, the possibility exists that the Rays could lose players as well.
"There are a couple of guys who might get taken. But we spent a lot of time going through it," Friedman said. "Sometimes the best way to protect guys is to not put them on the 40-man roster. Like every team in the industry, we've made some calculated risks on a few guys."
Also on Wednesday, the Rays announced the retirement of special assistant Andres Reiner, one of the foremost authorities on scouting and player development in Venezuela. His career in amateur and professional baseball in Latin America spanned five decades.
Reiner, 76, spent six seasons with the Rays, helping lead the organization's international outreach efforts in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. In 2007, with help from Reiner, the Rays celebrated the opening of their baseball academy in Guacara, Venezuela, a facility dedicated to him.
"I want to thank the Rays organization for giving me the chance to complete the project I presented," says Reiner. "There were a lot of people who helped get my ideas into the minor league system and I am extremely happy to see that we are now producing players for the future."
Gerry Hunsicker, the Rays senior vice president of baseball operations, noted that "no one" had made a greater impact on the international scouting and development part of the industry than Reiner.
"He is a true visionary and has left a tremendous legacy for our game," Hunsicker said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.