Rays can get what they re­ally want at the win­ter meetings

The Bradenton Herald - - Sports - BY MARC TOPKIN

The Tampa Bay Rays have made it abun­dantly clear what they are plan­ning to do this off­sea­son, ad­ding pieces (plu­ral), im­pact­ful and even rea­son­ably ex­pen­sive, to the youth­ful core of their 90-win team enough to reach the play­offs next sea­son.

The chal­lenge now, with the win­ter meetings start­ing Sun­day in Las Ve­gas, sign­ings and trades pick­ing up in­dus­try­wide and spring train­ing less than 10 weeks away, is ac­tu­ally fig­ur­ing out how.

First, here’s a cou­ple things the Rays won’t do.

One, while they have money to spend, with the po­ten­tial to field their cur­rent squad for about $32 mil­lion, they are not go­ing to break from past bonds to start throw­ing mil­lions around hap­haz­ardly, or com­mit­ting to spend up to a spe­cific pay­roll num­ber, like match­ing last year’s $76 mil­lion, just to do so.

Are they will­ing to take on big­ger-name, high­er­pro­file ad­di­tions than in the past? Yes. Would they pay $15 mil­lion plus more for a year, and maybe a sec­ond or with an op­tion, the largest salary in team his­tory (David Price, $14 mil­lion 2014)? It’s doable for the right guy, short term.

But the Rays bud­get over a rolling five-year pe­riod. So what they don’t spend now is avail­able later, and vice versa. As much as they ben­e­fit cur­rently from hav­ing many young and in­ex­pen­sive play­ers (only five mak­ing $1 mil­lion plus), they know bank­ing some money ben­e­fits them when those guys start mak­ing more later.

Two, they’re not go­ing to make in­cre­men­tal up­grades that clut­ter the ros­ter, tak­ing away at-bats or in­nings from young play­ers who stepped up last year, and po­ten­tially re­tard­ing their devel­op­ment.

The idea is to add im­pact – a right-handed hit­ter who can be a le­git force in the mid­dle of the lineup, a starter as sure of a thing as they can find to back Blake Snell while hop­ing Tyler Glas­now is real deal, a closer to add a known quan­tity to the sta­ble of young power arms. While the bat, es­pe­cially af­ter ditch­ing C.J. Cron, seems the top pri­or­ity, some in the or­ga­ni­za­tion say the starter is more vi­tal.

Want to make it a good win­ter? Sign Nel­son Cruz to DH, trade for starter Noah Syn­der­gaard or Trevor Bauer and wait out the re­lief mar­ket for the closer with­out a job, ad­ding maybe $30 mil­lion to the pay­roll. Or trade for soon-to-be-a-DH Car­los San­tana (at a dis­count) or Jose Mar­tinez, sign Char­lie Mor­ton, spend a bit more on the back end of the ‘pen and bring on the Red Sox and Yan­kees.

There’s also some talk in­ter­nally that if they can’t land the right hit­ter at an ap­pro­pri­ate cost (dol­lars or prospects), they’d be bet­ter off rolling out what they have, feel­ing they al­ready are above av­er­age of­fen­sively at many spots.

They’re con­fi­dent their young (Willy Adames, Jake Bauers) and pre­vi­ously un­proven (Ji-Man Choi, Joey Wen­dle) play­ers will con­tinue to get bet­ter.

And they will ben­e­fit from full seasons of Kevin Kier­maier (in­jured) and Tommy Pham (ac­quired July 31), plus the ad­di­tion of catcher Mike Zunino.

In de­cid­ing if cer­tain ad­di­tions are enough of an up­grade, they also may have to wres­tle with how much of their cur­rent, or fu­ture, group to give up in trade.

“The bal­ance that we’re try­ing to strike is mak­ing sure we don’t rest on our lau­rels and that we don’t walk past op­por­tu­ni­ties to make the group bet­ter and more com­pet­i­tive,” se­nior VP Chaim Bloom said, “but that we also don’t get away from what got us here, which was giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to play­ers who needed the chance to es­tab­lish them­selves and let­ting them grow and let­ting them take the next step in their ca­reers.”

And also not go­ing all on for 2019 when the big­ger pic­ture plan is to have sus­tained suc­cess.

“We have a club that we think is ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing for the post­sea­son and play­ing in Oc­to­ber, and when you have that those op­por­tu­ni­ties are not to be taken lightly and they are pre­cious and you want to do ev­ery­thing you can to sup­port those chances,” Bloom said. “But we also think we’re at a point where this group is ca­pa­ble of do­ing this not just once, but many times. And that’s our goal is to be con­sis­tently com­pet­i­tive. To do that you also have to look at a mul­ti­year pic­ture. One of the things that goes into that is right now we have a very young and very in­ex­pe­ri­enced team that we think is very tal­ented. As these play­ers go out and per­form, per­for­mance gets paid in this game.”

FRANK FRANKLIN II AP

A trade for Mets starter Noah Syn­der­gaard would give the Rays some­one to back Cy Young Award win­ner Blake Snell. But the Mets say they’re un­likely to deal Syn­der­gaard.

MIKE STONE AP

Nel­son Cruz is among the hit­ters the Rays might be in­ter­ested in ac­quir­ing this off­sea­son.

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