Will Big Game James be pitching for the Rays next season?
The Tampa Bay Rays finished off the season with a respectable record of 90-72, but even with a second wild-card spot available, the Rays were on the outside looking in at the 2012 playoff picture.
Despite an impressive pitching staff, their offense struggled throughout the course of the season, which is a concept not at all foreign to Tampa Bay fans. With glaring holes at first base, catcher, shortstop and potentially an additional outfielder, the Rays have their work cut out for them this offseason.
The Rays never have a lot of money to spend, but with the expected departure of players such as B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena and Jeff Keppinger, and the potential departure of players such as Joel Peralta, Luke Scott, Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Molina, there is certainly room to work with. However, as these players leave the team, the Rays must also find adequate replacements for them accordingly.
In a not-so-impressive free-agent crop, it may be difficult for Tampa Bay to make the necessary adjustments, and thus Andrew Friedman may be forced to explore the trade market.
Elvis Andrus is a total stud, and would fill a key need in Tampa Bay by filling the glaring void at shortstop, allowing utility man Ben Zobrist to return to second base and the outfield.
Andrus hit .286/.349/.378 last season in Texas, and at just 24 years of age, provides tremendous upside. He has the speed, stealing 30 bases in three of the last four seasons, and the Rays like to run on the base paths. An efficient glove, Andrus would also help Tampa Bay's defense, which piled up a rather large number of errors last season.
With 19-year-old phenom Jurickson Profar waiting in the wings, Andrus' time in Texas may be running out, and it would be wise of Tampa Bay to capitalize.
Andrus is signed for the next two years after inking a three-year, $14.1 million contract before the season began. This is particularly important for a team like the Rays, who are very financially limited.
Such a move would likely cost the Rays James Shields as well as some prospects, but it may be worth it to fill such an important need, especially with such a strong rotation already in place. The Rays have two more options on Shields' contract, so the length of both Shields' and Andrus' contracts equal out.
It might even take Cy Young candidate David Price to get this kind of a deal done, but if I were the Rays, I would be hesitant to let such a dominant lefty go.
It would also help the Rangers, as their rotation struggled when Neftali Feliz went down. Roy Oswalt never really came into form. Scott Feldman was inconsistent and lacked command. Colby Lewis also had a season-ending injury. Adding a veteran like Shields could help shore up a need, and it could also land them some solid pitching prospects for the future while giving Profar the chance he deserves.
First base was one of the largest holes in the Tampa Bay offense. The Rays hoped that bringing back veteran Carlos Pena on a one-year deal could help propel this offense and send this team back to the playoffs, but Pena struggled throughout the season. The Rays expected his strikeout total to be high (182 Ks) but did not anticipate such poor offensive numbers across the board. A .197/.330/.354 stat line with 19 homers and worse defense than his usual Gold Glove standard, Tampa Bay lost out on that $7 million investment.
New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis could provide the necessary pop in the middle of the Tampa Bay lineup. When Evan Longoria was out a large portion of the season, the Rays lacked a power bat in the heart of the order, and players like Pena and Luke Scott failed to produce in that role. Although Davis only hit .227/.308/.462, his 32 home runs would definitely provide the added boost that the Rays are in need of.
Ike Davis made just $506,600 last season, and although he is certainly due for a raise, the Rays would be able to keep a player like Davis under team control. He is just hitting his first year of arbitration eligibility, and if the Rays acquired him, they could potentially lock him up to a long-term deal to avoid further years of arbitration. Affordability being a key component of any potential trade, Davis fits this bill as well.
Although the Mets are reportedly shopping Davis, they are supposedly asking for a lot in return, and Tampa Bay might not be willing to sacrifice a ton of assets for Davis. However, if they can strike the right deal, Davis might be an ideal fit in the Rays lineup.
It's no secret the Royals are in desperate search of pitching. Ranking 23rd in the MLB in ERA, 27th in WHIP, and 28th in both quality starts and batting average against, Kansas City's rotation clearly underperformed this season. They are rumored to be in search of starting pitching this winter at the right price, but with a lack of options on the market, they may be willing to explore the trade market.
Alex Gordon would be a solid pickup for the Rays, as the move would really bolster their outfield. Batting .294/.368/.455 last season, Gordon would help shore up the middle of the order as well. An outfield of Desmond Jennings in centerfield with Gordon and Matt Joyce at the corners certainly looks solid, especially with utility man Ben Zobrist and the speedy Sam Fuld at their disposal as well. It's also worth noting that a Longoria/Gordon in the middle of the order could carry this team deep into the postseason.
At 28 years old, Kansas City might deem Gordon expendable, especially with potential star outfielder Will Myers ready to make the leap to the big leagues.
Gordon still has three years remaining of the four-year, $37.5 million deal he signed last winter. This is a pretty solid deal, and one that the Rays may be able to afford despite their limited financial resources.
Another legitimate possibility may be first baseman Eric Hosmer. The Royals may not be willing to part with Hosmer, as he has plenty of upside, but after a disappointing year, the Rays may be able to swoop him up at the right time. After batting just .232/.304/.359 last season, Hosmer let down a lot of excited Kansas City faithfuls with his mediocre offensive output. However, because he is just 22, he still has plenty of potential, so don't be fooled by his numbers last season. I expect his numbers to return to form next season, and it could be a nice boost for the Rays if he were in their lineup.
Hosmer is also affordable because of his young age, as he made just $502,500 last season. If Tampa Bay acquired him, a long-term deal could avoid several years of arbitration.
Hosmer would fill a need at first base, and the Rays could send back pitching in return to help a glaring need for the Royals as well. However, it is very unlikely the Royals would be willing to move Hosmer with so much time left for him to develop, so Tampa Bay might be better off pursuing Gordon.
Similar to the Andrus deal, it would likely come at the expense of James Shields. Although it would be a significant blow, the acquisition of a player like Gordon or Hosmer might be too much to pass up.
With B.J. Upton likely heading out of town, the Rays could use another outfielder.
Like Upton, Bourjos can also play centerfield, and his speed and defense is above average. His offensive numbers are not too impressive so far, as he hit just .220/.291/.315 last season with the Angels and also had a very limited role. Between MVP candidate Mike Trout, slugger Mark Trumbo, veteran Torii Hunter and the overpaid Vernon Wells, Bourjos was stuck in a very crowded outfield. In a bigger role, the 25-year-old could emerge as a solid everyday player.
In his years of arbitration, Bourjos made just $500,000 last season, which is within the Rays' budget.
The Angels could use some pitching despite having a solid staff last season. The team is already committed long term to C.J. Wilson and Jared Weaver, and likely intends to resign Zach Greinke. However, with Ervin Santana and Dan Haren potentially leaving depending on if their options are exercised or declined, the Angels may be in need of a backend starter. With so much pitching depth, the Rays may be willing to part with some assets in an effort to snag Bourjos.
This move may be difficult because the Angels organization is supposedly very high on Bourjos, but I think the move would make sense given their crowded outfield.
There are a lot of flaws to Jed Lowrie's game. He is injury prone, and has not played 100 games once in his five-year career. He is a streaky hitter. His defense may not be best suited for shortstop, which could potentially prompt a move to second base.
But for the right price, it may be worth it. The Astros are looking for as many prospects as they can get their hands on, and Lowrie might be a nice asset for the Rays when he's capable of playing. Despite his flaws, he does fill a need as a middle infielder, and he is certainly an upgrade over the incumbent Sean Rodriguez.
Hitting .244/.331/.438 with 16 home runs, Lowrie is a decent offensive weapon, and at age 28, would be a decent fit for the Rays middle infield.
Lowrie made $1,150,000 in 2012, so he is also affordable, and the Rays could likely retain him.
Given these flaws, the Rays might be able to snag Lowrie on a nice deal. They would not have to give up Shields in a scenario like this, so it would provide less risk for Tampa Bay.
This is probably the least likely trade scenario for the Rays, but it would be a monster one.
With B.J. Upton likely leaving Tampa Bay for more money, why not lose one Upton brother and gain another?
In two years, Justin Upton went from MVP candidate to perennial underachiever for the Arizona Diamondbacks. After hitting .289/.369/.529 with 31 home runs and 21 stolen bases two seasons ago, he batted .280/.355/.430 last year with 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases. He picked up his production at the end of the year, but struggled before the All-Star break, leading to an influx of trade rumors.
Replacing his brother, Upton could fill a need in the Tampa Bay outfield, and if his bat bounces back, he could be a huge upgrade for the middle of their lineup.
After signing a $51.25 million contract over six years, Upton would be under team control through 2015, but his price tag escalates with every year, as he earns $9.75 million next season, $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015. This may be out of price range for the Rays.
The D-backs are asking plenty for Upton, and Shields would probably not be enough to seal the deal. In order to get Upton, the Rays would almost certainly have to part with Price, and I'm not sure that's what they intend to do, especially for such an enigma like Upton. If it would take Price to land Upton, I'm not sure I would pull the trigger, but I think it's worth a phone call to see exactly what Arizona is asking for.
With so much at stake, the Rays might decide to take a big risk and go all-in toward a championship with an acquisition like Upton.
UPDATE: In a three team deal, the Arizona Diamondbacks swapped outfielder Chris Young for reliever Heath Bell and middle infielder Cliff Pennington. This means that the odds they trade a second outfielder this winter in Upton are significantly decreased, and therefore I don't think Upton will be moved. Nevertheless, it is a situation to keep in mind given the rumors surrounding Upton at the trade deadline this season.