As the MLB Hot Stove continues to heat up, the Tampa Bay Rays find themselves searching the free agent market for a handful of players who could potentially fill empty holes on the roster.
With star center fielder B.J. Upton leaving the team, the Rays are seeking someone who can possibly replace him in the outfield. They could also use a first baseman (Carlos Pena likely not returning), a DH (Luke Scott not returning), a catcher, a utility middle infielder and maybe some help in the bullpen as well.
Having a player like Upton leave is definitely a negative for the team, especially a team like the Rays that could use all the offense they can get, but there are a few affordable FA’s on the market who could help Tampa in 2013 at least as much as Upton can.
Here are four guys the Rays should look into this winter.
Out of all the center fielders on the free agent market that can fit the Rays’ budget, none would make a better replacement for B.J. Upton than Shane Victorino. The “Flyin’ Hawaiian” is a better defensive player than Upton overall, and also has his share of offensive value.
Victorino owns a lifetime line of .275/.341/.430, but is coming off a not-so-great 2012 season where he hit just .255/.321/.383 with the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers. He still did manage to steal a career-high 39 bases though, which means he would bring back the great speed that the Rays would miss from Upton.
The Rays may also be able to strike a bargain after Victorino’s down year.
Mike Napoli is the ideal free agent for the Rays. The All-Star slugger plays catcher, first base and DH—three positions which are currently areas of need on Tampa’s roster. Napoli has hit 20-plus home runs for the past five consecutive seasons and has 70-plus RBI potential.
The main question is whether the Rays can afford him or not. Ken Rosenthal reports Napoli is looking for a multi-year deal, likely giving him a yearly salary in the $8 to $10 million range, which could be out of the Rays’ range. Still, he could be affordable if the Rays decided to sacrifice another signing or two.
It is also worth noting that bigger market teams—such as the Texas Rangers—seem to be already pursuing him (h/t the Star-Telegram).
The Rays missed out on the 37-year-old utility infielder this summer at the trade deadline, but now have a opportunity to sign him off the free agent market. Scutaro helped the San Francisco Giants win the World Series this season, batting .306./348/.405 for the entire year and then .328/.377/.391 in the postseason.
Scutaro is a perfect fit for the Rays, and could really give the club a boost offensively and defensively. He won’t be cheap after his second-half explosion in 2012, but he should come at a affordable-enough price for a one-year deal.
After making a name for himself with a breakout year this season with the Rays, Jeff Keppinger has significantly gained value on the free agent market this winter. The veteran utility infielder hit a team-high .325 with a .352 wOBA through 418 plate appearances.
He’s arguably the best pure contact hitter in all of baseball, and he covers a handful of positions, making him an ideal fit on the Rays just as he was in 2012.
Keppinger reportedly broke his leg falling in his own house Monday, which could give the Rays a bit of a discount if they decide to acquire him. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Rays are one of three teams interested in his services.