As the new year begins, the free-agent market still has some notable names available. Outfielder Michael Bourn, pitcher Kyle Lohse and reliever Rafael Soriano can be snatched up by the highest bidder. But the interest for these three have not been high.
The Tampa Bay Rays can take advantage of that situation.
Michael Bourn still has terrific base-stealing speed and is a wonderful defensive center fielder. But at age 30, perhaps teams are worried that his legs will be the first part of his game to go.
Kyle Lohse had a career season. His 16-3 record and 2.86 ERA at first glance make him look like an elite pitcher. Further review of his career shows he is a solid pitcher in his late 30s who has had some very good seasons recently but is a long-term risk.
Rafael Soriano saved the New York Yankees' season last year. He stepped in for the injured Mariano Rivera, and the Yankees did not miss a beat despite challenges from the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. But teams seem to be cautious signing a closer to a long-term deal, especially one who has had health issues.
Then there are the draft-pick issues. More and more teams are seeing the value of the first-round pick, especially in terms of developing a pitching staff. The best way to get the elusive No. 1 starter seems to be to develop one. So teams that could use a Bourn, Lohse or Soriano in the short term might not be willing to pass on the potential Matt Cain, Justin Verlander or David Price in the long term.
That brings the discussion back to the Tampa Bay Rays. They know the value of good picks and, despite a Tim Beckham misstep here and there, have developed quality players through their farm.
They could use an outfielder of Bourn's ability. They could benefit from reacquiring their former closer Soriano. And despite great depth in their rotation, no staff is so full that they could not benefit from the likes of a Kyle Lohse.
Despite the Rays' low budget, they could take a single-year flier on any of these players. Maybe a single-year deal to establish their value in next year's free-agent market is what they need. That and a chance to play in the postseason.
As for the loss of a draft pick, the Rays are in a unique position to absorb that. They will be receiving a pick from the Atlanta Braves after letting B. J. Upton go. And the James Shields and Wade Davis trade put Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery into their system.
If there's any year the Rays can afford to part with a single pick, it's this year.
Adding one player at a relatively affordable price while still picking in next year's first round and seeing an influx of youth to the system would be quite a luxury for a 90-win team that has World Series ambitions.
That is exactly where the Rays find themselves today.
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