Tampa Bay Rays: Grading Andrew Friedman's Offseason Moves Thus Far

David A. Cucchiara@@cucch22Correspondent IJanuary 17, 2013

Tampa Bay Rays: Grading Andrew Friedman's Offseason Moves Thus Far

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    The Tampa Bay Rays are heading into the 2013 season faced with the most competitive division Major League Baseball has seen in decades.

    In an offseason full of life, the Rays’ season is in serious jeopardy if Andrew Friedman can’t compile a roster formidable enough to match that of the Yankees, Orioles and Blue Jays.

    The Rays have put together a young and promising lineup so far, but will it be enough to take on baseball’s finest? Will it be enough to secure a playoff spot?

    Here are the grades for the Tampa Bay Rays' offseason moves thus far.

Mike Fontenot, 2B: B

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    The Rays signed second baseman Mike Fontenot to a minor league deal back in November, allowing Fontenot the opportunity to make the roster come March.

    Fontenot was a valuable utility man for the Phillies in 2012, hitting .289 in 97 at-bats.

    The 32-year-old has fit nicely into a utility role over his career and will make a solid addition to the Rays organization.

    While the Yunel Escobar signing likely pushes Ben Zobrist to an everyday second base job, I expect Fontenot to make the Opening Day roster and be an important part of the Rays bench in 2013.

Nick Weglarz, OF: C

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    Nick Weglarz has spent the entirety of his professional baseball career as a prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization.

    The now 25-year-old outfielder was the 58th-ranked prospect in baseball in 2009 according to Baseball America, but his numbers over the course of his minor league career have been mediocre at best.

    For Double-A Akron, Weglarz was a non-factor, hitting just .239 with 58 RBI and 14 home runs.

    In the end, this was a chance the Rays were willing to take on a guy who used to be a highly coveted prospect.

    Unless the change in scenery sparks Weglarz's bat, expect him to spend the majority of the 2013 season bouncing from Double-A to Triple-A.

Jason Bourgeois, OF: A-

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    Bourgeois has proved to be an extremely valuable and flexible utility man over the course of his career, primarily with Houston.

    Bourgeois will be just two years removed from his 2011 season with the Astros, where he hit .294 with 31 stolen bases, replacing the injured Michael Bourn.

    If the 31-year-old can manage to go a season without chronic injuries, he’ll have a legitimate shot at a roster spot on Opening Day.

    With holes in the Rays' outfield, Bourgeois may be able to sneak his way back into a starting role with a solid Spring Training.

Raul Mondesi Jr., OF: D

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    Last month, the Brewers traded minor league outfielder Raul Mondesi for Rays reliever Burke Badenhop.

    The 20-year-old Mondesi hit just .231 with five homers and 32 RBI in the Pioneer League (Rookie League) last season, not exactly Mondesi Sr.-like numbers.

    This is the most puzzling of the Rays’ offseason moves.

    Badenhop was a quality arm out of the bullpen, recording a 3.03 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 62.1 innings pitched.

    The more I look at this trade, the more I don’t understand the move. Friedman dealt a quality arm entering the prime of his career for an unproven prospect known only for his last name.

Yunel Escobar, SS: B+

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    While the Marlins were happy to deal Yunel Escobar and shed some payroll, the Rays were just as happy to acquire him to fill the perennial hole at shortstop.

    Escobar, who’s known to be a little expressive on and off the field, was a subject of investigation by Major League Baseball after he was caught wearing a gay slur on his eye black in a September game for the Blue Jays (prior to him being dealt to Miami).

    Overall, this was an excellent move for the Rays. They’ve been offensively challenged at shortstop and Escobar’s bat will give them an additional 30 to 40 RBI at the position.

    Escobar’s glove will also help an infield that sat at the bottom of the league in fielding in 2012.

James Loney, 1B: A

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    With the signing of James Loney to a one-year, $2 million deal, the Rays have upgraded at first, gotten younger and did it all for a great price.

    Loney had a rough season last year for two teams. For the Dodgers, Loney struggled out of the gate, batting just .232 through the month of April. After the mega-deal back in August, Loney was sent to the Red Sox to fill in for Adrian Gonzalez, where he would have had to earn a spot on the roster for 2013.

    Loney batted .230 for the Sox and thus was forced to test the free-agency market.

    Confusion and displacement defined Loney’s 2012 campaign. Playing for a great coach in Joe Madden and a team with a great philosophy, I fully expect Loney to return to the ways of old and give the Rays 80 RBI and 160-plus hits.

Wil Myers, OF and Jake Odorizzi, P: A++

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    In December, the Rays sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi in what’s been the move to define the Rays’ offseason thus far.

    With B.J. Upton heading to the Braves, Wil Myers, the 28th-ranked prospect according to Baseball America and the most coveted prospect in the Royals organization, will slowly ease his way into a starting role over the course of the 2013 season.

    He’ll start next season in the minors, likely playing for Triple-A Durham, then work his way up to a roster spot sometime in midseason.

    The Rays also acquired pitcher Jake Odorizzi in the deal. Odorizzi is the 68th-ranked prospect according to Baseball America and was excellent in a starting role for Triple-A Omaha last season.

    The Rays got the best prospect package out there for Shields and Davis.

Vince Belnome, IF: B

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    This was a nice little under-the-radar move by the Rays this offseason, acquiring West Virginia University product Vince Belnome for Double-A pitcher Chris Rearick.

    For Triple-A Tucson, Belnome hit .275 with five home runs and 33 RBI.

    Belnome will likely begin the season in Triple-A for the Rays, where he’ll be competing with Jason Bourgeois and Nick Weglarz for a roster spot.

Roberto Hernandez, P: C-

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    Roberto Hernandez, formerly Fausto Carmona, has noticeably regressed in health and production over the last few seasons.

    Hernandez will be fighting for the fifth spot in the Rays’ rotation with veteran Jeff Niemann prospect Chris Archer.

    The Rays signed Hernandez to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million, money that could have been used to back a bullpen that ranked third in baseball last season.

    Overall, this move was a head-scratcher for the Rays, but if Hernandez can stay healthy, he would make a formidable fifth starter.

Yael Regalado, P: B

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    Yael Regalado is a starting pitcher who graduated from George Washington High School in New York City in 2012.

    Regalado is a Rawlings All American from the Northeast Region and is the 52nd-ranked player in the state according to Maxpreps (CBS).

    Overall, this is a low-risk signing for the Rays, one that could pay dividends in three or four years.

Overall: B+

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    With a payroll that ranks in the bottom third in baseball, the Rays are doing everything right this offseason.

    Friedman has filled holes in the infield, restocked the farm system with some prospects and added some great bats and utility men.

    Still, in what's left of this offseason, the Rays need to bolster their bullpen and possibly add another bat.

    With a pretty complete roster and one of the best managers in baseball, the Rays may surprise some people in 2013.