The Tampa Bay Rays want to get back to the World Series.
It is already too late for that to be a reality in 2013, so the team must look to next season with hope, optimism and a tight budget.
The Rays have a formula for wins in the regular season and need to bolster their team for postseason runs. They are the only team in the majors to win at least 90 games in each of the last four seasons. They made the playoffs in three of those seasons and were eliminated in the ALDS at home each time.
It is the same story for the Rays with a new cast of characters as they prepare for 2014. There are starting pitcher trade rumblings, comments from the owner about salary cuts due to low attendance and the stadium issue that will not go away until ground is broken for a replacement.
In order to build a team that can do more than just win 90 games, the Rays will need to continue to make smart offseason moves.
Here are five realistic moves the Rays should consider to field another winning team in 2014. The moves are selected based on team needs and potential contract values.
All statistics and salary numbers courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Delmon Young was one of the needed sparks for the Rays at the end of 2013. In his 23 games with the Rays he compiled a .258/.329/.452 line. If his salary stays close to his 2013 value of $750,000 he'll be a very affordable DH and within the team’s tight budget.
What does or does not happen with David Price will dictate the remaining moves the Rays make in the offseason. Whatever position the Rays are trying to fill on offense, there is likely a team that has a player or prospect they are willing to deal in exchange.
The biggest question mark will be how much do the Rays want in return for the 2012 Cy Young award winner. It would take more than one top prospect, and perhaps major league players with arbitration years left, in order to get the trade done this offseason.
If it is completed, it would likely be done very soon into the beginning of the offseason. James Shields' trade was completed swiftly last year and allowed the team to have the framework for the roster to fill with other players from the major league clearance rack.
The majority of the Rays deals will literally and figuratively be based on Price.
The Rays need to re-sign at least one of their free agent pitchers. Jesse Crain, Fernando Rodney and Jamey Wright all will be free agents once the World Series is over.
Fernando Rodney will be a 37-year-old pitcher in 2014. He finished 2013 with a decent season, posting a 3.38 ERA and 37 saves. It was a disappointing encore to his 2012 season where he finished with 37 saves and a record 0.60 ERA for a relief pitcher. If Joel Peralta is right, and he is willing to play for the Rays for less money, he would be worth bringing back for another year.
Crain never played a game in a Rays uniform since the team acquired him from the White Sox. The Rays obviously saw something in him to pursue an injured player. If the market allows, it would not be surprising if they tried to re-sign him in the offseason.
Jamey Wright is another player the Rays should re-sign. Tampa Bay was the 10th team of his major league career. His pitching numbers are alright with a 3.09 ERA over 66 appearances. His salary is likely to be the number that brings him back. He has not made over $1 million in any single season since 2002.
Wright is the right choice for all of the financial reasons.
James Loney’s incredible 2013 season will generate increased buzz and an increased price tag for him in 2014. The 29-year-old first baseman finished with an impressive .299/.348/.430 line for the Tampa Bay Rays. It was the best season of his career in which he played at least 100 games.
If his 2014 value returns him to north of $6 million like he was making in 2012, he will likely be too rich for the Rays blood. This will mean the team will have to evaluate other options at first base.
Within the organization, the player that spent the most time after Loney at first base was Sean Rodriguez, who is not an everyday starter in the majors. Rodriguez is best as a defensive replacement for the Rays. Over the course of his major league career, he has played every defensive position except pitcher and catcher.
The void at first base could best be filled by a player the Rays are familiar with, Mark Reynolds.
Reynolds finished with a less than impressive .220/.306/.393 line with 21 home runs in 2013 for the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. It was his lowest home run total since his second season in the majors.
If his declining production drops his salary from the $6 million he made in 2013 to something in the $4 million or below range, he could be just the slugger the Rays need in the lineup.
If the Tampa Bay Rays trade David Price, they will need another starter to complete the rotation of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson and Chris Archer.
Don’t expect Jeff Niemann or Roberto Hernandez to be that final piece.
Niemann would be a surprise if he is tendered a contract, as he has spent the majority of the past two seasons injured. Niemann has started in only 31 games in the last three seasons due to injuries.
Hernandez did not compile the type of season that warrants signing for a second. He was 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA. Unless the Rays see him as a potential reliever, he would not be an asset to the starting rotation next year.
Josh Johnson, though, is a pitcher that could round out the rotation.
Johnson had a terrible 2013, finishing with a 2-8 record and 6.20 ERA for the Toronto Blue Jays. His disappointing season should reduce his value to make him at least interesting for the Rays.
MLB Trade rumors estimates Johnson could fetch a one-year deal for $8 million this offseason. If this is his true value, he would be a $2 million savings from the $10 million the Rays spent on David Price in 2013. His production would not be at the same level, but he could be the best player available that could fit the budget.
It also helps that the Rays have proven successful getting increased productivity out of previously struggling players including Fernando Rodney and James Loney.