The Tampa Bay Rays face a daunting task each offseason.
Stay competitive on a tight budget.
Competing in the American League East is a difficult task by itself. When you add in the Rays budget compared to the spending ability of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, and the task becomes exponentially more difficult.
Somehow, the Rays and executive VP Andrew Friedman find a way to add enough pieces to field a highly competitive roster. Their five 90-win seasons since 2008, including the last four in a row, is the best in baseball.
The Rays have been business as usual this offseason. They have made some strategic moves to put them in position to make another postseason run in 2014. They have kept their core intact from 2013 while adding depth at catcher and in the bullpen.
Which of these moves will make the most impact?
Here is a power ranking of the Rays offseason moves. The list does not include players signed to a minor league contract.
All statistics and salary numbers courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
The Rays re-signed Juan Carlos Oviedo, formerly known as Leo Nunez, to a one-year deal.
The right-handed pitcher could add late-inning depth to the bullpen. He did not pitch in the 2013 season as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery.
He last pitched for the Marlins in 2011. That season, he recorded 36 saves.
In his three seasons with the Marlins from 2009 to 2011, he appeared in 211 games with a .409 ERA and recorded 92 saves.
If Oviedo is healthy and can provide quality relief appearances, this could be one of the best moves the Rays made.
The Tampa Bay Rays re-signed catcher Jose Molina to a two-year deal.
Molina is still a quality defensive catcher. He caught 23 baserunners stealing in 2013, good for fifth-best in the American League.
He will likely not be needed to play in over 100 games in 2014, as he has in his previous two with the Rays.
Prior to joining the team, he averaged 56 games a season. With Ryan Hanigan and Jose Lobaton on the roster, his workload could be below the 50-game mark.
However, the Rays can still tap into the value of the knowledge and mentoring a 14-year veteran catcher can bring to a roster with plenty of young pitchers and catchers.
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired catcher Ryan Hanigan in a trade from the Cincinnati Reds. Catcher has been a consistent position of need for the Rays and Hanigan fits the defensive blueprint of the team.
He does not add a lot of splash on offense. He has a career .276/.393/.394 line against left-handed pitching.
Where he lacks in offense, he compensates with outstanding defense. He led the National League in caught-stealing percentages in 2012 and 2013.
Having Hanigan available in addition to Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton, particularly against left-handed pitching, is a moderate improvement to the lineup. If you believe that a run prevented is equivalent to a run scored, the acquisition benefits the Rays even more.
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired Heath Bell in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Bell is the latest Rays closer reclamation project. He will likely assume the duties held by Fernando Rodney for the past two seasons.
If Bell can return to his 2009 through 2011 form, the Rays will be in great shape. In that time, he averaged 44 saves per season.
As is typical for a lot of Rays free-agent signings, he is coming off two underachieving seasons in which his production has dropped to a 17 saves per season average.
To reiterate, from 2009 through 2011, Bell was one of the top closers in the game. He recorded an average of 44 saves per season in that span with the San Diego Padres. His last two seasons with the Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks have been below that standard, averaging only 17 saves per season.
If the Rays can repeat the success they had with Rodney, Kyle Farnsworth and Rafael Soriano, this move will be looked at as their biggest new acquisition for 2014.
James Loney was a must-keep player for the Tampa Bay Rays.
If the Rays would have lost Loney to free agency, the gap at first base would have been very hard to fill. Loney’s defense in 2013 was good enough for him to be a finalist for the AL Gold Glove award.
The Rays had a Gold Glove finalist at every infield position in 2013. It is their focus on pitching and defense that allow them to remain competitive with a slim payroll, and Loney is the ideal player for their philosophy.
He's coupled great defense with a consistent bat, finishing 2013 with a .299/.348/.430 line and 13 home runs.
This move is the best move of the offseason since the Rays had no option on their roster or in their farm system to adequately replace Loney.