Welcome to another edition of Thaddeus' Tampa Bay Rays Offseason Report. Each and every Friday, we're going to recap the moves, trades, signings, and other nonsense of the previous week in the wonderful world of Tampa Bay baseball; keeping you, Dear Reader, up to date with the team until Opening Day in April 2010 against the Baltimore Orioles.
The Winter Meetings have come and gone, Dear Reader, and they were quieter than most had expected, or at least, quieter than most had hoped. For three days and nights, the 30 GMs of the league sat around, ate too much, and talked too much; the fans simply stared at Twitter updates and waited. And waited.
Be it the continuously lax economy, the lack of pizazz in this year's free agency pool, or simply stingy GMs, but the Winter Meetings were quiet, especially when compared to last year's.
Still, the moves that got made got made, the most notably the three-way, seven-player trade between the Yankees, Tigers, and Diamondbacks. But this is a Rays column, so we're going to focus on Tampa Bay, and Tampa Bay alone.
GM Andrew Friedman was active and talkative throughout the meetings, and rumors flew almost hourly, some surprising, some redundant. Due to the small amount of moves made by the Rays during the Meetings, I'll also include a list of rumors that you may have missed, if only to make you wonder about what might have been.
Let's do this.
Rumors Heard Throughout Winter Meetings, in Order of Occurrence
Rays looking to swap DH/OF Pat Burrell to Cubs for OF Milton Bradley
Rays contact Mets regarding Burrell; Mets don't want him
Rays and Rangers interested in RP Matt Lindstrom
Rays offer OF B.J. Upton and SP Wade Davis for SP Roy Halladay (!!!)
Talks reported with White Sox about sending OF Carl Crawford for OF Carlos Quentin, also about the availability of RP Bobby Jenks
Rays contact Pirates about RP Matt Capps
Rays keeping tabs on RP Kelvim Escobar
Rays meet with agents of veteran RP Darren Oliver
Rays meet with RP LaTroy Hawkins
Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals report interest in C Dioner Navarro
Obviously, we can see that none of these rumors actually resulted in a contract, but the pattern is obvious: the Rays' front office is determined to win in 2010, and is willing to spend the money it's going to take to do it.
With the addition of RP Rafael Soriano (see below for more about this deal), the Rays bullpen questions have been all but answered, with only a veteran middle reliever now being sought after by Tampa Bay.
Talks with the Cubbies have reportedly broken down (Chicago GM Jim Hendry doesn't want to pick up a majority of the cost of Bradley's salary, and Friedman won't budge an inch on the matter) and so the Burrell-Bradley swap seems to, for the moment, have fallen through the cracks, but stay tuned.
Also, look for Navarro to be shopped until the non-tender deadline on Sunday; all evidence points to the Rays not picking up his contract next year, but would like to see something in return for him.
The offer for Roy Halladay came as a huge surprise to most Rays fans, and while they were never considered to be anything but a dark horse compared teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, and Angels in the Halladay mix, it was interesting to see Friedman going all out to try to bag what could be this year's big prize. While a lot of fans, myself included, would rather have four or five years of Davis to one year of Halladay, the offer showed one thing to the AL East, and indeed, the league: the Rays are out to win it all this season.
Now, on to more date-related news:
Dec. 8, 2009 - RP Brian Shouse Declines Arbitration
This came as good news to the Rays after a surprising arbitration offer; Tampa Bay will now receive a compensation pick between the first and second rounds of the 2010 draft if/when the veteran left-hander signs with another team.
Even if Shouse retires, the Rays saved money and roster space when Shouse declined arbitration, and with lefty-specialists Jake McGee, Randy Choate, and R.J. Swindle in the bullpen mix already, Shouse's spot became expendable.
Dec. 10, 2009 - Picked Red Sox RP Armando Zerpa in Rule V Draft
I'd go into analysis and history of Mr. Zerpa here in the column, but it'd be a moot point, as he was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for an undisclosed cash sum that will be put towards the salary of the newest Ray...
Dec. 10, 2009 - Traded RP Jesse Chavez to Atlanta for CL Rafael Soriano
After the three-team blockbuster, this trade was arguably the biggest of the Winter Meetings, and perhaps the most surprising. See my at-the-moment article here for more analysis and detail.
Needless to say, the Rays were lacking in the tail-end bullpen department. They ended up with 22 blown saves (eighth most in the majors), and while the "Iceman" RP J.P. Howell was lights-out for most of the end of the year, he was out of his element and moments of discomfort plagued the Rays during an 11-game losing streak that closed the door on the 2009 playoffs.
Soriano accepted arbitration from the Braves on Monday, but worked out a $7.25 million over one year deal with the Rays, who, with Soriano shutting the door of games and set up by Howell and RP Grant Balfour, now have one of the talented and strong bullpen tandems in the American League.
A weakness from last year has now become a powerful strength.
Soriano established career highs last season in saves (27 over 31 opportunities), innings pitched (75.2), and strikeouts (102) while issuing only 27 walks. Among all major league relief pitchers in 2009, he ranked second in strikeouts (behind RP Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers), third with 12.13 strikeouts per nine innings, and first with a .138 opponents' batting average against right-handed hitters. Overall, Soriano held opponents to a .194 batting average (12th lowest in the National League).
Chavez was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates for 2B Akinori Iwamura after the Rays infield talent became overloaded and Aki's high salary made him expendable. Chavez had gone 1-4 with a 4.01 ERA for the Pirates in 2009.
Soriano's $7.25 million price tag raises some concerns for the Rays; the payroll is now close to $70 million, very high for the small-market teams. Look for no further big moves being made, and some tough decisions regarding fan-favorite but expensive players (Crawford, SS Jason Bartlett, 1B Carlos Peña) being made during the season if the Rays are out of contention. In any case, the ghost of Iwamura has put the Rays back in the discussion of elite teams in the AL.
That does it for this edition of the Report, Dear Reader, but check back in seven short days; there's always excitement in the Rays' offseason. And this writer never stops before getting the story.
Until next Friday then, enjoy your week, and be good to each other. 'Tis the season.
70 days until pitchers and catchers report. Deep breaths. Deeeeeeep breaths.