Rays Continue To Look For Bats At Winter Meetings
The rumors that the Rays were chasing big game targets ahead and during the Winter Meetings revealed itself as true on Wednesday afternoon when the Tampa Bay Rays reportedly reached agreement with right handed pitcher Charlie Morton.
The deal, which has not been announced by Tampa Bay, is reportedly for two years and $30MM and includes a third year club option. The third year option may be a safeguard against injury in which Morton would make as little as $1MM and as much as $15MM (based on days on the DL in ’19-20).
Rays President of Baseball Operations and General Manager reflected back to Manager Kevin Cash‘s desire for the team to acquire pitching, pitching, and pitching. The possible acquisition of Morton would enable him to provide at least the pitching, and he’d have the rest of the off-season to work on the other two.
Acquiring pitching is important to the Rays franchise. “If there are opportunities to keep runs off the board rather than put them on if we feel like that gets us to a stronger spot with our team as a whole we’re going to pursue him.” Neander said.
About The Bat?:
With the Morton signing would the Rays still have the financial prowess to remain engaged on designated hitter Nelson Cruz? Or involved in trade discussions for Indians designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion or Seattle Mariners first baseman Carlos Santana?
Neander noted that the team is active on a number of fronts. He feels the team has a really good young club and acknowledges that there are some opportunities for them to improve it further and will try to see that through and add to the current group.
The offense is an area that the club needs to upgrade. He also notes that he feels the offense is better at this point than it was going into last year. The team was really two different offense, the team that opened the year and the one that finished the final two months. Looking at the latter paints a different picture. Especially in terms of power.
“From a power standpoint, from a productivity standpoint what Willy [Adames] as a young player what he did in his time. What Tommy Pham did in his time and that was only a couple of months.” Neander said. “Ji-Man Choi and what he did. Even Austin Meadows in what he can bring. Brandon Lowe and what he showed and you project those things over a full season.
There’s certainly more power and I think there’s more talent when it comes to producing runs that we have together right now than the profile of the club we had at the beginning of the year and probably in totality.”
Neander also cautioned that the organization has to be careful that they also give the guys that stepped up and did some encouraging things for the team the opportunity to continue to blossom.
At the same time, he acknowledges that the team isn’t going so good that there isn’t an opportunity for at-bats.
“We have guys, we like the trajectory, we like the young players.” Neander said. “A lot of what has allowed us to get to the position of winning 90 games is not obsessing over trying to eek out every last little bit of run scoring to our roster, we let guys play.
Guys that maybe we wouldn’t necessarily bet on to be the best option demonstrated that they are the best option. The Joey Wendle for example. We want to make sure we don’t cut off the development of a lot of those players further.
We are fortunate to have a group that’s versatile. We have a lot of players that can bounce around and do different things on the field and are ego free in that regard. That does open up a lot of possibilities for where you can find at-bats in what is the best fit for our club but we’re certainly looking.”
Ideally the Rays will acquire a bat whether in free agency or trade. Both options remain on the table. “I think there’s probably some thing via trade/free agency. We’re active, we’re still active. We have a lot of doors that are still open.” Neander said. “Whether or not anything comes to fruition, there’s a lot of different paths that we can go. We still have some hope that there’s going to be ways, things that are sensible to us, and I think within our framework that could make sense for us and we’ll stay active on that.”
The Rays doors remain open on both fronts (Pitching/Bat). “I think there are only so many doors that are open and the opportunities are limited. I don’t think we want to shut off anything one way or another if we think it makes the most amount of sense.”Neander said. “It’s hard enough to try and find the matches and make those pairings that we’ll be open minded to that. You could make cases either way for what might make the most sense.
Market Shape Developing:
Last year, the market stalled all the way until spring training. This year, while the market hasn’t taken shape, it appears that more people are ready to go than last year.
“I think, everybody involved be it trade free agency etc. recognizes there’s value to getting things done sooner than later.” Neander said. “When you run things out to January to February – certainly as we learned last year first hand that’s hard…and it’s hard on everybody.”
Neander expects the market to further take shape in the coming weeks before the holiday’s kick in.
The Rays only have one player on their current 40-man roster that has seen a bulk of action in recent seasons at first base, Jake Bauers.
Bauers, 23, made his debut during the 2018 season and finished the year batting .201/.316/.384 with 11 homers spanning 388 plate appearances.
“He had some struggles,” Neander acknowledged. “He came on the scene and I think probably exceeded any reasonable expectations you would have for him and then he struggled. Those are the things when talking about young players they’re going to happen. He’s a good example of making sure that we don’t get too short sighted, we provide the necessary amount of patience to our young players to give them the opportunity to continue to grow and he certainly fits into that. Those are decisions we need to make going forward about how we can put him in the best position to succeed but also our team as well.”
While Bauers is the teams obvious choice to man first base, he probably shouldn’t be counted on to play 162 games. If the Rays were to fail to land Nelson Cruz they could acquire Edwin Encarnacion or Carlos Santana who both could fill in at first base. Or, as in years past, the Rays could take a versatile infielder who hits from the right side (Daniel Robertson/Matt Duffy) and allow them to learn the position.
Winter Meetings Are A Catalyst:
One executive described the Winter Meetings as eventful and complicated. The Rays GM agreed with that sentiment and added that they also serve as a catalyst. “I think as an industry we all, there’s no deadline, there’s nothing that we have to make move or things have to be done by the time that we leave, but it does serve as a catalyst for action.
Everybody’s here. Everybody kind of uses it as a checkpoint with respect to the process. It gives everyone something to speak to to try to move things along. I think as an industry we are responding to it and that’s a good thing.”
He acknowledges that things can get a bit chaotic saying its an around the clock event, but by enlarge it’s a productive thing.
Should There Be An Off-Season Deadline For Moves?:
Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski suggested an off-season deadline for roster transactions, since he noted everyone gravitates to a deadline. Neander would have strongly preferred it last year and he believe there is something to it. He doesn’t know how it would be structured with all the players still out there.
“For all parties involved, I think if there is a deadline people will gravitate towards that deadline, but if it helps us close up business from a roster standpoint there’s a lot, when you’re operating a franchise and a baseball operations group in total there’s a lot of other business that needs to take place and things you need to do to help yourself grow and improve that doesn’t involve your roster.
When it’s kind of open season all throughout it does make it challenging to find the time to do that because your always obsessing over things you can do to potentially improve your roster.
If you put that to bed for awhile as in the case by enlarge in August but not entirely or September it does allow you freedom to put your focus elsewhere and that’s important.”