Tampa Bay Rays Offseason Tracker: Hottest Trade Rumors, Free-Agency News

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2013

Tampa Bay Rays Offseason Tracker: Hottest Trade Rumors, Free-Agency News

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    Believing wasn't enough for the Tampa Bay Rays to get over the hump in 2013, as the Rays were dispatched in the ALDS for the third time in four seasons.

    While the financially strapped club is typically shopping in the bargain bin on the free-agent market, the Rays do have one of the more intriguing trade chips in baseball—David Price—though whether general manager Andrew Friedman is ready to play that valuable chip yet remains to be seen.

    Wholesale changes may not be coming to Tropicana Field during the offseason, but there will be plenty of new faces dotting Tampa Bay's roster when the 2014 season begins.

    Keep it right here for the most up-to-the-minute rumblings about the Rays along with analysis and everything else that comes with it. While the post date will always show as Nov. 1, simply click through to see the latest about the Rays as they put together their roster for the 2014 season.

Tampa Bay's Free Agents and Done Deals

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    All the juicy rumors and analysis follow, but consider this your one-stop shop for all the comings and goings in Tampa Bay this winter, including the status of the team's own free agents.

    Rays' Free Agents

    1B Leslie Anderson (Dec. 27: Released)

    RHP Jesse Crain (Dec. 31: Signed a one-year deal with the Astros)

    OF David DeJesus (Nov. 3: Team picked up $6.5 million option)

    SS Yunel Escobar (Nov. 2: Team picked up $5 million option)

    OF Sam Fuld (Dec. 2: Non-tendered)

    C Chris Gimenez (Dec. 20: Claimed off of waivers by Oakland)

    RHP Roberto Hernandez (Dec. 12: Signed a one-year deal with the Phillies)

    IF/OF Kelly Johnson (Dec. 4: Signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Yankees)

    1B James Loney: (Dec. 13: Re-signed)

    C Jose Molina (Nov. 24: Re-signed)

    RHP Jeff Niemann (Nov. 18: Outrighted off 40-man roster, elected to become a free agent)

    RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo (Nov. 4: Team declined $2 million option) (Nov. 30: Re-signed, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times)

    IF/OF Ryan Roberts (Dec. 13: Signed minor-league deal with the Cubs)

    RHP Fernando Rodney

    OF/DH Luke Scott (Dec. 19: Signed with SK Wyverns in Korea)

    RHP Jamey Wright (Dec. 23: Signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers)

    LHP Wesley Wright (Dec. 2: Non-tendered; Dec. 4: Signed a one-year, $1.425 million deal with Cubs)

    OF/DH Delmon Young

    OF/2B/SS Ben Zobrist (Nov. 2: Team picked up $7 million option)

    Done Deals

    Nov. 4: Signed OF David DeJesus to a two-year contract extension

    Nov. 16: Signed RHP Mark Lowe to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training

    Nov. 24: Re-signed C Jose Molina to a two-year, $4.5 million deal

    Dec. 3: Acquired C Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati (Analysis) and RHP Heath Bell and cash from Arizona (Analysis) in exchange for RHP Justin Choate and OF Todd Glasemann (traded to Arizona)

    Dec. 13: Re-signed 1B James Loney to a three-year, $21 million deal

    Dec. 23: Claimed 1B/OF Jerry Sands off waivers from the Pirates

    Dec. 24: Signed LHP Jordan Norberto to a minor-league deal

Grant Balfour: Rays Still Interested in a Possible Reunion

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Friday, Dec. 20 at 8:40 p.m. ET

    It was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser in early November that Tampa Bay had interest in signing Grant Balfour, and that interest has not waned, sources tell ESPN's Jim Bowden.

    Balfour, who had agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the Orioles, is back on the market after Baltimore rescinded the offer, citing concerns over the results of his physical as the reason why. Balfour's agent, Seth Levinson released a statement declaring his client 100 percent healthy:

    Grant is completely healthy and that was told to us today by Dr. Koco Eaton, a well-respected club physician. Dr. Eaton’s opinion is based upon the fact that the MRI which was taken today is the same as the MRI which was taken in 2011 as a condition of the 3-year contract that Grant signed with the A’s.

    Dr. Tim Kremchek, another well-respected club physician, reviewed the Orioles’ medical report and advised that he is remarkably impressed that there has been little change in Grant’s arm for almost 10 years.

    Now factor into the equation that Grant was a 2013 All Star, pitched 65 games and another 3 scoreless innings in the post season with a 94-95 mph fastball. The only reasonable conclusion is that Grant is healthy and the Orioles at the last moment changed their minds.

    It should be noted that Dr. Eaton is Tampa Bay's team physician—someone who has a long history with the veteran reliever from his time with the Rays (2007-2010)—and he examined Balfour on Friday, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.

    Balfour has pitched to a 2.53 ERA and 1.04 WHIP while saving 64 games for Oakland over the past three seasons. Rays manager Joe Maddon is quite familiar with the veteran reliever, who went 14-7 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 203 relief appearances in the four years that he spent in Tampa Bay.

    Durable and consistent, making at least 50 appearances a year since 2008 in both a setup role and as a closer, Balfour would give the Rays options at the back-end of their bullpen.

    Should he wind up back in Tampa Bay, the most likely scenario would be for him to replace free agent Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning, pushing Heath Bell into middle relief.

David Price: Rays Remain Unimpressed

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Update: Thursday, Dec. 19 at 10:07 p.m. ET

    The Rays remain unimpressed with the offers that they've received from the handful of teams that are thought to have serious interest in trading for Price, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman says and, for the first time, the Rays are not only talking about holding onto David Price until after the 2014 season begins, but that the team is thinking about hanging onto Price for the entire year.

    Seattle, at one point thought to be the overwhelming favorites to land Price, refuse to include 21-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker in any deal, with a team source telling Heyman: “Taijuan Walker will be on our roster come Opening Day.”

    That doesn't mean that the Mariners are out of the running for Price, however.

    A source close to the Rays told Heyman, without naming any names, that the Mariners could still put together an attractive enough package to land Price, with Heyman opining that catcher Mike Zunino and left-handed pitching prospect James Paxton could be the centerpieces of a potential deal.

    But a Mariners source indicated that the team would prefer to keep Paxton and build a package around positional players. It's speculation, of course, but Zunino, second baseman Nick Franklin and first base prospect Ji-Man Choi could all interest Tampa Bay.

    That said, a deal is not close—and talks between the two teams may never really progress as the Mariners look elsewhere to fill the remaining holes on their roster.

    For what it's worth, a Rays wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of trading Price within the division, only saying that such a scenario is "not ideal." As Heyman opines, the Rays would unquestionably ask for an even bigger package of talent from an AL East rival than they would another club.

    --End of Update--

    Update: Tuesday, Dec. 17 at  1:47 p.m. ET

    The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto wrote that the Cleveland Indians have checked in on Price. However, the Rays' asking price is likely too high.

    Tampa Bay reportedly asked for catcher/first baseman Carlos Santana and right-handed pitcher Danny Salazar as starting points. The Ray also want top prospects and reportedly talked about shortstop Francisco Lindor.

    At this point, it is unlikely that Cleveland would be a realistic landing spot for Price.

    --End of Update--

    Update: Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 11:02 a.m. ET

    FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Toronto Blue Jays have checked in on David Price. However, they consider the price to be too high. They were reportedly asked about RHP Aaron Sanchez and RHP Marcus Stroman.

    --End of Update--

    Update: Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 11:02 a.m. ET

    FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweets that David Price's agent spoke about his client's long-term plans in regards to certain teams. Price would not consider signing an extension with the Seattle Mariners, but Rosenthal reports that Price would sign an extension with some unknown clubs.

    That report doesn't completely rule out a trade to Seattle, via Rosenthal, but it certainly does make it less likely. Any team that acquires Price this winter would have control of him for two seasons.

    --End of Update--

    Update: Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 11:37 p.m. ET

    Neither Rangers GM Jon Daniels or Dodgers GM Ned Colletti believes that a deal for Price is going to happen, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.

    Heyman goes on to imply that the Mariners stand alone as the one team that can get a deal done with Tampa Bay.

    While I would never suggest that the Rays take less than they want for Price, the team may soon be faced with a difficult decision. Do they take an offer from Seattle that includes multiple pieces but not Taijuan Walker, or look to move Price at the trade deadline in 2014 or after the season?

    The problem, of course, is that Price's value will never be higher than it is right now, with two full seasons of team control left. Tampa Bay risks having to accept lesser offers down the road than they may be able to extract from a team like Seattle right now.

    --End of Update--

    Update: Monday, Dec. 9 at 11:45 p.m. ET

    CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports that the Mariners don't want to include pitching prospects Taijuan Walker or James Paxton in an offer for Price, preferring to build a package around their position players.

    To be sure, players like 2B Nick Franklin and 1B Ji-Man Choi would interest Tampa Bay, but without getting at least one of Walker or Paxton, it's hard to imagine the Rays being all that interested in working out a deal with the Mariners.

    --End of Update--

    Update: Monday, Dec. 9 at 4:10 p.m. ET

    CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets that the Dodgers, Mariners and Rangers are the three most serious suitors for David Price.

    All three teams have significant interest in acquiring him, the players to pull off a deal, and the finances to potentially work out a long-term extension with the former Cy Young Award winner. Chances are, however, that Tampa Bay will not offer teams a window to work out an extension before a deal is completed.

    --End of Update--

    Update: Monday, Dec. 9 at 3:14 p.m. ET

    ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine reports that the Dodgers and Rays may be "matching up" on a deal for David Price.

    While other teams may have more enticing prospects, the Dodgers have a number of players, including OF Joc Pederson, SS/3B Corey Seager, RHPs Zach Lee and Matt Magill and LHP Chris Reed that could all be enticing to the Rays.

    --End of Update--

    Update: Monday, Dec. 9 at 2:01 p.m. ET

    The New York Post's Joel Sherman spoke with an executive from a team expected to be in the thick of the bidding for Price, who says that the Rays haven't pushed hard to move him yet and that it's possible that the team begins the year with him still part of the rotation.

    --End of Update--

    Update: Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 8:41 p.m. ET

    Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan says that the trade market for David Price is expected to heat up later this week as baseball gears up for the Winter Meetings that begin on Monday in Orlando.

    Sources tell Passan that no fewer than seven teams—the Angels, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Mariners, Pirates and Rangers—not only have interest in Price, but believe that they have what it takes to put together a package attractive enough to convince Rays GM Andrew Friedman to pull the trigger on a deal.

    While the Rays don't necessarily have to trade Price, his value may never be higher than it is right now, especially if Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka winds up not being an option for clubs looking to bolster their starting rotations this winter.

    --End of Update--

    Sunday, Dec. 1 at 10:02 a.m. ET

    One of the worst kept secrets in baseball is that, sooner, rather than later, the Rays are going to trade David Price.

    While the team isn't actively shopping the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, multiple teams have called GM Andrew Friedman about him, according to The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo. Yet the Rays aren't quite ready to part with him yet—at least not for the offers that they've received thus far.

    The 28-year-old left-hander struggled through an injury-filled first half of the 2013 season but returned as strong as ever, pitching to a 2.87 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 15 second-half starts.

    To pry him away from the Rays, it's fair to assume that a team will have to offer a package that is at least as enticing as the one that the team got from Kansas City last winter in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis, one that included a top hitting prospect (Wil Myers) and a top pitching prospect (Jake Odorizzi), among others.

Mark Reynolds: Rays Interested in Slugger

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    The Rays are interested in Mark Reynolds, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

    Reynolds fits the stereotype of an all-or-nothing slugger. He can hit the ball as far as anyone, but he is going to produce a lot of strikeouts.

    The 30-year-old has led the league in strikeouts four times so far in his seven-year career. He has struck out more than 200 times in a season three times and 196 times in another. He has struck out at least 154 times in six consecutive seasons.

    However, his power is tough to find. Reynolds has hit at least 17 home runs in every season. He has hit at least 30 home runs three times, including 44 in 2009. The slugger hit 21 between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees this past season.

    Tampa Bay can always use some added oomph in the lineup, and whether he'd be part of a platoon at DH with Matt Joyce or strictly serve as a powerful bat off of the bench.

Dec. 3: Acquired RHP Heath Bell

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    Age: 36

    Throws: R

    2013 Stats: 69 G, 5-2, 4.11 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 9.9 K/9, 15-for-22 SV

    Contract Status: $9 million salary in 2014 ($4 million paid by Miami, $500,000 paid by Arizona), $9 million team option for 2015 (can vest based on performance)

    After successfully rehabilitating Fernando Rodney back to the level of a quality major league closer, the Rays have taken on their next reclamation project in 36-year-old Heath Bell.

    Since leaving the Padres as a free agent after the 2012 season, Bell has been terrible, pitching to a combined 4.59 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 146 games for the Marlins and Diamondbacks, converting 34-of-49 save opportunities.

    While his numbers in 2013 weren't pretty, he did get his control back, tying a career-low with a 2.2 BB/9 and posting the fourth-highest K/9 rate of his career, 9.9. From 2009-2011, Bell was one of the premier closers in the game, pitching to a 2.36 ERA and 1.16 WHIP while going 132-for-148 in save chances.

    If Joe Maddon and his staff can get him to resemble that pitcher once again, the Rays will have come out as big winners in the three-way deal that bought Bell and catcher Ryan Hanigan to Tampa Bay.

Dec. 3: Acquired C Ryan Hanigan

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    Bats: R

    2013 Stats: .198/.306/.261, 2 HR, 21 RBI

    Contract Status: Three years, $11 million (Extension negotiated as part of trade)

    While Ryan Hanigan isn't a long-term answer for the Rays at the catcher spot, he's an excellent defender who led MLB in throwing out would-be base stealers in each of the past two seasons.

    The 33-year-old dealt with wrist and thumb injuries in 2013, leading to some dreadful numbers at the plate, but he's shown the ability to hold his own at the plate as recently as 2012, when he hit .274 with a .365 on-base percentage and .703 OPS.

    With Hanigan the starter and Jose Molina backing him up, Tampa Bay now has one of the most defensively sound pair of catchers in baseball, a duo whose presence means that Jose Lobaton may no longer have a future in Tampa Bay.

David DeJesus: Signed to a 2-Year Extension

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    Update: Monday Nov. 4 at 10:09 a.m. ET

    Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays have reached an agreement with David DeJesus on a two-year extension (2014-15 plus an option for 2016). Said DeJesus "I'm excited to be a Ray again."

    --End of Update--

    Not only have the Rays picked up the $6.5 million option that the team held on 33-year-old outfielder David DeJesus, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, but the team is working on an extension that will keep him around for a few years.

    Acquired in mid-August for minor league pitcher Matthew Spann, DeJesus hit .260 with a pair of home runs and 11 RBI in 35 regular season games for the Rays. He went without a hit in the team's wild-card victory over the Cleveland Indians, but posted a solid .333/.455/.444 slash line in four games against the eventual World Champion Boston Red Sox in the ALDS.

    Manager Joe Maddon used DeJesus as part of a left field platoon with Sean Rodriguez during the regular season, but if a multi-year extension is agreed upon, chances are that the everyday job will be DeJesus' to lose, with Rodriguez relegated to an occasional start and pinch-hitting duty.