Andrew Friedman met with the media today prior to heading to the winter meetings in Las Vegas. Marc Topkin gives us a few of the more interesting tidbits…
* Their “two biggest focal points” of the off-season are improving their offense and strenghtening their bullpen.
Nothing new here.
* Though they’d like to add a regular rightfielder and a DH, Friedman said realistically they are only likely to acquire one “impact” player.
This goes to what we commented on this morning. The market seems to be bringing the price of more players into the range of the Rays’ budget. Again, it would not surprise us if the Rays are able to land one of the bigger named players with a one year deal. These players may choose to play for one year at below what they would normally seek in a salary, with sights set on reentering the free agent market a year from now when conditions may be more favorable for a long-term deal.
This could be win-win for the Rays. They may be able to sign an impact bat without having to commit big dollars beyond the 2009 season. If the Rays are not in contention, they could trade the bat in July or they can keep the player and take the draft picks at the end of the year. So, while the Rays may not normally be looking to sign $8+ million players, this year it could come with prospects (acquired in July) or extra draft picks in 2010.
* He said they remain open to talking with their three remaining free agents – OFs Rocco Baldelli and Eric Hinske and DH Cliff Floyd, who is rehabbing a shoulder injury rather than having surgery.
This is new news on the Cliff Floyd front. Floyd originally stated that he would opt for retirement if he required surgery. A healthy Floyd can still be a masher although he would seem like a long shot for the Rays.
As for Rocco Baldelli, it appears as though the Rays are taking a “wait and see” approach, and Rocco may be their fall-back plan.
* Whereas in the past the Rays were more likely to look to the trade market rather than free agency, they are now about 50-50.
Again, the market is playing right into the hands of the Rays.
* Though all of baseball seems to be affected by the economy, he said the Rays were proceeding with their plans and are trying – thus far unsuccessfully – to be aggressive in signing players.
This is probably more of an indictment of the players. The agents and the players may still be a little shell-shocked at what is being offered, and more importantly, what is not being offered. It may be a state of denial. Or it may be a case of waiting and hoping for things to start and shake-out a bit. Either way, we expect a number of free agents to sign in the next couple of weeks as players tried to avoid the new president’s tax plan by receiving their signing bonuses in 2008.
* Though the Rays appear to have an abundance of starting pitchers, they do not feel the need to make a trade, and younger pitchers such as Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann, who will be out of options and can’t be sent to the minors, will get a chance to be in the bullpen.
Certainly there are options to keep some of these pitchers, but this may be posturing by Friedman, as other teams may think the Rays have to trade some of their pitching. But, by our count, there are 13 pitchers for 12 spots and the Rays say they want to add at least one more relief pitcher. Without enough chairs, somebody has to be traded before the music stops, unless…
* David Price is not guaranteed a spot in the opening day rotation which means he could open the season in the minors.
This is something we have mentioned as a possibility in the past. Keep in mind that David Price only has 20 professional starts and only 5 of those are above double-A. And if Price begins the year in triple-A, it gives the Rays time to work out who they want to keep and who they want to move.
It seems as though Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel are competing for one spot in the bullpen. If Price starts in the minors, Jackson can stay in the rotation and give the Rays an opportunity to see if Niemann can handle a bullpen role. Of course, the Rays risk deflating the value of Jackson and Niemann. If Jackson struggles in April, people may look to his 2008 season as a fluke. If Niemann struggles in the bullpen, it could hurt his prospect status also.
Ultimately, we still see the Rays trading one or two of their starters prior to the season, but by no means are they in a position where they have to.
Rays looking for offense in Vegas [St. Pete Times]