The turkey, the shopping and the football (especially that UCF-over-USF thriller) have been in the spotlight, but there has been plenty of pondering, plotting and planning going on for the local baseball team.
With talk soon to give way to action, here are five things to watch:
LET’S MAKE A DEAL: The Rays aregoing to trade at least a couple of their bigger-name, higher-salaried players in their plan to cut payroll. Starter Jake Odorizzi(projected to make $6.5 million) and closer Alex Colome($5.5M) are two of the most likely to go and have been popular in early conversations. OF/DH Corey Dickerson($6.4M) also seems high on the to-trade list.
How those first couple of deals develop will be a harbinger of how far the Rays will go, whether they’d also trade franchise faces such as RHP Chris Archer and even 3B Evan Longoria and make it a total rebuild. What happens, though, if they get a good offer first for one of those two, or for CF Kevin Kiermaier? Would they deal, without knowing how the market develops for the lesser names above or for the likes of INF Brad Miller($4.4M), C Wilson Ramos($10.5M) and SS Adeiny Hechavarria($5M)?
TENDER HANDLING: Trade talks should accelerate this week as Friday is the contract tender deadline, when teams have to commit to signing their arbitration-eligibles. With 12 players projected to make more than $40 million, figure the Rays try to move a couple before making tougher decisions on letting them walk. The 12: RHP Brad Boxberger($1.9M projection), LHP Xavier Cedeno($1.4M), Colome, Dickerson, INF Matt Duffy($900,000), Hechavarria, LHP Dan Jennings($2.5M), Miller, Odorizzi, OF Steven Souza Jr.($3.6M), C Jesus Sucre($1.3M), RHP Chase Whitley($1M). Though they need bullpen help, it’s be a surprise to see Boxberger, Cedeno and Jennings all return.
POSTING UP: Banking on their handling of top draft pick Brendan McKay and reputation for focusing on development, the Rays plan a serious bid for Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani. A 21-day negotiating window opens after the rules are ratified Friday, with a $20 million posting fee in addition to whatever deal is struck with him under the international spending caps, meaning nobody can really break the bank in exceeding even $10 million. Plus, Ohtani, 23, is said to be more focused on finding the right situation to develop as a pitcher and hitter, banking he’ll make much more later.
ALEX THE GREAT: Outside of giving really good recommendations, the Rays don’t have input on where free agent RHP Alex Cobb ends up. But they benefit with a much higher (maybe by 50 slots) draft pick as compensation if he signs for at least $50 million. Also relevant is how markets develop for 1B Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda, as the Rays likely will sign a free agent to play first, probably when the music stops.
RULING CLASS: In adding seven prospects to the 40-man roster, the team left several exposed to be potential picks in the Dec. 14 Rule 5 draft. That group includes RHP Burch Smith, LHP Travis Ott and, less likely, C Nick Ciuffo, though it’s a gamble development-based teams have to take every year with the players they rank No. 41 and beyond.
Illustrating the points of how teams are being negligent if they’re not looking into everything and that offseason “news” reports need perspective, the Rays had internal discussions about Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton. Briefly. … Triple-A MVP INF/OF Patrick Leonard, allowed to become a free agent rather than added to the roster, signed with the White Sox. … Former Devil Rays standout Aubrey Huff was surprised and humbled to make the cut as one of 19 newcomers on the Hall of Fame ballot: “That’s awesome. Even though I have zero chance. … It’s a pretty cool thing.” … Related, what former or current Ray has the best chance to be enshrined? (Longoria? Joe Maddon?) … Mike Sandoval was promoted from Triple-A Durham to the second assistant spot on the athletic training staff. Also, Ryan Denlinger was promoted from assistant to home clubhouse manager, replacing Jose Fernandez, with Ryan Riddle taking over as assistant manager and Tyler Wall equipment manager. … Interesting report from FanRag’s Jon Heyman that the Marlins are already (or still?) seeking additional investors to kick in another $250 million while talking about a new TV deal and stadium naming rights as additional revenue sources, two areas the Rays also will be exploring. … Former Rays C Josh Paul, a Yankees minor-league coach rumored to be a managerial candidate, was hired as Angels bench coach. … FanFest is set for Feb. 10.