LAKE BUENA VISTA — Alex Colome claimed he was just showing good social media manners Tuesday night in following four Cardinals-related Instagram accounts since they were saying nice things about him.
In doing so, whether for that reason or another more specific, Colome provided some vague hint of progress in what had been a winter meetings of much more talk for the Rays than action.
By early Wednesday evening, Rays officials for the first time indicated they might get a big deal done before the meetings end today. The Cardinals have emerged as seemingly the best match, with Colome most likely to go, and Evan Longoria, among others, potentially included in different iterations.
"We have a much better idea of what’s real and what isn’t, and in some cases starting to drill down to the more advanced stages of conversation," senior vice president Chaim Bloom said. "There’s nothing right at the finish line right now; I wouldn’t rule it out. There’s nothing at the 1-yard line at this very moment."
As much as the Rays have to do — trading at least some of their bigger-name, higher-paid players in deciding whether just to retool in cutting payroll or go for an extensive rebuild — they don’t really have to be in a rush to get anything done.
Plus, adding to the intrigue, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said that with whatever moves they end up making, they don’t plan to retreat.
"I anticipate that we will be competitive this year," he said.
In Colome and starter Chris Archer, the Rays hold two pieces that become more valuable in trade with every exorbitant dollar spent and rumored on free agents elsewhere. And in Longoria, they can offer a veteran hitter and smooth-fielding third baseman at reasonable terms.
If Tommy Hunter — springboarding off a solid season in middle relief with the Rays — can get $18 million over two years from the Phillies, how rich should the return be for major-league saves leader Colome, who is three years from free agency and projected to make just $5.5 million this season via arbitration?
Similarly, as there starts to be some definition in the starters market — which is topped by Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and former Ray Alex Cobb — Archer looks to be quite a prize with four years of control for less than $34 million, though it will take a hefty return.
Certainly there is a risk of waiting too long, fueling further chatter about being hard to work with by being too methodical, getting too greedy and missing an opportunity. Deciding when to say yes can be the hardest part.
Being patient can also work in their favor in letting the trade market develop. The Cardinals have well-documented significant interest in Colome, and they could now be ready to focus on those discussions with the Rays after completing a trade earlier Wednesday with the Marlins to get outfielder Marcell Ozuna.
There is also the possibility that it develops into a bigger deal, as the Cardinals also have interest in Archer and — of potentially even greater significance given limited options — Longoria, whom the Rays at the least are open to trading for the first time. Expanding the deal obviously also would complicate it, and perhaps delay completion for days.
Of note, the Cardinals got Ozuna without giving up any of their top five prospects, at least by mlbpipeline.com’s rankings, leaving at least up for discussion pitcher Jack Flaherty, catcher Carson Kelly and outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader. Among major-league level pieces, outfielder Randal Grichuk could be of interest.
Listening to St. Louis manager Mike Matheny on Wednesday, there certainly seemed to be plenty of hints that Colome and Longoria could fit.
He talked about their renewed willingness to commit money and prospects to get back to the playoffs; a need for back end of the bullpen help, with the benefit of guys "who have been there, done that"; the priority to add impact bats with an addition besides Ozuna not "off the table"; having flexibility in adding a corner infielder.
As much as it looks like something could click, the Rays in past years waited until after the meetings to make big deals.
"In this environment, when you’ve got all 30 teams under a roof, it can take on a different feel, but it is still just the middle of the offseason," Bloom said. "We’re not going to want to rush into anything when it involves potentially talking about taking away from our nucleus, but at the same time if the environment here and the pace of things creates some opportunities for us we need to make sure we don’t miss those opportunities."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.