ST. PETERSBURG — There are 26 more days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, and Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Friday he still feels as if he’s in the “trenches” of the offseason.
But with Friday’s deadline to exchange figures with arbitration-eligible players behind him and with all seven of his arbitration-eligible players signed, Friedman has a clearer view of how the Rays will look when they report to the team’s training complex in Port Charlotte.
“You’re certainly able to exhale a little bit when you get to this point and you’ve cleared the arbitration process,” Friedman said. “We can really get our focus back on the field and what we want to address before spring training.”
And that would be ...
“Areas that we may be able to improve ourselves,” Friedman said.
Because a player agreed to a contract during the arbitration process doesn’t guarantee they will be with the team this season. It is easier to move a player who is under contract than one whose 2014 salary has yet to be determined because they declined the team’s offer. The new team would have to negotiate a deal or go through the headache of an arbitration hearing with an unfamiliar player.
A trade involving David Price remains in play, and Price said Thursday after agreeing to a one-year, $14 million contract for 2014 that he knows a move might happen after Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka accepts an offer from one of his major-league suitors. The deadline is 5 p.m. Friday.
Price could be Plan B for teams that miss out on Tanaka.
Also, it’s unlikely the Rays will begin spring training with three catchers on the major-league roster, so a move involving Jose Lobaton seems inevitable.
Any move that Friedman makes in the next few weeks that does not involve Price will be to add depth to the major league roster or stockpile players at Triple-A Durham, so the Rays aren’t caught short in the wake of injuries to frontline players like they were in 2012.
“I wouldn’t say they’ll be major on the surface, but we feel like by doing it, it gives us a chance to have a better result at the end of the year,” Friedman said. “The season plays out in a bunch of different ways in terms of injuries and different things that play out that we try to anticipate as much as we can and be as prepared as we can be, so usually moves that we make around this time will manifest itself when there’s an injury and becomes apparent because of the work that was done at this point in the offseason.”
What a team
Both Price and outfielder Matt Joyce said after agreeing on 2014 contracts that they are excited about the Rays’ chances this season based on the moves to re-sign first baseman James Loney and outfielder David DeJesus and the additions of catcher Ryan Hanigan and reliever Heath Bell.
While Friedman said he’s not at the point where he can place reasonable expectations on the club, he does sense the buzz through the Rays community.
“I think we’ve earned a reputation among our fans of being singularly focused on doing this right for this organization and putting ourselves in the best position to have success,” Friedman said. “I would hope that people would see the moves this offseason as a positive. I’m always hesitant to comment for others, but just from the scuttlebutt I’ve gotten from talking to fans this winter, people are excited. They’re energized by the guys we’ve brought in, energized by the guys we’ve retained and excited about the 2014 season.”
Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said Twitter and Facebook have made his job and the jobs of the minor-league staffs harder.
Minor-league outfielder Josh Sale was suspended indefinitely last May after he posted the events of a trip to a strip club on Facebook.
“That’s equally a challenge today for us as hitting, fielding, etc., etc.” Lukevics said. “That’s society.”
Don Zimmer, the Rays’ senior baseball adviser, celebrated his 83rd birthday Friday and is expected to return this year for his 66th year in pro baseball. ... LHP Cesar Ramos and fiancee Melanie McCauley will be married Saturday.