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Monday, Oct 23, 2017
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Rays still weighing options at DH, 1B

ST. PETERSBURG - There are plenty of players available to fill the Rays needs at first base and designated hitter. Names like Vladimir Guerrero and Hideki Matsui for DH. Names like Carlos Peña and Derrek Lee for first base. Names like Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman, if the Rays want to resign a couple of key components from a team that won 91 games last season, made up nine games in the standings during September and edged the Red Sox for the American League Wild Card on the final night of the regular season.
Rays vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman won't say much about his progress toward filling those spots, other than to say there are more than a few scenarios in the works and he's confident he is moving in the right direction on both positions. The Rays have been linked by multiple reports to free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran, who signed with the Cardinals, and rookie first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was traded Friday from the Padres to the Cubs. Earlier this week, center fielder Coco Crisp told the San Francisco Chronicle he was close to signing with Tampa Bay before agreeing to re-sign with the A's after the A's upped their offer. Other players the Rays could be looking at are free-agent infielders Ryan Theriot and Eric Chavez, a left-handed hitter who can play the corner infield positions as well as DH. Should the Angels want to trade a first baseman, Tampa Bay could be a possible destination for Mark Trumbo or Kendrys Morales. Once you get past Prince Fielder, the biggest chip in the free-agent market for first baseman, you find Peña, Lee and Kotchman. Friedman said during the Winter Meetings that his preference at first base would be for a left-handed hitter. That would eliminate Lee. Movement among free-agent first baseman won't start until Fielder signs. David Ortiz remains the prototype for a DH, though there are few true mashers available. In fact, Ortiz was the only DH to hit more than 20 home runs in 2011. The Rays historically have struggled at DH, making Damon (.261, 16 home runs, 73 RBIs, .326 on-base percentage and .418 slugging percent) easily the best DH in franchise history. Damon is very much on Friedman's radar, as is Kotchman. But Friedman has indicated he might want a DH who can also play the field. That could open the pool of candidates to include Luke Scott and Chavez. If the Rays sign a pair of lefties for DH and first base, look for them to go after another right-handed bat. That could bring Theriot into the picture as a backup infielder. The Rays have some money to spend on a free agent or two, though, perhaps not enough to land Peña, who made $10 million last season with the Cubs and likely wants a raise after having a bounce-back season. Their depth at pitching is believed to be what teams want in return for a trade with Wade Davis and/or Jeff Niemann the likely trade bait.

rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227

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