Now that the Tampa Bay Rays found an upgrade at catcher and added a relief pitcher capable of either taking over the closer role or getting high-leverage outs in the late innings, Andrew Friedman can focus on what was his top priority when the offseason began in October.
“First base is an area we absolutely have to address,” the Rays executive vice president of baseball operations said Wednesday during a conference call to discus next week’s Winter Meetings at Disney World.
Team president Matt Silverman, during an interview earlier in the day on 620 AM, said the club remained interested in James Loney, who enjoyed a breakout season with the Rays in 2013.
But when asked if re-signing Loney was still in play, Friedman said, “It’s difficult for us to get into specifics, but we’re obviously looking for a first baseman. We need to figure out what we’re going to do there, but it’s very premature to speculate from our standpoint which direction we’re going to go. What he meant to us last year, and the way he fits has been very well documented.”
The Rays, who have committed nearly $38 million toward the 2014 payroll (and that’s without the possibility of adding $13 million if they don’t trade David Price), might be priced out of the Loney bidding.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported Wednesday that Loney was seeking a four-year deal worth $40 million but dropped his asking price to three years in the $27 million to $30 million neighborhood.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported Wednesday the Pittsburgh Pirates are interested in Loney, who signed with the Rays for $2 million plus another $1 million in incentives and responded by hitting .299 with 13 home runs, 75 RBIs, 44 walks and 33 doubles to go along with his Gold Glove-nominated defense.
Silverman said that while Loney knows what to expect with the Rays in terms of clubhouse atmosphere, the money could be an issue.
“Our wallet isn’t as big as other teams, so that’s one disadvantage for us,” Silverman said.
Friedman said at the general manager meetings in November that he will have to look outside the organization for a first baseman, because there are not any in-house candidates.
With five right-handed bats in the everyday lineup — Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Wil Myers, Yunel Escobar and catchers Ryan Hanigan or Jose Molina — it would appear Friedman would want a left-handed-hitting first baseman to help balance the batting order.
It has been reported the Rays have shown interest in Corey Hart, the former Milwaukee Brewer who missed 2013 after having surgery on both knees. While Hart averaged 29 home runs a year between 2010 and 2012, he is a below-average fielder.
Other free agents who could be on Tampa Bay’s radar include Kevin Youkilis and Mark Reynolds. Former Ray Casey Kotchman, who also enjoyed a career year in Tampa Bay during the 2011 season, is also available.
Friedman could find his first baseman through a trade, with Price being his biggest chip. Jose Lobaton, expected to be traded after Tuesday’s trade with the Cincinnati Reds that bought Hanigan, could also be part of a move that brings a first baseman.
The Texas Rangers are reportedly interested in Price. Having acquired Prince Fielder, the Rangers could send Mitch Moreland to the Rays in exchange for Price. Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo has also been mentioned as a possible trade target for the Rays.
Flex ticket package offered
The Rays are offering a flexible package of tickets that will allow fans to choose what game they wish to attend up to six hours before first pitch.
The Flex Packs come in three-, six- or nine-game voucher packages that cut 60 percent of the single-game price.
The vouchers are loaded into an online account that can be exchanged for any game, subject to availability. Each voucher comes with a debit-like card that will serve as a ticket and can also be used to buy refreshments and merchandise at Tropicana Field.
Depending on seat location, three-game packs cost $49 or $79, six-game packs cost $79 or $139, and nine-game packs are $109 or $199.
Reservations and information for all ticket plans may be made by calling 1-888-FAN-RAYS, online at raysbaseball.com or by visiting team offices at Tropicana Field from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.