ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays, like much of baseball, are waiting for the white smoke, for Shohei Ohtani to pick where he is signing and for Giancarlo Stanton to decide on accepting a trade to the Cardinals, Giants or whatever other team might be involved secretly, so the rest of the offseason can get started.
"At some point here I think the dam is going to break,’’ Rays GM Erik Neander said Thursday, advancing next week’s winter meetings.
How those high-profile decisions play out could have a big impact on what moves the Rays make, specifically whether they trade some big names such as third baseman Evan Longoria, starter Chris Archer or closer Alex Colome.
Though disappointed not to get Ohtani, the Rays could end up engaged with some of the six finalists who miss out, especially those — such as, for example, the Cubs — who were looking for Ohtani to take a spot in their rotation, and now might be more aggressive on Archer or Jake Odorizzi.
Even more relevant, Stanton’s choice could lead to increased interest in Longoria, especially if he opts not to go to St. Louis. Having already talked to the Rays about Colome and the starters, the prospect-rich Cardinals are positioned to "shift or expand" those discussion to include Longoria, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. And once the hitters’ market opens, other teams could see the $86 million remaining on Longoria’s contract more appealing than signing a free agent.
What the Rays hear from those other teams — on Longoria, on Archer, on a half-dozen other veterans with substantial salaries — could dictate their course of action.
"We’re going to keep as open of a mind as possible," Neander said. "I think we have a lot of different plans laid out that, depending on kind of the way the market unfolds and how things progress, will dictate our path."
Acknowledging the task of trying to improve an 80-win team and reduce payroll is "incredibly challenging" task, the Rays could end up headed toward different extremes:
• Trading Longoria, Archer, Colome and several other big bucks players (Wilson Ramos, Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Adeiny Hechavarria, Brad Miller) in taking a step back and rebuilding to complement the young players coming through their system.
• Dealing just a couple of the more easily replaceable veterans (say Odorizzi and Dickerson, though probably Colome as well) and finding creative ways to add to a team that fell five games shy of an AL wild-card spot, starting with somewhat glaring holes at first base and in the bullpen.
"We have to be open," Neander said. "We have to be considering anything and everything. A lot of that depends on where there’s interest and what we believe is in the best interest of our club."