Baseball owners and GMs meet this week in Orlando at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Hotel. Last week, the New York Yankees demonstrated last year’s expressed desire to get payroll under the luxury tax this year wasn’t as important as making the playoffs this year. The Yanks signed Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann to long term deals at high salaries. Of course they didn’t try to outbid the Seattle Mariners for Robinson Cano at $24 million per year, or the New York Mets for Curtis Granderson.
The Tampa Bay Rays, as usual, stayed away from the big name free agents. Instead they re-signed Jose Molina, and traded for Ryan Hanigan to shore up the catching situation, and got Heath Bell to compete for the closer job with Joel Peralta, Alex Torres, and Jake McGee. This puts the Rays in a strong position going into the Winter Meetings. The Rays tendered a contract to Matt Joyce, who can handle backup corner outfield and left handed DH. Sean Rodriguez can come back for right handed platoon and general backup duties. All other starters are set except for first base, where they are trying to resign James Loney. This would again give the Rays four Gold Glove-caliber infielders. Loney is reportedly asking for $9 or $10 million a year, which would normally be out of the Rays’ reach for a free agent. That is, unless they trade David Price, which could free up his salary for other players.
The big wild card for the Rays is what they will get back if they deal David Price. Rumors are rampant, and have been reported and analyzed by our Rays Colored Glasses writers not-stop. Will the Mariners include top prospect Taijuan Walker in a deal? Will the Dodgers put together a package to entice the Rays? The Rays control Price for the next two years, and don’t have to jump at the first offer. If the Rays receive a top pitching prospect like Walker that’s ready to start in the majors, and a position player that can make a positive impact, they will have a chance to win more games in 2014, even without David Price.
Even without an impact position player, a full year from Wil Myers ought to help the Tampa Bay Rays score more runs in 2014. Their key to winning more games than 2013 is improvements in pitching and defense. Bill James famously wrote “most of what we think is pitching is probably defense,” and if the Rays resign James Loney, they’ll have the defense in place to help their pitchers reach their potential. Even if they can’t compete with the Yankees for free agents, they should be able to compete on the field. That process all starts in the Winter Meetings. The Price talk will be unremitting, and the rest of the Rays’ preparations for 2014 will fall into place from there.