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Tampa Bay Rays: January is Best Month for Moves

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Sep 4, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Kevin Jepsen (40) throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Kevin Jepsen (40) throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Since 2005, January has been the month with the most off-field activity for the Tampa Bay Rays. If the pattern continues, this January should be no different.

So far this off-season the Tampa Bay Rays have been quiet regarding player additions either by trades or through free agent signings and as the saying goes, “no news, is good news.” Well, this could be just the case as the Rays usually wake-up, as January tends to be the month that everything starts happening.

The Rays are still in the hunt for a power right-handed hitting outfielder/DH type of player, and additional help for the bullpen.

While there are available options through free agency for positional players (Michael Saunders, Pedro Alvarez, Billy Butler, Chris Carter etc.) and relievers (Joe Blanton, Sergio Romo, Boone Logan, Jerry Blevins etc.) some are unavailable because they do not fit financially. However, the ever so patient Rays will wait hoping that as time passes their asking price goes down.

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One name that keeps linking back to the Tampa Bay Rays is Jose Bautista. Signing Bautista would certainly address the OF/DH situation, but again, unless his asking price becomes more affordable, there will be no Bautista in the Rays lineup.

Of course, the Rays remain hopeful that the proximity to his Tampa home, being with his family and not having to pay state income tax will help in Bautista’s decision. However, Bautista may not fit into what manager Kevin Cash is looking for.

Last month at the Winter Meetings, Cash was asked who the ideal outfielder would be.

"“Personally, I like the speed factor and a guy that is capable of playing some center field. I mean, we all saw what took place when Kiermaier got hurt. He’s a special player. We’re not going to go find Kevin Kiermaier-type defense to fill in if there’s an off-day here or there or on injury. But to have a guy to come in to kind of hold center field down would be great.”"

With just one major addition to their roster (Wilson Ramos), the Rays still have some major areas to complete their off-season want list. However, in order to complete the list or at least make some headway, Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman along with GM Erik Neander must address their starting pitching situation as trading a starter could essentially net them one or two of their needs heading into the 2017 season.

As we have come to understand over the years, the Rays will trade their starting pitchers when they become too expensive – that is their business model and they will continue to do such. On the other hand, the Rays did trade a couple of their starters well before reaching that “expensive” line.

In December 2008, the Rays unloaded Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Matt Joyce. At the time of trade, Jackson’s final salary was only $412,700 but it was not necessarily the salary, but the fact that after three years with the Rays, Jackson’s line of 19-26 with a 5.08 ERA was. Since departing Tampa Bay, Jackson has gone on to pitch for 11 other teams with a 68-84 record and a 4.46 ERA. On a separate note, Jackson did throw his only no-hitter against the Rays as a member of Arizona in 2010.

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Matt Garza was another starter dealt in January 2011 to the Chicago Cubs coming off a salary of $3.35 million. Garza was arbitration eligible for the second time and it was expected that he would get a hefty raise – so the Rays dealt him despite that he would not become eligible for free agency until 2013.  In return, the Rays received outfielder Sam Fuld, and prospects Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, and Robinson Chirinos. Garza would sign a 1-year deal with the Cubs for $5.95 million to avoid arbitration. To this date, Garza is the only Rays pitcher to have thrown a no-hitter, which he did in 2010 against the Detroit Tigers.

Having avoided arbitration with a 1-year, $3.62 million contract signed in 2014, Jeremy Hellickson saw his stay with the Rays end following the 2014 campaign. Arbitration eligible again and the likelihood of a raise above the threshold despite not making his debut until July because of elbow surgery, and a 1-5 record, Hellickson was traded to Arizona for two highly touted prospects in outfielder Justin Williams and infielder Andrew Velazquez.

In his five seasons with the Rays, Hellickson was 40-36 with a 3.78 ERA… since his trade, pitching for the D-Backs and Phillies Hellickson has pitched to a 20-22 record with a 4.11 ERA and this off-season hit pay-dirt when he accepted the Phillies qualifying offer of $17.2 million.

As you can see, there is a pattern and that brings us to the present where the likelihood of a trade involving one or two of the starters or even a reliever will certainly take place as evident with the MLBTradeRumors projected arbitration salaries, with the exception of Archer.

Alex Cobb – $4.0 million
Drew Smyly – $6.9 million
Erasmo Ramirez – $3.5 million
Jake Odorizzi – $4.6 million
Chris Archer – $5.9 million (6-yr, $25.5 million 2014-19, 2020-2021 club options contract signed in 2014)

According MLBTradeRumors Seattle, Texas, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh are still looking to add reputable starters to their rotations. Rumors throughout this off-season have been flying regarding the Rays starters Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer. However, with an enormous asking price, teams (some mentioned above) now are focusing on Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb who seem to be the most viable options at this time. Additionally, there is also interest in Erasmo Ramirez.

Possible Targets – Relievers

As for the Rays interests in relievers, a handful could possibly fit, including the potential to re-sign Kevin Jepsen. The Rays signed Jepsen after his release from Minnesota for $507,500 in July. Although Sergio Romo was sidelined with an elbow injury for most of the 2016 season, he could be another option. In 30-2/3 innings, he had 33 strikeout’s, with just seven walks, but could be too expensive, especially coming off a contract that netted him $9 million.

It seems like Joe Blanton has been around for ages and rightfully so. After spending the first 10-years of his career as a starter, Blanton has been coming out of the bullpen for the past two, where he has found a new home. Pitching for the Dodgers in 2016, Blanton made 75 appearances (80-IP) with a 7-2 record and a very respectful 2.48 ERA. He had 85 strikeouts and walked just 26 batters with 28 holds while holding his opponents to .194 BA.  However, his 2016 performance could land him a hefty raise from the $4 million he earned.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Gillaspie Invited to Spring Training

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What is clear is that the bullpen is undoubtedly in need of help. Taking into account that Alex Colome will return as the closer, beyond him remains sketchy with the likes of Danny Farquhar, Xavier Cedeno, Brad Boxberger, Erasmo Ramirez and Matt Andriese as the go-to veterans. Chase Whitley, rookies Ryne Stanek and Jaime Schultz will all have the opportunity to join the bullpen.

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