Joe Maddon walked through the lobby of the spacious Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville last Wednesday afternoon, taking his first steps on what was going to be a busy 10 days for the Rays manager.
He was on his way to the manager's luncheon held annually at the winter meetings. From there it was a flight to Tampa, where he began work on his annual Thanksmas, which includes a fundraiser, shopping, cooking and three days of serving his holiday meals at Tampa area Salvation Army locations.
On Thursday, Maddon will be back in his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., where he will continue working on his Hazleton Integration Project.
Maddon's thoughts during this hectic schedule, as they are every year at this time, will be on the less fortunate.
This year, though, there will be something else to occupy his mind – lineups and batting orders.
Maddon can rest easier, too, knowing the back end of his bullpen remains intact. And the Heisman Trophy hadn't even been awarded yet.
How many times has Maddon been able to mull over the upcoming season this early in the Christmas season?
"Not many," he said. "I love it."
The infield is set with the additions of first baseman James Loney and shortstop Yunel Escobar, and because of that, the outfield is a bit clearer now that Maddon knows Ben Zobrist will be back to his Super U role and available to share second base with Ryan Roberts and play right field and even left field if needed.
And because Fernando Rodney agreed to a two-year contract before the 2012 season, Maddon knows who the closer, sorry, who his ninth-inning guy will be in 2013.
Same with his eighth-inning setup man, now that Joel Peralta agreed to a two-year deal last month. If you want, you can add Jake McGee as the third man in the back of the bullpen.
The Rays are well ahead of their normal offseason rebuilding schedule, where the biggest parts don't typically arrive until after the New Year.
Jose Molina was signed Nov. 28, 2011, but the bulk of the offseason haul came the following January when Rodney, Jeff Keppinger, Luke Scott and Carlos Peña signed.
The Rays were able to sign Loney last week, because Loney liked their offer and wanted to settle on his new team as quickly as possible. The Rays were aggressive in trading for Escobar, beating Oakland and St. Louis to the punch by offering one of their better prospects to the rebuilding Marlins.
It remains to be seen what else this offseason will bring. The Rays are searching for another bat or two and seemed ready to trade a pitcher — James Shields? — for either help at the big league level or for parts to restock the upper levels of the farm system.
While those moves will fully define the outlook for the 2013 season, Maddon can go about his business these next few days with the peace of mind knowing his infield is significantly better than last season and his shutdown closer is restocking his supply of arrows.
Now warming in the 'pen
The Cardinals didn't do the Rays any favors by handing Randy Choate a three-year deal. While the Rays are very much interested in resigning free agent J.P. Howell, the length of Choate's contract could become an issue since the Rays don't like to sign anyone for more than two years.
The Rays still have interest in re-signing free agent Kyle Farnsworth.
Expect Cesar Ramos and Brandon Gomes to assume bigger roles in 2013. Dane De La Rosa and Josh Lueke could find themselves in the big league bullpen as well.
Sean Rodriguez will need to bring plenty of gloves to spring training.
The infielder will likely find himself playing a number of positions in 2013, including first base and the outfield.
Maddon and his helpers will be distributing meals Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the Sallie House in St. Petersburg; at noon Tuesday at the Clearwater Salvation Army and again Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at the Tampa Salvation Army and at noon on Wednesday at the St. Petersburg Salvation Army.
Helping Maddon during Friday night's fundraiser at 717 in Tampa were Rodriguez, Don Zimmer, Jim Leyland, Alex Cobb, Elliot Johnson, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Matt Joyce, Todd Kalas, Matt Moore, David Price and Warren Sapp.