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Rays

Rays begin process of building 2013 puzzle

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 04:05 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Jeff Keppinger. Hit. Luke Scott. Miss.

Fernando Rodney. Huge hit. More than that, touch 'em all. Grand slam.

Carlos Peña. Miss.

The Tampa Bay Rays will use the free agent market this offseason for most of the retooling, and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman will gamble with each acquisition, hoping to bring home more Keppingers and Rodneys than Scotts and Peñas.

Friedman could make some trades, too. A minor one, perhaps, like the one last offseason with Miami for the Burke Badenhop. Or, a blockbuster, like the one in November 2007 that sent Delmon Young to Minnesota for Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza, a pair of major league players who were instrumental in the run to the World Series.

Friedman has the chips for a blockbuster, if he chooses to part with one of his frontline pitchers. But he has made it known how much he values the depth of the rotation, so it's quite possible the Rays assemble in February in Port Charlotte with the same rotation that dominated the American League this past season.

The Rays payroll constraints will prevent Friedman from resigning center fielder B.J. Upton, who could command a five-year, $60 million contract. It also prevents him from replacing Upton with someone like Michael Bourn or Shane Victorino.

Friedman will do most of his free agent shopping after the New Year when most of the top-line players are signed and the secondary market comes into play. At least that has been his MO.

"There's certain things that we can do in the free agent market and there's certain things that we can't," Friedman said last week. "We can't compete for every single player that's going to be a free agent, but we should be experts on the ones we can compete on. There's a lot more risks with those types of players and more volatility, but it's incumbent upon us to find the right group and the right composition to have success."

Friedman assembles a team as if putting together a puzzle, with each piece impacting the next. In other words, if Player A fits here, then Player B fits here and now Player C can fit here and here.

Here is a look at what pieces the Rays need for 2013 and the free agents (as per mlbtraderumors.com at those positions. Keep in mind, most don't match the Rays payroll and defensive criteria:

Catcher

Jose Lobaton didn't develop as expected, and Chris Gimenez, despite his production in September, is not looked upon as a frontline catcher. As a result, the Rays may bring back Jose Molina simply because they need experience behind the plate.

It's possible they could exercise the $300,000 buyout option on Molina's $1.8 million 2013 contract and resign him for less.

Free agent catchers: Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, Gerald Laird, Russell Martin, Brian McCann (club option), Mike Napoli, Wil Nieves, Miguel Olivo (club option), Ronny Paulino, A.J. Pierzynski, Humberto Quintero, David Ross, Carlos Ruiz (club options), Brian Schneider, Kelly Shoppach, Chris Snyder (club option), Yorvit Torrealba, Matt Treanor.

First base

It's hard to imagine Carlos Peña returning, even if he signs for much lower than the $7.25 million he was paid in 2012. Peña was a part-time player and defensive replacement during the last weeks of the season.

Free agent first baseman: Lance Berkman, Jason Giambi, Eric Hinske, Aubrey Huff (club option), Casey Kotchman, Adam LaRoche (club option), Carlos Lee, James Loney, Xavier Nady, Mike Napoli, Lyle Overbay, Ty Wigginton

Second base/shortstop

Ben Zobrist always factored into the picture at second base as the left-handed hitting part of a platoon. But, if the Rays decide he is the shortstop than they will be looking for someone to play second in a platoon. Remember, Keppinger is a free agent.

So is Ryan Roberts. Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez are arbitration eligible. Elliot Johnson is one year away from arbitration. It's hard to imagine all four return, especially Roberts, who earned $2 million last season.

Free agent second baseman: Jeff Baker, Mike Fontenot, Orlando Hudson (club option), Maicer Izturis, Kelly Johnson, Adam Kennedy, Jose Lopez, Ryan Theriot.

Free agent shortstops: Jason Bartlett, Yuniesky Betancourt, Ronny Cedeno, Stephen Drew (club option), Cesar Izturis, Jhonny Peralta (club option), Marco Scutaro.

Third base

Evan Longoria. Moving on …

Outfield

Zobrist also factors into this, because the Rays will be looking for ways to fill the void created by Upton's departure. Desmond Jennings is expected to move to center. Matt Joyce could move to left field, though the Rays are unwilling to let Joyce play everyday, which means they will need a right-handed hitter to platoon.

Zobrist would be out of that equation if he stays at shortstop.

They have Brandon Guyer, but he missed most of the season with shoulder surgery. They picked up Ben Francisco at the end of August to replace Zobrist in the right-field platoon with Joyce. There is Rich Thompson, but the Rays didn't see him as anything more than a pinch-runner during September.

Sam Fuld could become part of a platoon, but he bats left-handed.

Free agent outfielders: Melky Cabrera, Jonny Gomes, Scott Hairston, Josh Hamilton, Eric Hinske, Reed Johnson, Andruw Jones, Austin Kearns, Ryan Ludwick (mutual option), Juan Pierre, Juan Rivera (club option), Delmon Young, Alfredo Amezaga, Rick Ankiel, Michael Bourn, Scott Hairston, Angel Pagan, Cody Ross, Grady Sizemore, Shane Victorino, Matt Diaz, Kosuke Fukudome, Torii Hunter, Xavier Nady, Ichiro Suzuki, Nick Swisher.

Designated hitters

It's hard to imagine Scott returns, even if the Rays buyout his 2013 $6 million contract for $1 million and sign him at a reduced rate.

Once again, they spend the offseason looking for a DH. Though, Friedman said, they could be flexible here, meaning they could sign someone to fill the role part-time providing he can play another position. That was the scenario they envisioned for Scott, but Scott's surgically repaired right shoulder prevented that from happening.

Free agent DHs: Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Travis Hafner (club option), Raul Ibanez, David Ortiz, Jim Thome.

Bullpen

This is Friedman's strength. He tweaks the bullpen after each season, and will do it again because Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth and J.P. Howell are free agents. There is a possibility that Peralta and Howell return. There is also the possibility another team makes a better offer.

Free agent relievers: (Left handers) Jeremy Affeldt, Sean Burnett (mutual option), Tim Byrdak, Randy Choate, Pedro Feliciano (club option), Brian Fuentes (club option), Mike Gonzalez, Will Ohman, Darren Oliver (club option), J.C. Romero, Hisanori Takahashi.

(Right handers) Jeremy Accardo, Mike Adams, Luis Ayala, Miguel Batista, Shawn Camp, Todd Coffey (club option), Francisco Cordero, Juan Cruz, Octavio Dotel (club option), Chad Durbin, Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, Jason Grilli, LaTroy Hawkins, Clay Hensley, Livan Hernandez, Matt Lindstrom (club option), Derek Lowe, Mark Lowe, Brandon Lyon, Guillermo Mota, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Vicente Padilla, Brad Penny, Chad Qualls, Ramon Ramirez, Jon Rauch, Francisco Rodriguez, Takashi Saito, Carlos Villanueva, Jamey Wright.


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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