ORLANDO — Two days of discussions this week with other teams at the annual general managers’ meetings provided some clarity for Andrew Friedman’s offseason options, but the Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president of baseball operations has not moved any closer to filling a wish list that includes a first baseman, a second catcher, adding depth to the bench and another reliever or two.
Friedman has not ruled out bringing back free agent closer Fernando Rodney, though the market could make Rodney too pricey to re-sign. Yet even with the chance of losing the man who saved 85 games for the Rays over the past two seasons, Friedman said he is not targeting a closer this winter.
“We’re not looking as much as we need to get a closer as I’d really like to add another high-leverage late-inning option,” Friedman said. “How that shakes out we’ll figure out in spring training. It doesn’t really concern me right now as much as getting another guy we have confidence in to be able to get big outs late in the game.”
Friedman said it would be “too restrictive” to look for a closer.
“If we’re able to line up on a guy that we have a lot of confidence that can pitch the ninth inning, great,” he said, “but we don’t want to shoehorn ourselves into just focusing on that.”
Friedman said he would be comfortable using Joel Peralta or Jake McGee in the ninth innings in 2014.
“We’re big fans of both Peralta and McGee and of their makeup and their competitiveness, and I think in a lot of ways you can’t really answer that question until they do it, but as far as what you can answer going in, yeah, we feel like both guys can handle it,” he said. “They’re both really good competitors and that is a great starting point.”
Neither Rodney nor Kyle Farnsworth (25 saves in 2011) were signed to be closers. That Farnsworth had never been a full-time closer until he arrived in St. Petersburg illustrates how creative Friedman and manager Joe Maddon are willing to get with the back end of the bullpen.
So if in the coming months Friedman can’t re-sign Rodney or locate another late-inning reliever with experience pitching the ninth inning, Friedman said the plan would call for the Rays to “get in spring training and figure it out.”
As for the other positions:
Friedman would like to re-sign first baseman James Loney, though the free agent will command more than the $2 million he made in 2013. As with Rodney, the chances of Loney’s return will depend on Loney’s offers from other teams. The Rays could match potential offers in years — likely two with a club option — but the dollars other teams can offer could out-price the Rays.
Unlike the closer role, the Rays do not have any in-house candidates to replace Loney.
Friedman wouldn’t speak directly about pitcher David Price, the center of much trade speculation this winter. But when asked about the level of interest teams are showing in his players, Friedman said, “About the same. For the most part we’ve talked to every team leading into these meetings. We have a pretty good feel for what other teams are looking to do. We’ve expressed interest in various players on other teams and vice versa, so we had a pretty good handle on things coming in.”
The two-year contract given earlier this month to outfielder David DeJesus calls into question Matt Joyce’s future with the club, since both are left-handed hitting outfielders. But Friedman said Joyce remains very much in the 2014 plans and could find himself part of a DH rotation that includes DeJesus and right-handed hitters Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings.
Maddon finished fifth in the BBWAA AL manager of the year voting.