Newly promoted Rays general manager Erik Neander isn’t ruling out a rebuild “if the interest and market dictates,” he told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. But, on the heels of a 68-win campaign, it seems Neander is more focused on immediately returning the Rays to relevance.
“There’s a certain belief that we have in the core of our team, that it’s not out of the question that we can compete deep into the season,” Neander said.
As Topkin previously reported, it’s unlikely the Rays will subtract their best starter, Chris Archer, from that core. But they continue to discuss left-hander Drew Smyly with other teams, and right-hander Alex Cobb is also a candidate to end up elsewhere via trade. Dealing one of those two would leave the Rays with a still-capable group that would also consist of Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell and perhaps Matt Andriese. They’re mulling adding free agent starter Nathan Eovaldi to the mix, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in August and wouldn’t become a factor until 2018.
In order to complement what should be a respectable 2017 starting staff, the Rays are considering outside help for their bullpen and lineup, per Topkin. Specifically, the team would like to add an adept defensive outfielder and a first base/designated hitter type to its collection of position players. With the latter need in mind, Tampa Bay has discussed such left-handed free agent hitters as Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Howard, Brandon Moss, Luis Valbuena and 2016 Ray Logan Morrison. If they opt for a right-handed batter, which could make more sense given that first baseman Brad Miller and DH Nick Franklin struggle against left-handed pitchers, 2016 National League home run co-champion Chris Carter and Billy Butler are on their radar.
However, of greater intrigue than securing any of the aforementioned names is the possibility of signing Jose Bautista. While he seems like a longshot pickup for the low-payroll Rays, they could be in position to pounce on the Tampa Bay-area resident if his market doesn’t develop as hoped this offseason. Plus, because the Rays finished in the bottom 10 of the standings last season, they wouldn’t have to give up a first-round selection to sign Bautista, who rejected the Blue Jays’ qualifying offer. The Rays would instead surrender their competitive balance pick (currently No. 31 overall) in next year’s draft to ink the longtime AL East rival.
Regardless of whether they’re able to reel in Bautista, it does seem the Rays are aiming to compete next year. Last season’s subpar record notwithstanding, the club has a bevy of quality players in the fold, and free agent signing Wilson Ramos should further help matters if the catcher is able to return from a torn ACL in early 2017.