The Pick(s) of the Litter

Yesterday, HardballTalk’s Aaron Gleeman put up a list of the most attractive of the remaining free agents.  The twelve best names included:

  1. Carl Pavano
  2. Andy Pettitte
  3. Rafael Soriano
  4. Vladimir Guerrero
  5. Brian Fuentes
  6. Manny Ramirez
  7. Johnny Damon
  8. Jeff Francis
  9. Grant Balfour
  10. Jon Rauch
  11. Chris Young
  12. Jim Thome

I went ahead and crossed off the names that the Rays have less than zero interest in which narrows the list down to eight names.  Before going into each guy, a review of the projected 25-man roster would be helpful.

Catchers (2): John Jaso, Kelly Shoppach

Infielders (5): Reid Brignac, Dan Johnson, Elliot Johnson, Evan Longoria, Sean Rodriguez

Outfielder (5): Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton, Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld, Leslie Anderson

Designated Hitter (0):

Pitchers (12): David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Jeremy Hellickson, Andy Sonnanstine, Joel Peralta, Adam Russell, Cesar Cabral, Mike Ekstrom, Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos.

The italicized names are the players that are out of options and would have to be designated for assignment to go back to the minors. I also give Desmond Jennings a 50/50 chance of starting with the big league roster mainly because of the playing time issue that currently exist with Zobrist, Upton, and Joyce projected as the starting outfielders most nights.

That’s 24 names without a specified Designated Hitter since both Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman have both stressed that the roster is very fluid and neither are committed to slotting anyone into any certain spot outside of Longoria, Upton, and the catchers at this time. The payroll as it stands now should end up somewhere between $30 and $33m.

If we are to take Stu Sternberg at his word from October, there is no lower end on the payroll. I do not forsee any more trades this off-season unless someone becomes desperate for a veteran catcher and the Rays are somehow able to move Kelly Shoppach to free up a spot for the newly-obtained Robinson Chirinos. Since last season’s payroll ended up being $77m after bonuses were paid out, the current payroll sits at less than half of last season’s payroll.  This is why many us take Friedman at his word when he says the club will reallocate the money the club saved in trading Matt Garza. Even if the club’s goal was to reduce last season’s payroll by 50%, that’s still $38.5m.

For kicks, let’s say the Rays have a $50m hard cap for the 2011 payroll. Here’s how the Rays can spend $12-$15m this off-season and remain a strong competitor for the 2011 post-season:

  1. Sign Manny Ramirez for $6m. Sure, he made $20m last season but he also has $15m in deferred cash coming from the Dodgers in the next three seasons. He is a DH at this point and DH jobs are slim pickings right now and any team that gives Ramirez more than a one year deal is playing with fire. If he won’t sign for that, try Vladimir Guerrero or Jim Thome. Again, the supply of DHs exceeds the demand for DH jobs and this scenario last season is how Guerrero and Thome ended up in Texas and Minnesota at discounts.
  2. Bring back Grant Balfour or sign Jon Rauch for $3.5m. I am not certain Balfour can close, but he has proved his value in the late innings over the past three seasons. How Joaquin Benoit gets a three-year deal and Balfour cannot sniff one points out how painful a Type A Free Agent label can be. Buster Olney opined the Rays could bring Balfour back on a one year deal with the promise they would not offer him arbitration. This is something the Braves did with Takashi Saito this past season and something the Marlins did when they signed Javier Vazquez a few weeks back. The Rays could do this or give Balfour a multi-year deal which is the reason he declined arbitration in the first place. The $3m would be a raise over what he made last season. Rauch has closing experience in both Minnesota and Washington.
  3. Sign Brian Fuentes for $4m. – Fuentes is an experienced closer that is showing some chinks in his armor, mainly a heavy flyball rate. R.J. Anderson points out how similar Fuentes’ numbers are to the recently departed and beloved closer Rafael Soriano. Fuentes’ options are also drying up which plays strongly into the Rays’ favor
  4. Sign Russell Branyan for $1.5m. I made this case back in November and still hold these beliefs. Branyan’s power bat would be a weapon against right-handed pitching and give them another reputable power threat.

That’s $15m spent which would still keep the club’s 2011 payroll below $50m to start the season. Ramirez goes into the empty DH slot, Balfour or Rauch can replace Ramos on the roster and Fuentes can fit in by the Rays either sending Cabral back to the Red Sox or making him the player to be named later in the Jason Bartlett deal since the Padres were interested in Cabral as part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Branyan could fit the roster by sending Anderson back to AAA.

Those moves would give the Rays’ lineup some more thump and give the bullpen some veteran experience with strong skill sets allowing Maddon to once again play the match-up game in late innings. Most importantly, these types of moves would help solidify the Rays as one of the favorites for the AL Wildcard spot assuming the Red Sox are everyone’s odds-on favorite to win the division.


About Jason Collette

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2 Responses to The Pick(s) of the Litter

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Pick(s) of the Litter | --

  2. Obviously, today’s signing of Kyle Farnsworth eliminates one of the points above. I am guessing Balfour and Rauch still have higher price points. Farnsworth compares very favorably to Rauch, for what it’s worth.

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