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Rays Offseason Trade Possibilities: A Fan’s Take
The 2011 season was supposed to be a down year for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2010 they won the AL East division title. However, when the Rays slashed their payroll after the season, they lost several key players from their 2010 AL East championship team. Carl Crawford(notes), Carlos Pena, Matt Garza(notes) and Rafael Soriano(notes) were just a few of the key contributors from the 2010 team that played in a different uniform in 2011.
With the odds stacked against them, the Rays found a way to turn the 2011 season into a success. They won 91 games, finished second in the AL East and made the playoffs as the AL wildcard.
Much of the credit for the Rays success in 2011 goes to their front office. Andrew Friedman, the Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, found a way to build a winning team in 2011 even though the Rays had the second lowest payroll in the Major Leagues at $41 million dollars.
Trading experienced Major League talent, when their value (and price tag) is high, in return for talented and inexperienced prospects (who have a low price tag) is one way in which Andrew Friedman and the Rays front office have been able to turn Tampa Bay into a winner.
Friedman orchestrated a blockbuster trade between the Rays and Chicago Cubs after the 2010 season. The deal sent Matt Garza to the Cubs in exchange for a long list of talented prospects (Sam Fuld(notes), Brandon Guyer(notes), Chris Archer(notes) and Robinson Chirinos(notes)) who should contribute to the Rays success for years to come.
Heading into this offseason the Rays once again have several holes to fill. They declined the option on catcher Kelly Shoppach(notes), making him a free agent. First baseman Casey Kotchman(notes) (the surprise of the 2011 season) and DH Johnny Damon(notes) were signed to one-year contracts before the 2011 season, so they're both free agents. Shortstops Reid Brignac(notes) and Elliot Johnson(notes) are still on the Rays roster, but they struggled mightily at the plate in 2011. If the Rays are going to compete in the AL East they need an upgrade at shortstop.
With their limited resources, the Rays won't be players in the big name free agent market this offseason. Their 2011 payroll was $41 million and it's unlikely the 2012 payroll will increase much. The ceiling on the Rays payroll is most likely around $50 million.
The Rays will target several low priced, marginal free agents who have the potential to rebound in 2012. The Rays are always on the lookout for the next Casey Kotchman.
Since the Rays won't be a player in the big name free agent market, look for Andrew Friedman to work a couple trades this offseason to address needs on the Rays roster.
The Rays are fortunate to have a wealth of starting pitching talent in their organization. Currently they have seven Major League caliber starting pitchers to fill the five spots in their rotation.
The big name that will be mentioned in trade rumors this offseason is James Shields(notes). He's coming off the best season of his career. He posted a 16-12 record with a 2.82 ERA, 225 strikeouts, 11 complete games and four shutouts. With the success he had in 2011, it's hard to imagine the Rays would want to part ways with Shields. However, from a business sense, now may be the best time to trade Shields. His value is at an all-time high and his price tag (the Rays just picked up his $7.5 million dollar option for 2012) is increasing.
The Rays would need to be blown away by the offer for Shields if they're going to consider dealing him. If a team like the Cincinnati Reds offers a package that includes catcher Devin Mesoraco(notes), then the Rays might listen. However, the more likely scenario is that Jeff Niemann(notes), Wade Davis(notes) or Alex Cobb(notes) will be dealt in return for a package of lesser known prospects.
B.J. Upton(notes) is the other possible trade chip the Rays have. He's arbitration eligible and he should see his $4.825 million dollar salary take a nice increase before the 2012 season. Also, 2012 is the last year the Rays control Upton. After the 2012 season he'll be a free agent and the Rays won't be able to compete with the price Upton will command on the free-agent market.
Upton has always been a stellar defensive center fielder, but he's inconsistent at the plate. Through the first five months of the 2011 season Upton was an average Major League hitter.
On September 1, Upton was hitting .223 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs. In September, Joe Maddon made the decision in September to move Upton to second in the batting order. Upton caught fire and was red hot during the Rays improbable run to the AL wild card. In September he hit .333 with five home runs, 20 RBIs and nine stolen bases.
Upton was involved in several trade rumors before the 2011 trade deadline. Reportedly, teams like the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals were interested in acquiring Upton. His torrid September should only increase his value. The Rays don't have to trade him, but if the price is right then now may be the best time to get maximum value in return for Upton.
Look for the Rays to once again be wheeling and dealing this offseason in an attempt to improve their roster. It's not certain that there'll be a big blockbuster trade involving Shields or Upton. The only thing that's guaranteed is Andrew Friedman and the Rays front office won't be complacent.
Sean McDonnell has been a resident of the Tampa Bay area for the past 21 years. He is an avid fan of the Tampa Bay Rays; Tampa Bay Bucs and USF Bulls.
*Statistics provided by Yahoo Sports
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