Holiday Shopping Time Limited, but Not for Baseball

Holiday shopping hours are ticking away, but for the baseball season there’s still plenty of time, especially considering the way the market has worked this off-season.

Whether it’s because of delays due to a new collective bargaining agreement, or just there’s a glut at certain positions, a number of players remained unsigned. For instance:

Power Hitters: Be they outfielders, first baseman, DH types or a combination, there are plenty of power hitters on the free agent market. Yes Edwin Encarnacion has agreed to a deal with Cleveland, and Mike Napoli may end up back in Texas. However, hitters like Pedro Alvarez, Jose Bautista, Chris Carter, Ryan Howard, Brandon Moss, Mark Reynolds, and Mark Trumbo are still out there. One (or more) of them will fall to the Rays if they choose to go in that direction.

Relievers: The market has been higher than expected in terms of dollars and years for many free agents. However, there are several free agent relievers remaining that could help support the back end of the Tampa Bay bullpen, which currently has Alex Colome and Brad Boxberger returning, as well as lefty Xavier Cedeno. The available options include Joe Blanton, Trevor Cahill, Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, David Hernandez, Luke Hochevar, Greg Holland, Tommy Hunter, Edwin Jackson, Seth Maness, Sergio Romo, and Fernando Salas, among others. That’s not including potential trade options. Between the free agent and trade market, the Rays will have options to upgrade the talent and depth over last year.

Adding another potential productive bat would seem a bit less important than the bullpen needs, as well potential upgrades to the defense. In 2016, the Rays allowed 71 more runs than in 2015, 88 more than in 2014. Put up the same offensive production in 2017 as in 2016, and return to just the 2014 pitching (a 77-win team), and the Rays outscore the opposition by 47 runs. That gap is probably the difference between 94 losses and contending for the post-season.

The Rays have improved at catcher this off-season. The Wilson Ramos signing has more of a long-term impact for the second half of 2017 and all of 2018. In addition, Thursday the Rays made official the signing of veteran Mike McKenry to a minor league deal, which is a Bobby Wilson-type signing.

One would think the Rays will work toward continuing to upgrade defense, especially up the middle. As good as Kevin Kiermaier is, having another talented outfielder who can play center if needed is a necessity. While you hope Kiermaier can play 150 plus games in 2017, you also can’t have the defensive drop off you did when he was hurt last year. There are a number of talented outfielders still available on the free agent market, and some who might be fit on the trade front too. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tampa Bay added an outfielder on the 40-man and then another one on a minor league deal to add depth there.

To do soin the middle infield might be a bit more difficult on a minor league deal. That’s because a Triple-A Durham team would likely have prospects Daniel Robertson and Willy Adames, and any signee would be more of a stopgap opportunity than anything else.

That said, expect the next six weeks to be quite active for the Rays, as plenty of shopping for the 2017 season remains.