Rays may enter market for starter, sluggers

Rays may enter market for starter, sluggers

ST. PETERSBURG -- Hot Stove season is never the most exciting time of the year for the Rays, who have a smaller budget to work with than most other teams.

That doesn't mean the Rays won't be able to find a player or two who can help them for the 2018 season. In the past, Tampa Bay has been particularly effective at finding free-agent relief help. And just before last season, the Rays signed free agent Logan Morrison to return to the team, and he put up big numbers.

• Hot Stove Tracker

So sit tight and keep an eye on the transaction wire this offseason.

Free agents: Alex Cobb, Morrison, Lucas Duda, Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek, Peter Bourjos, Trevor Plouffe, Colby Rasmus.

Arbitration-eligible players: Shawn Tolleson, Adeiny Hechavarria, Dan Jennings, Brad Boxberger, Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Xavier Cedeno, Jake Odorizzi, Jesus Sucre, Chase Whitley, Alex Colome, Steven Souza Jr., Matt Duffy.

Morrison's RBI single

Biggest potential free-agent loss
Cobb appears all but gone, but the big decision with the right-hander will be whether the club makes him a qualifying offer. A report on Sunday said that it was likely. Last offseason, the Phillies made Jeremy Hellickson a qualifying offer, and the former Rays right-hander took it. He returned to Philadelphia on a one-year deal for $17.2 million. Does Tampa Bay run the risk of paying Cobb $17.4 million (this year's number) for one season?

Losing Cobb will create a hole in the starting rotation, even though the Rays know what life without Cobb is like after he missed the 2015 season, and much of '16 due to Tommy John surgery. When he's on, Cobb is a true top-of-the-rotation starter, which he showed with a strong finish to the '17 season, going 3-3 with a 2.82 ERA in seven starts in August and September.

Duda belts his 30th homer

Potential free-agent targets 
Since it's likely Morrison and Duda will head elsewhere as free agents, Tampa Bay could venture into the market to find a first baseman. Jake Bauers, who spent the season at Triple-A Durham and packs plenty of power, should get a chance to win the job. But even if he does, the team would likely want some insurance or a complement at the position should Bauers not work out, of if they simply want a right-handed bat to spot Bauers, who hits left-handed.

One free-agent possibility who seems to fit the mold is veteran Mike Napoli. He could provide a right-handed bat that could complement Bauers. The possibility also exists that either Duda or Morrison don't get what they are hoping and the Rays re-sign one of them late in the offseason.

Bauers' two-run double

Wild-card scenario
Trying to figure out what the Rays might do during Hot Stove season can give one a brain freeze. The best way to explain their approach is that they are opportunistic and, at times, creative. If there's a player Tampa Bay feels it can sign to a one-year deal, he doesn't necessarily have to fit a need; rather, it will just find a spot for him.

For example, what happens if a Curtis Granderson, Austin Jackson or Cameron Maybin don't receive much interest? The Rays might just enter the party to try and sign them, giving them a player of value while affording the player an opportunity to play in 2018 and increase his value for '19.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.