Rays address biggest offseason need

Rays address biggest offseason need

INDIANAPOLIS -- Over the course of a week, the prospects for the Rays' 2010 season brightened considerably.

Tampa Bay went to Indianapolis on Sunday hoping to improve its bullpen and catching situations. Rumors were thick regarding a trade that would send Pat Burrell to the Cubs for Milton Bradley, and the idea that Carl Crawford would be traded seemed to be gaining momentum.

By the time the Rays' front office checked out of the Indianapolis Marriott, a deal to shore up the team's bullpen was done, the Burrell-Bradley deal remained alive, and Crawford seemed destined to spend the 2010 season in left field for the Rays.

"The focus of being here is trying to improve your organization," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who noted that the Winter Meetings provide an action-packed few days. "Not much sleep, a lot of coffee and adrenaline."

Yes, despite the many monetary restrictions Tampa Bay faces, it is doing the things teams that want to win do in the offseason.

Early Thursday morning, the Rays pulled the trigger on a deal that sent right-hander Jesse Chavez to the Braves for Rafael Soriano. According to a Major League source, the deal has been struck contingent upon Soriano passing a physical.

Soriano converted 27 out of 31 save opportunities for the Braves in 2009 while posting a 1-6 mark with a 2.97 ERA in 77 games. Perhaps most impressive from the 29-year-old right-hander's '09 resume were his 102 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. Soriano has an 8-18 record with a 2.92 ERA and 43 saves in 278 career appearances with Seattle and Atlanta.

Soriano accepted the Braves' arbitration offer Monday, which foiled the idea of the team receiving 2010 First-Year Player Draft pick compensation for Soriano, who was classified as a Type A free agent. Soriano will make at least $6.5 million via the non-guaranteed one-year contract he secured when he accepted arbitration and erased the possibility for Atlanta of gaining two Draft picks with his departure.

Soriano's acquisition and subsequent new contract will move the Rays' projected payroll to approximately $70 million while offering tangible proof to fans that the team's ownership is looking toward doing what is necessary to shore up the team to make a run at regaining the top spot in the American League East in 2010.

Tampa Bay has not had a true closer since Troy Percival was injured during the 2008 season. Percival returned in '09, but he was dinged up due to a string of injuries that led to his retirement. J.P. Howell ended up getting most of the closing work and did an admirable job, but the Rays liked the idea of returning the left-hander to the setup role he was used in during the '08 season.

In essence, the Rays picked up Soriano in exchange for Akinori Iwamura, who they traded to the Pirates to acquire Chavez.

The proposed Burrell trade to the Cubs for Bradley remains a possibility, but Chicago would have to eat a great deal of Bradley's contract, which calls for the Cubs to pay him $21 million for 2010 and '11. Both sides have stated their position and the deal is at a standstill, though not dead.

Crawford, who enters the final year of his contract, was thought to be in play as Tampa Bay entered the Winter Meetings. The Rays do not talk about the wheeling and dealing of players, but the fact that Crawford's name was not in every trade rumor is a good indication to fans that the team wants to win in 2010, and that having Crawford in left field will help that cause as much as anything.

Deals done: Sealed a deal for Soriano, with only a passed physical standing in the way.

Rule 5 activity: Selecting 16th, the Rays picked Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox) left-hander Armando Zerpa in the Major League Phase of the Draft, then sold the pick to the Dodgers for cash considerations.

In the Triple-A phase of the Draft, Tampa Bay selected right-hander Miguel Sierra, who went 0-1 with a 13.06 ERA in five appearances at Double-A Boise (Cubs) in 2009. Sierra stands 6-foot-5, 170 pounds and is from Romana, Dominican Republic. The Rays also lost a player during the Triple-A phase when the Nationals selected left-hander Michal Wlodarczyk, who went 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA in 47 appearances at Double-A Montgomery in 2009.

In the Double-A phase of the Draft, Cincinnati selected right-hander Douglas Salinas, who went 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA in two starts for Class A Hudson in 2009.

Goals accomplished: Acquiring Soriano addressed the Rays' chief offseason priority.

Unfinished business: The Rays would still like to trade Burrell, whether it's for Bradley or some other veteran bat. In addition, Tampa Bay would like to solidify its catching. There's a good chance the team will trade either Dioner Navarro or Kelly Shoppach. In addition, the Rays would like to add one more veteran arm for their bullpen.

GM's bottom line: "[Pitching] can be fleeting, and if you ever feel like you have too much pitching, you wake up one day and you're trying to trade for it. So we're extremely cognizant and sensitive to that. And it doesn't mean that we won't make a trade that involves pitching, but it's not nearly as easy to do as it used to be." -- Friedman

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.