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Insider: Rays Reportedly In On Beltran, Rizzo

Following a small flurry of moves on Monday, the Tampa Bay Rays remained relatively quiet for the duration of the week. That was until Saturday evening when their name surfaced in a pair of rumors; both on the trade and free agent markets. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported [1] the Rays were one of several teams to hold interest in free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran [2]. On the trade front, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweeted that Tampa Bay has also expressed interest in San Diego Padres’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo [3]. Rizzo is thought to be available following the Padres’ blockbuster trade with the Cincinnati Reds earlier in the day.

A rumored potential trade partner for the Rays, the Reds sent prospects Yonder Alonso [4] and Yasmani Grandal [5] along with pitchers Edison Volquez and Brad Boxberger to San Diego in exchange for pitcher Mat Latos [6]. Alonso has been linked for quite some time to the Rays, but now it appears they have set their sights on the man likely with the Padres – Anthony Rizzo.

San Diego acquired Rizzo, 22, as part of the Adrian Gonzalez [7] trade with the Boston Red Sox last winter. He spent most of the season at Triple-A, where he hit .331/.404/.652 with 26 home runs and 34 doubles in just 413 plate appearances. The Pacific Coast League is offensive in nature; however, Rizzo’s production was well above the league average, and he did hit 50 extra-base hits at the Double-A level in 2010.

Despite success in the minor leagues, the rookie struggled at the major-league level, producing a line of just of .141/.281/.242 in 49 games. He hit just one home run in 153 plate appearances and struck out 30% of the time. With that said, the small sample size should not scare potential suitors away from his offensive potential.

A young, controllable, left-handed, power bat at first base is very attractive for the Rays. The Padres could opt to start Rizzo in Triple-A next season, but perhaps the allure of adding another starting pitcher – Wade Davis [8] or Jeff Niemann [9] – could persuade them to move him to a new club altogether. Although it appears as if Tampa Bay lost out on Yonder Alonso, they could end up with a more powerful option at a reduced rate.

On the free agent market, the Rays – along with several others– are showing interest in Carlos Beltran. Unless things go horribly wrong for the 34-year-old, he will likely receive larger dollars and more years elsewhere. On the other hand, if his market fell within the team’s range, he would be a natural fit for the Rays as a full-time player, splitting time in the outfield and at designated hitter.

Similar to the way the used Johnny Damon [10] last season, the Rays would likely use Beltran as more of a DH. Meanwhile, unlike Damon, he still holds defensive value in the corner outfield. This would allow manager Joe Maddon to use the DH spot to rest regulars as well.

Offensively, Beltran is a true switch-hitter, showing no platoon weakness along with power to all portions of the field. He split his 2011 season between the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, hitting .300/.385/.525 with 67 extra-base hits in fewer than 600 plate appearances. For his career, he is a .283 hitter with a .857 OPS is 1,768 games.

Injuries slowed Beltran’s career in 2009 and 2010; however, he returned healthy in 2011 and played in 142 games. With a questionable knee, and advancing in age, spending half of his playing time as a DH could aide in keeping him on the field for a full season. Unfortunately for the Rays, the deeper pocketed Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox are also interested in his services. While unlikely, a Beltran-Rays union would go a long way in curing what ailed Tampa Bay’s offense in 2011.