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 the Rays were one of several teams to hold interest in free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran. On the trade front, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman tweeted that Tampa Bay has also expressed interest in San Diego Padres’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo. 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 and Yasmani Grandal along with pitchers Edison Volquez and Brad Boxberger to San Diego in exchange for pitcher Mat Latos. 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 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 or Jeff Niemann – 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 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.