Insider: Rays Still Shopping After Scott Signing

The Tampa Bay Rays officially announced the signing of free agent Luke Scott this afternoon. Scott received a one-year deal with a base salary of $5 million for the 2012 season. The contract includes a $6 million team-option for 2013 or a $1 million buyout.

In my original analysis of Scott, I said he would be attractive to the Rays because of his powerful left-handed bat, platoon neutralitly, and experience in the American League East.  Executive Vice President, Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman echoed those sentiments, saying“Luke has established himself as one of the better power hitters in baseball, with consistent success in a variety of roles against both right- and left-handed pitchers.” “He’s shown he can perform in the American League East and we expect him to be healthy and productive again in 2012.” In addition to Friedman – who has tried to trade for Scott on more than one occassion – the newest Ray had at least one more admirer in the Rays’ front office. Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Gerry Hunsicker was the Houston Astros’ general manager who acquired Scott in a 2004 trade with the Cleveland Indians.

The $6 million guarantee (2012 salary + buyout) is more than the typical low-risk the Rays usually take. When you factor Scott’s age for next season (34), and his injury-plagued 2011, there is a real chance he will be unable to rebound to his previous production. Meanwhile, the Rays’ medical staff – which includes Dr. James Andrews who was Scott’s surgeon in July – was confident enough to give  Friedman the green light to go ahead with the signing. Also, considering what Michael Cuddyer (three years, $31.5 million) and Jason Kubel (two years, $15 million) received, Scott’s one-year deal with a team option is more of Tampa Bay’s style.

From a production standpoint, a healthy Scott should come close to giving the Rays fair value for their $6 million investment. Like high-salaried relief pitchers, well-paid designated hitters can sometimes have trouble providing teams with enough production to be “worth” the dollars they receive. However, if Scott can hit like he did from 2008-2010 (.266/.348/.497 with an average of 53 extra-base hits per season), the Rays will be happy to pay him near the market rate. Depending on the health of Scott’s shoulder – which will prohibit him from paying the outfield for the first few month of the season – he could boost his value to the team by seeing more time at first base; something that may happen as soon as Opening Day according to Friedman.

Even with Scott signed, sealed, and delivered, Friedman said the team will continue to explore all avenues to acquire additional offensive help. “We’re just looking for a bat. We like to have options. We like to be as flexible as we can be” Friedman said.  The club will not limit their search to those who primarily play first base either. “We don’t want to pigeon hole ourselves into any one area if we can avoid it, just because it expands the applicant pool” he added. Already this winter, we have seen the team display interest in players such as Carlos Beltran and Coco Crisp.

The pool of available first baseman has some intriguing options, but is overall limited. Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, and perhaps Derrek Lee remain as free agent options. On the trade front, the Los Angeles Angels hold potential chips in Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo. Internally, the team has Juan Miranda and Russ Canzler; however, neither seems to be the upgrade the club has been searching for. Matt Joyce has begun taking groundballs at first base – something I suggested earlier this offseason – but is unlikely to be a legitimate option anytime soon.

By searching for a bat first – and not necessarily worrying about positioning – the Rays open the applicant pool to more targets than the handful mentioned above or rolling with an unproven option from within.