Rays Recap: 2012 MLB Winter Meetings

The 2012 MLB Winter Meetings concluded today in Nashville, TN. Many team executives have been in contact with the Rays regarding the surplus of quality pitchers on the roster. As of now, James Shields, David Price, and Jeremy Hellickson are still members of the Tampa Bay Rays. Here’s a look at the rest of the Rays news and notes from this years meetings:

Re-sign Sean Rodriguez – The Rays re-signed Rodriguez to a 1-year $1 million contract. He has not been as productive as the Rays expected when they traded for him, sending Scott Kazmir to the Angels in 2009. He should see plenty of time at second base this season but don’t expect him to be out there every day.  There is still a chance that the Rays trade for an outfielder; Ben Zobrist would then slide in nicely at second base and Rodriguez could be used as a utility player. Any such trade would probably involve Shields.

Sign James Loney – After spending 2012 as a member of the LA Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox, Loney was signed to a 1-year $2 million contract. This is a defensive move for a Rays team that ranked last in the American League in Fielding Percentage last season. When former manager Joe Torre was asked about Loney and his lack of offensive production, he referred to Loney as an enigma on the field,

Defensively he’s a plus and offensively he’s a mystery

A career .282 hitter, Loney had his worst season at the dish in 2012. He batted just .249 during the season (LAD and BOS).

It’s no surprise to see the Rays sign a player that struggled during a contract year. Rays’ brass are not afraid to sign a player that has produced in the past, taken a turn for the worse, and now tries to turn it around. Just look at Carlos Pena;  to a smaller extent Jeff Keppinger. The latter having just signed a 3-year $12 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. The Rays play it safe; sign a player to a short term deal then when the player out performs the dollar value associated to him, they don’t re-sign. If you think about it, it’s pure genius! Pay bargain basement salary to a player who will almost certainly perform at the level of any other $1-$2 million player, relatively speaking. Once the season ends they can try to negotiate. If the asking price is too high, the player walks.

Trade Derek Dietrich for Yunel Escobar – Escobar did not even suit up for the Miami Marlins after being dealt in the blockbuster deal between the Marlins and Blue Jays. Instead he was dealt to the Rays, just two weeks later. Regardless of how good you think Dietrich could be, this trade makes sense for the Rays. As previously stated, the Rays are looking to improve defensively. Last season, Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson, and Reid Brignac compiled fielding percentages of .953 – .964 – and .974, respectively; Yunel Escobar fielded .982. That is a significant upgrade for two reasons. One, Escobar will provide a better defensive glove at a very defensive position. Two, the Rays can trot Escobar out to play shortstop every day. They no longer have to play shortstop-by-committee.

Dietrich has drawn comparisons to Jeff Kent and Dan Uggla. While those are certainly great power hitters to be compared to, the Rays decided to part ways with one of the four highly regarded shortstop prospects in the organization. Plus, you never know what you are going to get from a prospect once he hits the big leagues.

Side note: With the addition of Dietrich, five of the top nine prospects in the Miami Marlins system have been acquired via trades made this year.

Sign Jason Bourgeois: This is nothing more than organizational depth. Bourgeois was signed to a minor league deal and will have a tough time breaking camp with the Rays.

Rule 5 Draft: The Rays had three players taken from them as part of this mornings draft. Left-hander Kyle Lobstein is headed to the Mets, the Marlins receive lefty Braulio Lara, and the Giants get another pitcher, righty Scott Shuman.

The biggest takeaway, and quite frankly the biggest benefit from the Winter Meetings could be something that the Rays did not do themselves. They were able to drive up the market for pitchers without even trying. The Nationals signed Dan Haren to a $13 million contract, add that with the trades of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Ervin Santana, and Tommy Hanson, and you see a significant market for starting pitchers. Shields’ value is as high as it is going to get. His salary, $9 million, is certainly below what he is worth, according to the market. The question is, did the Rays wait too long? They were mentioned as part of a blockbuster deal with Arizona, Cleveland, and Texas, have been linked to Kansas City, who seems willing to part ways with MLB.com No.3 overall prospect, Wil Myers, yet no deal has been made.

The Winter Meetings may be over but with so much buzz still swirling around the starting pitchers in Tampa Bay, don’t be surprised to hear the rumors continue. Given the moves that the Rays did make during these meetings, I don’t believe any of the current starting pitchers will be dealt. With arguably the best rotation in baseball, an improved defense, and a healthy Evan Longoria; the Rays should be able to keep up in the gauntlet we call the AL East.