Rays' Notes, Quotes & Roster Report
Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images

Posted Oct 30, 2011


With the World Series now over, the off-season will officially kick into gear. Here are some news, notes and quotes to help you get prepared for the start of Hot Stove.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Jeremy Hellickson was named the majors' Rookie of the Year by Baseball America, the first Rays player to win honor. Hellickson went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA, posting a .210 opponent average and 20 quality starts that were the best of all major league rookies. Hellickson is among the top candidates to win the AL Rookie of the Year from the Baseball Writers Association of America. The announcement will be made Nov. 14.

--DH Johnny Damon has made it abundantly clear in numerous interviews that he wants to return to the Rays in 2012. But even if the finances can be worked out -- he made a team-high $5.25 million in 2011 -- there is an issue of power: The Rays don't have much in their lineup, and they have to decide if they want Damon back as their primary DH or if they should look for more of a home run hitter.

--Hitting coach Derek Shelton will be part of the staff for the major league All-Star team that will tour Taiwan in early November. "I'm very excited," Shelton said. "Anytime you get an opportunity to be part of something like this, to be around players in an All-Star type of setting, it's something to be excited about. It should be fun."

--RHPs Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta are expected to be back in the bullpen, providing two strong anchors and minimizing the need for more than one major addition. Last offseason, the Rays had to rebuild their entire bullpen after losing all but RHP Andy Sonnanstine among their top eight relievers. "I'm definitely going to get a lot more sleep this offseason," executive VP Andrew Friedman said.

--Former Rays RHP Dave Eiland enjoyed working for his hometown Rays this season as a special assistant, with duties as a scout and minor league instructor. But he wanted the opportunity be a major league pitching coach again -- having served in that role for the Yankees from 2008-10 -- and he agreed to a two-year deal to join the Royals as their pitching coach.

--Dan Feinstein, the Rays' director of baseball operations, left the team to rejoin the A's, for whom he will be the director of professional scouting and baseball development. Feinstein was with the A's from 1994-2004, then went to the Dodgers and the Rays.

BY THE NUMBERS: $500,000 -- Increase in RHP James Shields' option, from $7 million to $7.5 million, based on innings pitched over the past three seasons. It could go up another $500,000 if he finishes in the top five in voting for the AL Cy Young Award.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "In 25 years in the game, those were some of the smartest, brightest, sharpest baseball people I've been around. It's really hard to leave." -- Dave Eiland, on leaving his job as a Rays special assistant to become the Royals' pitching coach.



ROSTER REPORT

The Rays ended the season feeling vindicated that their plan to focus on starting pitching and defense was good enough to get them into the playoffs for the third time in four years. But they are also realistic enough to realize they need to add to their inconsistent and often anemic offense, with the potential for upgrades at a number of positions. The starting pitching staff is likely to return intact, though a trade might be the best avenue to improve the offense.

BIGGEST NEEDS: Though the Rays finished eighth in the AL in runs, they need to increase the productivity of their offense. The simplest way to do it would be to add an impact bat at either DH or first base, where incumbents Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman are free agents, though they would be open to upgrades at catcher and/or shortstop, as well as left field, which would create the possibility of shifting Desmond Jennings to center field and trading B.J. Upton. They also will be looking for one or two proven relievers to add to a bullpen core expected to include returnees Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Brandon Gomes and Jake McGee.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Juan Cruz, DH Johnny Damon, 1B Casey Kotchman.

Cruz served his purpose, giving the Rays a solid season after signing a minor league deal and positioning himself to move on and make more elsewhere. Damon and Kotchman present interesting decisions -- both played well and were key parts of the Rays' success and there is mutual interest in returning, but the Rays also have to consider upgrades at one or both positions to improve their overall offensive production. The pair combined for only 26 homers and 121 RBI.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LHP J.P. Howell, 1B Dan Johnson, RHP Jeff Niemann, RHP Joel Peralta, LHP David Price, RHP Andy Sonnanstine, CF B.J. Upton.

Howell will be the most interesting decision as the Rays decide whether to gamble that his second season post-surgery would be better than his first. Peralta and Price are automatics, though the Rays could seek to work out deals. Niemann and Upton are also obvious yes decisions, though both could end up on the trade block. Johnson and Sonnanstine appear done with the Rays.

IN LIMBO: RHP James Shields, C Kelly Shoppach, RHP Wade Davis.

The Rays are likely to pick up Shields' $7.5 million option (rather than go to arbitration) but will have to listen if overwhelmed by a trade offer, especially if it includes young low-cost hitters. Shoppach's $3.2 million option is likely to be declined, but if the Rays can't find a significant upgrade they will look into bringing him back at a lower cost. Davis, along with Upton and Niemann, are among the players most likely to be discussed in major trades.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--RHP Alex Cobb (surgery to remove part of his top rib and a blood clot from his right arm in August 2011) is on track to recover and participate in the offseason throwing program. He is expected to be fully healthy for spring training.



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