Rays Roundup: Team Gathers Info at Meetings

Rays'  Lefty Starter Matt Moore

In this week's edition of Rays Roundup: The Rays gather information, not players at the Winter Meetings, young stud left-hander Matt Moore gets a five-year contract from the team, Joe Maddon is confident of working out his extension, and former Ray Carlos Pena may be a candidate to return to the team. All of that and much more inside.

INSIDE PITCH

The Rays didn't fill any of their holes during the winter meetings, but got a good feel for what they may, and may not, be able to do in the next few months.

"It was a productive week for us from an information-gathering standpoint," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "We feel like we're in a better position to understand the lay of the land and to narrow down the scope for kind of which domino we expect to go first."

"So there was a lot of productive internal and external conversations that I think are going to play a very pivotal role in the next month as we go about constructing our 25-man roster."

The Rays are looking to improve their offense -- without weakening their defense -- and fill holes at first base and DH. They could also add some more depth at catcher and another late-inning reliever or two.

They are willing to venture into the free-agent market to fill a couple of those needs, and made a run during the meetings at outfielder/DH Josh Willingham. But most of their work seems likely to come via trade, and they more than likely would have to part with some of their starting pitching depth.

Of the eight starters they have, it would seem they would prefer to move right-hander Wade Davis and/or righty Jeff Niemann, as their salaries are rising and they Rays have capable young replacements, such as Alex Cobb and lefty Matthew Moore.

Friedman said much of their trade talks at the meetings included their pitchers, but not all.


NOTES, QUOTES

--LHP Matt Moore agreed to a five-year, $14 million contract with the Rays. The deal could go for as long as eight years and as much $39.5 million with multiple club options, and follows the Rays' usual pattern of trying to lock up their top talent early while players are still relatively affordable.

Moore, 23, sparked attention at the big-league level late last season, when he struck out 11 in five innings against the New York Yankees after a September call-up. He also allowed just one run in 10 innings in two games against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series.

Inside the game, Moore's name had already been mentioned as one of the sport's top young pitching prospects.

He went 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA combined for Class AA Montgomery and Class AAA Durham last season. He struck out 210 while walking just 46 in 155 innings.

After the spurt against two of the American League's top teams, Moore will no longer be considered a prospect next year as he's expected to join the rotation, helping to form a talented, young set.

--Manager Joe Maddon said talks have started on an extension of his contract, which expires at the end of the 2012 season, and he was confident -- "very confident" -- something would be resolved. "I'm sure it's going to be all worked out in due time," Maddon said. "I'm a Ray. I have a lot of faith in being a Ray as I continue along."

--1B Carlos Pena, a free agent after spending last season with the Cubs, could be a candidate to return as the Rays seek to improve their offense without weakening their defense. Agent Scott Boras said Pena, who made $10-million last season, is likely to get multi-year offers.

--OF/DH Josh Willingham emerged as a target for the Rays as they were one of at least a handful of teams to make an offer. Willingham, 33 in February, hit a career-high 29 homers for Oakland last year, while hitting for a .246 average, with a .332 on-base percentage and .477 slugging percentage. He can play left and right, but the Rays likely would use him primarily as a DH.

--SS Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez will have what manager Joe Maddon called "an open competition" in spring training to determine who plays shortstop. Maddon said he would like one to emerge as the clear starter. They split time last season after Brignac lost his handle on the job.

--Greg Riddoch, a former big-league coach and manager (Padres), has been hired as the mental skills coach. Riddoch will work with players on different mental aspects of the game. The Rays employed sports psychologist Ken Ravizza in 2009-10, but he took a job with the Angels to be closer to home. Riddoch, 66, will be in uniform, joining the Rays starting in spring training, and will split his time between the majors and minors during the season.

--INF Matt Sweeney, one of the three players acquired from the Angels for Scott Kazmir in the August 2009 trade, was lost in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft, and the Rays weren't too upset about him being selected by Baltimore. In 1 1/2 seasons at Class AA Montgomery, Sweeney produced only a .170 average, nine homers, 54 RBI. "At one time we had high hopes and quite frankly he didn't perform," farm director Mitch Lukevics said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 52 -- Games the Rays play in 2012 vs. four of the games' biggest spending teams, the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Marlins.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're just waiting for the agents that we're talking to whittle it down from the 11 teams that are interested in their player." -- Executive VP Andrew Friedman, on a lack of movement by free agents they are pursuing.

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