Rays Roundup: Off-season Successful

In this addition of Rays Roundup: The team feels pretty good about their off-season after upgrading at first base, designated hitter, catcher and adding bullpen depth, questions remain about who will share catching duties with Jose Molina, Jeff Niemann loses his arbitration case, two former Rays are now in Cleveland, and Game 162 hero Dan Johnson hopes for a shot on the South Side in Chicago.

INSIDE PITCH

Rays make some additions without much subtraction

The Rays feel pretty good about the moves they've made thus far during the offseason, upgrading offensively at designated hitter and first base, adding depth to their bullpen and improving behind the plate.

They did so by signing five free agents -- first baseman 1B Carlos Pena, designated hitter Luke Scott, infielder Jeff Keppinger, catcher Jose Molina and reliever Fernando Rodney -- for more than $18-million.

They also made two small trades, adding right-handers Burke Badenhop and Josh Lueke.

So what's left to do?

Even with the addition of Molina, the 36-year-old veteran of 12 seasons, the Rays seem shorthanded, at least experience-wise, behind the plate, which could lead them back into the market.

After declining Kelly Shoppach's option and trading John Jaso, the Rays are left with Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos to share time with Molina, who hasn't played more than 81 games (in 2008) in a season.

Lobaton, 27, has played 22 games in the majors, seven for the Padres in 2009 and 15 for the Rays last season, spraining his left knee days after a mid-season call-up. He was sidelined during winter ball in Venezuela because of a right shoulder impingement, but is throwing at a distance of 120 feet and said he expects to be ready for spring training.

Chirinos, also 27, had only 15 games above the Double-A level before coming to the Rays in trade last offseason, and played 20 games for the Rays last season while spending most of the year at Triple-A.

If they do go looking, trade targets could include the Cubs' Geovany Soto, the A's Kurt Suzuki and the Padres Nick Hundley. The remnants of the free market are sparse, topped by Pudge Rodriguez and, perhaps, Bengie Molina, if he'd come out of retirement to play with his brother.


NOTES, QUOTES

Niemann loses arbitration case, will receive $2.75 million

In 2011 Jeff Niemann was 11-7 with a 4.06 ERA for the Rays in 23 starts and 135.1 IP.

--RHP Jeff Niemann ended up on the wrong side of the arbitrators' ruling and will get a salary of $2.75 million this season rather than the $3,200,000 he sought. Niemann's was the last of the Rays' six arbitration eligible players to have his salary determined. They settled ahead of time with RHPs Burke Badenhop and Joel Peralta, LHPs J.P. Howell and David Price, and OF B.J. Upton.

--1B Casey Kotchman officially lost his job when the Rays opted for more power and paid $7.25-million to bring back Carlos Pena. Kotchman, a St. Petersburg native who resurrected his career with his hometown team in 2011, agreed to a one-year deal with the Indians for $3-million, with another $1.75-million available in incentives. He signed a minor league deal with the Rays that paid him $750,000 last season, and earned another $400,000 in incentives.

--INF Russ Canzler was the International League MVP last season based on his offense, but the Rays didn't have a place for him defensively. So after taking him off the 40-man roster by designating him for assignment, the Rays sent him to Cleveland for cash considerations. The Rays didn't have room for Canzler on their big-league roster, so he appeared headed back to Triple-A had he stayed.

--LHP David Price and his Project 14 Foundation teamed with the Ted Williams Museum to co-host a charity dinner that featured the Hitters Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Former Ray Tino Martinez and Cecil Fielder were the inductees.

--1B Dan Johnson, who hit several of the most dramatic homers in Rays history, said he has no bitterness about not being retained as he signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. Though Johnson seems unlikely to get much opportunity with Paul Konerko at first base and Adam Dunn at DH, he said being healthy and having a chance are enough. "My hope is just to be able to stay healthy and go out and prove myself again and work my way back into a relevant role," Johnson said.

--Manager Joe Maddon is close to finalizing a three-year contract extension which, barring an unexpected turn, will be completed and announced before the Feb. 20 opening of spring training.

BY THE NUMBERS: 6-0 -- The Rays record in arbitration, the only undefeated team in the majors.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The memories are irreplaceable." -- 1B Dan Johnson, looking back at his dramatic highlights with the Rays.

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