Will Rocco Baldelli be a part of the Rays' nucleus in 2008?
The Rays didn't make a lot of news of the annual GM meetings, but they were a popular topic of discussion. And the forecast is for more of the same at the upcoming winter meetings as well as through much of the offseason.
That's because the Rays have a bevy of young, talented and relatively inexpensive players, and because they are willing to at least discuss trading them.
Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman formalized what seemed to be the team's course of action: Management will explore all possibilities to improve a team that has yet to win more than 70 games and has finished last all but one of its 10 seasons.
"We're not good enough as of (now) to say that anyone is untouchable," Friedman said. "Obviously, there are players that we're much less likely to talk about and it would be much harder for us to deal. That being said, we have to listen to anything and everything, and if there is a team that wants Player X and is offering, in our opinion, a good deal more than Player X, we can't be afraid to pull the trigger."
Outfielders Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Delmon Young all fall into that category, as players the Rays consider key parts of their future success but also possible lures to make a substantial leap forward if they brought a huge return in trade.
Another player in that category is left-hander Scott Kazmir, who was the subject of much conversation based on a recent New York Post column but not actual trade discussions.
--RHPs Kazuo Fukumori and Masahide Kobayashi are believed to be among two Japanese relievers the Rays have interest in. Fukumori, 31, had 49 saves over the last three seasons with Rakuten. He posted a career-best 3.68 ERA but had some elbow problems this year. Kobayashi, 33, averaged 30-plus saves over the past seven seasons for Chiba Lotte and has a career 2.79 ERA.
--C Josh Paul is likely to hit the free agent market on Nov. 13 without an offer from the Rays, who seem willing to go forward with Dioner Navarro and Shawn Riggans as their two catchers if necessary, though they could add a veteran backup nearer to spring training. Paul hit .190 last season and missed much of the year with an elbow injury.
--The Rays have the go-ahead from Major League Baseball and the Blue Jays to explore moving an April 22-24 series from Tropicana Field to Disney's renamed Champion Field. The Rays moved a three-game series there last year and like the idea of expanding their market to central Florida.
--OF Elijah Dukes is playing well for the Licey Tigers in the Dominican Republic and is also behaving well. Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said the team has gotten "very positive" reports from Licey officials. In his first 10 games, Dukes hit .346 (9-for-26) with one homer, three RBIs and seven runs.
--With free agents Juan Uribe and Omar Vizquel staying with their teams, the Rays are going to have to pursue a trade to fill their hole at shortstop. They are hoping the addition of a slick-fielding shortstop will improve their overall defense and major league worst pitching staff.
--On Nov. 8, the Rays unveiled new uniforms, a blue-themed color scheme, logos and a shortened name, officially dropping the word "Devil."
BY THE NUMBERS: .761 -- Major league-worst "zone rating," a statistical estimate of how many balls they made plays on they should have, by Rays shortstops.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The most important thing right now is to find that needle in the haystack, and we're confident we're going to be able to put this stuff behind us." -- Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman, on the ongoing health issues concerning OF Rocco Baldelli.
The Rays went into the offseason believing they have fewer holes to fill than ever before but still knowing that to become contenders they are going to have to get better in several areas -- the bullpen, the rotation and their defense.
BIGGEST NEEDS: Ideally, the Rays would find a way to land a proven young closer who can take over the back end of the bullpen and allow veteran Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler to handle setup duties. In addition, they could use a veteran starter who not only can pitch well but teach their young starters, such as James Shields and Scott Kazmir, a few things. Finally, they are seeking a shortstop who is strong defensively, which they think will also make their pitching staff better. An upgrade at catcher also is a possibility.
FREE AGENTS: C Raul Casanova, C Josh Paul, RHP Jay Witasick are the only true free agents. The Rays hold options on two other potential free agents -- INF/OF Greg Norton and RHP Al Reyes.
Paul is the most relevant of the three free agents and the only one the Rays are likely to resign. Reyes is all but assured of having his option picked up; Norton is probably too much of a luxury for this team.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Grant Balfour, RHP Shawn Camp, RHP Gary Glover, OF Jonny Gomes, LHP Scott Kazmir, 1B Carlos Pena, RHP Dan Wheeler.
The Rays are looking at the potential of three significant arbitration cases with Kazmir, who could up to the $3-4 million range; Pena, who could go up $5 million or more; and Wheeler, who seems likely to go up $1 million to around $3 million. Gomes and Glover are likely to get around $1 million; Balfour and Camp might not get to arbitration.
IN LIMBO: OF Rocco Baldelli will have to prove he is healthy before any team would give up anything of consequence for him; LF Carl Crawford will be mentioned in a series of rumors, as usual, but it still seems unlikely he will be traded. More likely, the Rays will look to deal some of their better -- but not best -- prospects in order to get a shortstop and relievers.
OF Rocco Baldelli's overall health remains a mystery as the Rays await the results of even more medical tests to determine why he has had chronic hamstring problems.
INF/OF Greg Norton (arthroscopic surgery in October 2007 to remove loose bodies in his left elbow and have his ulnar nerve transposed) should be 100 percent by Jan. 1.
LF Carl Crawford (strained left groin) missed the final 12 games of the season but should be fine.
OF Chris Snelling (left knee surgery in July 2007) hopes to return to action in