The Rays have signed three more players to minor league contracts: Juan Miranda, Matt Mangini, and Ricky Orta. Miranda, 28, looks particularly interesting. Miranda spent a good amount of the 2011 season with the Diamondbacks and posted a .717 OPS (on-base plus slugging) in 202 plate appearances. Mangini was acquired from the Mariners, though it’s (as of now) unknown whether he is the unspecified player that the Rays would receive in return from the John Jaso trade. You can see Miranda, Mangini, and Orta’s current statistics below.
Hooray for the Winter Meetings! The latest rumors coming out of Dallas surround 32-year-old LF Josh Willingham, and the Rays potential interest in signing him. Fox Sports baseball analyst tweeted earlier today that,
“while the Rays are not close on Willingham, they’re one of three to four finalists.”
As of the two o’ clock hour, nine teams including the Twins, Red Sox, Indians, and Reds, have also called on the free agent left fielder. The Pirates, too, have been connected to him.
Willingham had a .246 BA/.332 OBP/.477 SL batting line, including a career high 29 home runs in 563 plate appearances with the Athletics in 2011. A utility player of sorts, Willingham spent 823 1/3 innings in left field, in 2011. Of note also, he has experience in right field, and first base and designated hitter could be options as well. According to his agent Matt Sosnick (in an October tweet), he would probably sign a 3-year deal.
Though the Rays could be just doing their due diligence, the prospects of the Rays putting an offer on the table is interesting to say the least, especially if there is a legitimate chance that they do not re-sign 1B Casey Kotchman, or trade CF BJ Upton.
Willingham made $6 million last year, and though Tampa Bay is expected to increase their payroll, (if just slightly, somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million), a contract similar to Johnny Damon’s 2011 contact could be expected; a contact in the neighborhood of $5-$6 million with incentives.
*Tuesday, December 6th Update*
In a tweet by Fox Sports analyst, Jon Morosi noted that,
Yesterday the Rays mentioned that they would have to be “overwhelmed to move” Bossman Junior. However, an anonymous team source for the Nationals said that they are “fixated” on leaving the Winter Meetings with a new center fielder. Could the Nationals “overwhelm” the Rays with some sort of trade package? Could this news be indicative of more than just talks with the Willingham camp?
We here at Raysbaseball.co speculated a bit back, that there could be the potential of a trade involving John Jaso, Jeff Niemann, and Reid Brignac in order to make room for Matt Moore, and to supplement the roster.
Whether Tampa Bay attempts to re-sign Shoppach on the cheap or whether they look for a catcher on the market, fails to be seen at the moment. In any case, it’s probable that the Rays would send catchers Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos back to AAA Durham to mature in a not so expedited fashion.
It’s fair to assume that Niemann and Brignac would be included in some type of package deal since neither seem to hold too much trade equity on their own. More on this as it becomes available.
In another case of Manny being Manny, Ramirez, 39, is filing papers to be reinstated. Currently in Florida working out (read: fatties getting back into shape), Manny would take a fifty game suspension for his use of steroids. According to Olney, “He and his agents have told teams that he is ready to begin discussions. Ramirez’s suspension clock wouldn’t begin until he signs a contract.” Fox Sports analyst, Jon Morosi, clarified things a bit by saying, “The Players’ Union will argue that Ramirez effectively served his 100-game suspension last season. MLB will need to apply some form of punishment though, and Morosi says a 50-game suspension is a likely compromise. The 50-game violation isn’t official, but both sides “seem amenable to it,” says Morosi.”
It’s been speculated that an unspecified AL team will give Manny a non-roster invite to Spring Training to see if he can still hit. ESPN baseball analyst, Buster Olney, tweeted that the Red Sox, Yankees, Royals, Tigers, White Sox, Indians, Rangers, Angels, and A’s are not interested in what he’s got to offer. Olney also noted in another round of tweets that it’s unlikely the Mariners or Rays would be interested either.
On December 1, Tampa Bay signed 26-year-old RHP reliever, Jhonny Nunez, to a minor league contract. Nunez is a slider/fastball pitcher with good velocity, in the 94-97 MPH range. Nunez’s big league experience came in 2009 where he went 0-0 with a 9.53 ERA, a strike out ratio of 9K/9IP, and a walk ratio of 3.5/9IP, in just over five innings work. Otherwise, Nunez posted a 28-24 WL record with a 3.77 ERA, and gave up 45 home runs in just over 489 innings of work in the six years that he’s spent in the minors. His strike out and walk ratios really didn’t deviate much from what was mentioned before.
Nunez is largely a pitch to contact type of pitcher which could bode well for the Rays if he’s able to induce ground balls. Nunez can be described as a poor mans Dan Wheeler because of his propensity to give up the long ball. However, he can be effective in the right situations especially against right handed hitters, and we’d assume that Maddon would use him accordingly.
There’s an elephant in the room. With the Rays two newest bullpen acquisitions, what does the future hold for LHP JP Howell and RHP long reliever Andy Sonnanstine? Andrew Friedman has made mention of wanting to add maybe one or two more arms to the pen along with a DH and first baseman. It may be a bit presumptuous, but could Nunez and Josh Leuke get the nod over Andy Sonanstine and JP Howell, both who had staggeringly horrible 2011 seasons?
JP Howell is a non tendered player, who will become a free agent if the Rays do not tender his contract. Howell stands to get $1.5 million if he is re-signed, and I can’t help but question whether the Rays would want to spend that money on Howell who had such an abysmal year, or whether they could put that money to good use elsewhere? As it stands, the Rays have a fairly static bullpen with maybe one or two open seats left. You can expect to see Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and Brandon Gomes back on the roster in 2012. To that end, the odds are looking good that Dane De La Rosa and Cesar Ramos will make the 40 man roster as well. Both McGee and Ramos are LHP who had much better numbers in 2011 (especially late in the season in McGee’s case), than JP, and you’d have to question the necessity of such an inconsistent lefty in the pen in lieu of what they have.
Sonanstine also had his fair share of blunders in 2011. Mind you that he was demoted to AAA Durham toward the end of the season. Sonanstine ineffectively played the role of long reliever in 2011. There are options within the organization, including the Rays newest acquisitions, and when you consider that Sonny is an unrestricted free agent, the doubts begin to linger as to whether Tampa Bay would be willing to spend even the league minimum on him. Sure, Sonny was a good pitcher at one point. However, with a fastball that tops out at 86-88 MPH and control issues, Sonnanstine is more of a detriment on the roster than he is an asset.
Leuke has experience pitching in multiple innings. In eight of 13 appearances last year, Leuke pitched anywhere from one to three innings. That said, there really isn’t a need for a Sonny on the roster. Keep in mind too, that if the Rays are going to open a spot on the starting rotation for Matt Moore or even Alex Cobb, someone is going to have to be moved to the pen or traded. Though I’d love to see a Jeff Niemann trade to open up a spot, no hints as to whether that’s even a possibility have popped up. Most pitchers aren’t very keen on the idea of moving from a starting role to the pen. But, if there is one starter on the Rays roster that could make that transition, it’s Wade Davis. Davis was very effective out of the pen in the post season, and his experience as a starter is very valuable when talking about a long relief role. All in all, I’m not too worried about the Rays pen situation going in to the 2012 season.
In other news, Rays beat writer Marc Topkin tweeted this week,
#Rays to list of teams that have watched Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes. (And, it should be added, to list of teams that can’t afford him.)
Though the Rays want to add to their offense and it doesn’t seem likely that BJ Upton would be traded this winter, one wonders why the Rays are watching Cespedes in the first place? Are they actively looking for a CF to take the place of Upton, even if Cespedes isn’t the right fit? Are the Rays just doing their due diligence with Cespedes, and no other moves should be anticipated?
Finally, with word that the Rays are pursuing a DH and a first baseman, Andrew Friedman was quoted as saying that free agents Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon are “very much in the discussion” to be brought back.