(Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports)

The 2017 Winter Meetings came to a conclusion Thursday morning with the Rule-5 Draft, in which the Tampa Bay Rays lost one minor leaguer, RHP Burch Smith, before heading back to sunny St. Petersburg.

The Rays, however, did not lose catcher Nick Ciuffo, who was left unprotected. Ciuffo was promoted to Double-A Montgomery after the 2016 season, and he is coming off his first complete campaign with the Biscuits. He performed to a .245 BA/.319 OBP/.385 SLG/.704 OPS line in 2017, so he clearly isn’t yet a finished product.

In the minor league portion of the Rule-5 Draft, Tampa Bay picked RHP Francisco German from the Tigers organization. German went 8-7 with a 3.26 ERA in the New York Penn League 2017, all below the full-season level. However, the Rays lost INF Riley Unroe to the Angels, OF Angel Moreno to the Cardinals, and C Rafelin Lorenzo to the Pirates.

The Rays currently have 39 players on the 40-man roster, and did not make a selection in the MLB portion of the Rule-5 Draft, indicating the team could be close to a deal.

Rays VP of Baseball Operations, Chaim Bloom, said talks remain in the advanced stages, likely with the St. Louis Cardinals — presumably for RHP Alex Colome and potentially another player. Executives from both teams left the meetings with a good feel for the pieces (potentially) made available to them by each club.

The Cardinals are also connected to Manny Machado, temporarily quelling the fears of those who do not want to see the face of the franchise, Evan Longoria, get traded away — for better or worse.

Matt Duffy has worked his way back to health and is expected to be ready to go when players report to camp this spring. Bloom told Steve Kinsella (Sports Talk Florida) it was a frustrating year for Duffy and the Rays.

He worked his tail off. He is a tremendous guy, tremendous work ethic, we missed him this year.

Read into that what you will. After all, Duffy performed to a 4.9 WAR in 2015 at third base in San Francisco — thanks to consistent hitting and solid defense — and would be the heir apparent to the position should the Rays trade Longoria. Then again Duffy is a shortstop by trade and could easily slot back into that position, where he was projected to play in 2017, or into the right side of the infield at second base.

One thing is certain, however, despite shedding +$20-million in payroll, thanks to players not returning in 2018, the Rays still intend to trade players to offset arbitration and guaranteed deals. The team sits in a similar place payroll wise as they did at the start of the 2017 season, yet they still need to fill other spots/roles.

One of the things about this week, and I think it’s always this way to some degree but this year more so, it’s a fortunate position to be in — we have a number of players that teams like, Bloom said. And that expands the amount of possibilities that pop up. So there’s not necessarily one specific thing that we’re zeroed in on. There’s a number of different possibilities that we’re trying to weigh.

The Rays, historically, have been quiet during the Winter Meetings, and things don’t typically start heating up until the period between December and February. As Bill Chastain (MLB.comput it prior to the start of the Winter Meetings, “it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Neander and Bloom could use the meetings as an opportunity to gather information,” which they evidently did.

The team announced the signing of seven players to minor league deals. They also invited that group, along with six prospects, to Major League Spring Training camp with the Rays. LHP Jonny Venters, who returns to the Rays organization as he continues his comeback effort, is one of the veteran invitees.

Venters spent the last three seasons in the Rays system as he recovered from a pair of Tommy John elbow surgeries, and an additional procedure, in his attempt to get back to the big leagues for the first time since 2012 with Braves. Last season he made it as far as Triple-A Durham, where he appeared in 24 games with a 2.28 ERA. Making it all the way back to the big leagues would make for an incredible story.

The other six players who signed include southpaws Adam Kolarek (pitched with Tampa Bay in 2017) and Vidal Nuño, right-handers R.J. Alaniz, Cody Hall, and Colton Murray, and INF/OF Brandon Snyder.

They join five players already in the system, who also received an invitation to Major League Spring Training: outfielders Jason Coats and Johnny Field, 1B/OF Joe McCarthy, C Nick Ciuffo, INF Kean Wong and RHP Ian Gibaut.

Here is information on the 13 invitees from the Rays PR department:

Alaniz (AH-lah-NIECE): has spent parts of eight minor league seasons in the Houston Astros (2010–15) and Detroit Tigers (2016–17) organizations. The 26-year-old is 42–37 lifetime with a 4.34 ERA (629-IP, 303-ER) in 209 appearances (83 starts). Over the past two seasons, he has split time between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo in the Detroit system, pitching to a 2.94 ERA (144-IP, 47-ER) in 95 appearances (10 starts) over that span.

Coats: Missed last year due to Tommy John surgery. The 27-year-old made his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2016, appearing in 28 games (14 starts). He was claimed off waivers by the Rays in January but subsequently released and re-signed to a minor league contract after it was learned he needed surgery. Coatswas selected by the White Sox in the 29th round of the 2012 June Draft out of Texas Christian University. In four seasons in the White Sox organization, he hit .287/.337/.458 (529-for-1,846) with 54 home runs and 286 RBI.

Ciuffo (SHOO-foe): was named the organization’s Best Defensive Catcher by Baseball America and Defensive Player of the Year by the Rays baseball operations department in 2017, his second straight season receiving each honor. The 22-year-old spent the entire 2017 season with Double-A Montgomery, batting .245/.319/.385 (91-for-371) and establishing career highs in doubles (29), home runs (seven) and RBI (42). He also threw out 23 of 60 (38.3 percent) potential base stealers and was named to the Southern League postseason All-Star Team. Ciuffo was a 2013 first round pick of the Rays.

Field: spent last season with Triple-A Durham, batting .261/.303/.425 (116-for-445) with 12 home runs and 57 RBI. In addition the 26-year-old had 35 doubles, ranking second in the International League, one shy of the league lead. Fieldwas selected by the Rays in the fifth round of the 2013 June Draft and has hit .270/.330/.444 (549-for-2,032) across five minor league seasons. This will be his third major league spring training with the Rays.

Gibaut (gih-BOH): split last season between Class-A Charlotte and Montgomery, going 7–1 with a 2.21 ERA (61-IP, 15-ER) and 11.4 SO/9 IP ratio in 48 relief appearances. In addition, the 24-year-old had 12 saves, fourth among Rays minor leaguers. He was selected by the Rays in the 11th round of the 2015 June Draft out of Tulane University. In three minor league seasons as a reliever, he is 12–4 with a 2.32 ERA (147.2-IP, 38-ER) and 178 strikeouts over 94 appearances.

Hall: has made a combined nine appearances in the majors with the San Francisco Giants (2015) and Miami Marlins (2016). The 29-year-old started last season pitching for Lancaster in the independent Atlantic League, and finished the season with Double-A Richmond (Giants). The 19th round selection in 2011 of the Giants is 17–13 with a 2.87 ERA (301.1-IP, 96-ER) in 245 appearances, all in relief, over seven minor league seasons.

Kolarek (koh-LAIR-ick): made his major league debut with the Rays last season, and pitched to a 6.48 ERA (8.1-IP, 6-ER) in 12 appearances across two stints in the majors. The 28-year-old has spent eight minor league seasons in the New York Mets (2010–15) and Rays (2016–17) organizations, going 24–22 with a 3.32 ERA (455-IP, 168-ER) in 331 appearances (two starts). He was selected by the Mets in the 11th round of the 2010 June Draft. Kolarek first joined the Rays organization after being selected from the Baltimore Orioles in the minor league phase of the 2015 Rule 5 Draft.

McCarthy: hit .284/.409/.434 (129-for-454) with 31 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs, 56 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 127 games with Montgomery last season. The 23-year-old was named to the Southern League postseason All-Star Team and was ranked by Baseball America as the league’s Best Defensive First Baseman and Best Strike-Zone Discipline in the Rays organization. He ranked among league leaders in batting average (10th), on-base percentage (second), doubles (tied for third), triples (tied for first), runs scored (tied for fourth) and walks (first). McCarthy was selected by the Rays in the fifth round of the 2015 June Draft out of the University of Virginia. Over three seasons he’s hit .283/.396/.415 (280-for-989) with 15 home runs and 137 RBI.

Murray: has spent his entire career in the Philadelphia Phillies organization until now. The 27-year-old combined to make 32 appearances in the majors from 2015–16. Murray split last season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and Double-A Reading, going 2–2 with a 4.58 ERA (53-IP, 27-ER) and 63 strikeouts in 41 appearances. Selected by the Phillies in the 13th round of the 2011 June Draft out of the University of Kansas, Murray has a 3.44 ERA (400.2-IP, 153-ER) across seven minor league seasons.

Nuño: has spent parts of five seasons in the majors, going 5–21 with a 4.29 ERA (344-IP, 164-ER) in 138 appearances (42 starts) with the New York Yankees (2013–14), Arizona Diamondbacks (2014–15), Seattle Mariners (2015–16) and Orioles (2017). The 30-year-old lefty spent last season in the Orioles organization and spent three stints in the majors — including the Opening Day roster out of spring training. In 2016, he made a career-high 55 appearances with the Mariners, posting a 3.53 ERA (58.2-IP, 23-ER) and 4.64 SO/BB ratio. Originally selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 48th round of the 2009 June Draft, Nuno has a 3.01 ERA (470-IP, 157-ER) over seven minor league seasons.

Snyder: has appeared in the majors in parts of five seasons with the Orioles (2010–11), Texas Rangers (2012), Boston Red Sox (2013) and Atlanta Braves (2016). A career .242/.279/.459 (47-for-194) hitter with nine home runs and 29 RBI in 120 games (38 starts; 18–1B, 13–3B, 3-RF, 2-LF, 2-DH), the 31-year-old Snyder spent all of last season with Triple-A Syracuse in the Washington Nationals organization. He batted .263/.356/.490 (110-for-418) with a career-high 23 home runs. Baltimore’s first round pick (13th overall) in the 2005 June Draft has hit .273/.338/.443 (1,076-for-3,947) with 254 doubles, 129 home runs and 636 RBI over 13 minor league seasons.

Venters: is trying to complete a terrific comeback. The 32-year-old has spent parts of three seasons with the Braves, going 15–10 with a 2.23 ERA (229.2-IP, 57-ER) and a 10.1 SO/9 IP ratio. The lefty has not pitched in a major league game since the 2012 National League Wild Card Game due to Tommy John surgeries in 2013 and 2014. Last season, he had a 2.28 ERA (23.2-IP, 6-ER) in 24 games in the Rays organization, appearing with the GCL Rays, Charlotte, Montgomery and Durham. Venters made at least 65 appearances in the majors in three straight seasons from 2010–12, and was named to the NL All-Star Team in 2011. The 30th round pick of the Braves in 2003 was originally signed with the Rays as a minor league free agent in March 2015.

Wong: split last season with Montgomery and Durham, batting .261/.322/.348 (110-for-422) with 22 doubles, five home runs and 48 RBI in 117 games. The 22-year-old was selected by the Rays in the fourth round of the 2013 June Draft out of Waiakea High School in Hawaii. The younger brother of the Cardinals Kolten Wong, Kean has hit .284/.333/.358 (528-for-1,861) with 13 home runs and 186 RBI over parts of five seasons.

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