As the Fall Classic concludes and the 2012 baseball season comes to an end, it's time to look forward into what the winter has in store for the Rays. Like last offseason, Andrew Friedman and the Rays will have some tough choices to make before players report to spring training.
First in line in Tampa's offseason priorities is their club options, which must all be dealt with this week. Out of the four on the list, the only sure 'yes' is Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million). Next is Luke Scott, who hit just .229/.285/.439 with 14 homers and 55 RBI in 344 plate appearances this season. With that kind of production at DH and his lack of ability to stay healthy, the chances of the Rays bringing him back in 2013 for $6 million are very slim.
The Rays hold a $10.25 million on veteran James Shields, who will be one of the main storylines throughout the winter. If they decide not to pick up the option—which is very likely—than they'll immediately look for suitable deals for a blockbuster trade. As much as the organization prides themselves on excellent starting pitching, they really could use some young offensive talent as well.
The toughest club option decision for the Rays will be Jose Molina. The 37-year-old catcher did a nice job with the pitching staff but didn't produce well offensively (.284 wOBA through 274 PA's). At $1.5 million, don't be surprised to see the Rays exercise his option in order to bring his veteran presence back to the roster.
As for Tampa's free agents this offseason, the list includes B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Ryan Roberts, Jeff Keppinger and J.P. Howell. It looks like the Rays will part ways with Upton after his many years of service, which means they'll have one less outfielder in 2013. There is a question to as if the Rays will give Upton a qualifying offer (one year for $13.3 million), however, which would land them a compensatory draft pick if he declines. If the Rays do go ahead and extend a qualifying offer, chances are he'll turn it down and hit the market in pursuit of a huge long-term team.
Carlos Pena—who hit an MLB-worst .197 with just 19 homers and 61 RBI—is another big name who will likely be missing from the lineup in 2013, meaning the Rays will likely shop the market again this winter for first basemen.
As for the rest of the FA's, all have a pretty decent chance of returning next season. The Rays would love to bring back Jeff Keppinger after his suprisingly good 2012 season. Keppinger can play three different positions in the infield while serving as an excellent contact hitter who can get the job done at the plate. After hitting .325 last season in his 418 plate appearances, he should be able to earn more than the $1.5 million he made last year.
Ryan Roberts is another player that can provide some infield versatility as well as some power in his bat, and the Rays will probably work on re-signing him as well.
As for the bullpen, it will be interesting to see how they handle free agents Peralta, Farnsworth and Howell. I think it's safe to say Howell will be back in the 'pen next season after the fine comeback year he had, posting an ERA a tad over 3 in over 50 innings of work. As for Farnsworth and Peralta though, both are much more of a question mark at the age of 36.
The next offseason topic to talk about is how the Rays will address their areas of need. The three main holes on the roster are at first base, catcher and DH. They'll probably seek some help in the outfield, shortstop and in the bullpen as well.
Ben Zobrist made a smooth transition to shortstop towards the end of the year, so it'll be interesting to see if the Rays decide to make him their starting shortstop next season or continue to search outside the organization. Either way, we can expect to see the Rays sign another middle infielder, such as a Jeff Keppinger or Ryan Roberts type player.
With James Shields and numerous talented pitching prospects, the Rays have the necessary pieces to make a trade that could fill up some of the gaps on the roster. 1B Ike Davis, SS Elvis Andrus, SS Yunel Escobar, C J.P. Arencibia, 1B Eric Hosmer and INF Jed Lowrie are all players who will probably be up for trade this winter.
There are a handful of FA options as well. James Loney seems to be a very realistic possibility at the moment. If the Red Sox decide not resign him—which is about a 50/50 chance—then he would definitely become an affordable option for the Rays at first base. 2B Skip Schumaker, INF Stephen Drew, 1B/DH Lance Berkman, OF Coco Crisp, RP Matt Capps, RP Ryan Madson and INF Maicer Izturis are other names to keep an eye on as well.