Posted on January 27, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
With February nearly upon us, teams are scouring the free agent market looking for a bargain. This is particularly true for small market teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, who are reportedly looking to add a power hitter after trading second baseman Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers earlier this week, a move that opened up a spot in their lineup and freed up some payroll. With plenty of free agents still available and time running out before the start of spring training, the Rays appear poised to add a hitter.
On the surface, it would make sense for the Rays to pursue a second baseman to replace Forsythe, but a first base-DH type power hitter may actually make more sense. First base candidates Nick Franklin and Brad Miller could both be part of the solution at second base, opening up first base if the Rays find a suitable candidate for that position. Corey Dickerson, Tampa’s projected DH, could also spend time in the outfielder if the Rays find a more traditional DH, even with the additions of Colby Rasmus and Mallex Smith to the Tampa outfield.
At the top of Tampa Bay’s wishlist is Mike Napoli, who most would consider to be the top free agent hitter left on the market. Napoli has long been linked to the Texas Rangers, but the two sides are yet to agree to a deal, and so Napoli could end up just about anywhere. There’s a good chance he’s too expensive for the Rays, but after saving close to $6 million on Forsythe’s contract in 2017, Tampa Bay may have enough money to afford Napoli.
Another interesting name to emerge on Tampa’s radar appears to be catcher Matt Wieters. The Rays have Wilson Ramos lined up as their catcher, but the ACL tear he suffered last season will likely delay the start of his season and could prevent him from being at full strength at any point in 2017. This leaves the door slightly ajar for Wieters to become Tampa Bay’s primary catcher and a DH option later in the year when Ramos is ready to get back behind the plate. Wieters, of course, has had trouble finding serious suitors this winter, as his free agency remains wide open.
Chris Carter and Billy Butler have also been connected to the Rays as possible options. Both are capable of playing first base but are better suited to being a full-time DH. Carter is coming off a 41-home run season last year and could receive offers that reflect that, making him nearly as expensive as Napoli. Butler, meanwhile, may come a little cheaper coming off a down year, although he does have a good track record of producing at a high rate. He could be a fallback option for the Rays if they don’t want to break the bank.
Whether the Rays end up signing one of these players remain to be seen. Tampa Bay has had a rather unpredictable offseason, showing a willingness to both spend on players and trade away key players, so anything can happen. The Rays have been keeping a close eye on power hitters this winter, and they do appear to have room on the roster for a player who can add some pop to their lineup. Thus, a move for Napoli, Wieters, Carter, Butler, or a comparable player remains a distinct possibility.