Rather than looking at free agents that might not fit into the Rays plans (like Type-A free agents that I mistake for Type-B free agents). I said it would be a mistake to sign Josh Willingham even if his Type-A were gone. I liked the idea of Kelly Johnson but the Type-A status is a major hurdle to overcome. it is time to switch focus to some signable guys.
I have run down some potential first base options and have taken a look at our catcher conundrum. I have even taken some looks during the season at the shortstop position. One of my favorite options to back up at short and all over the infield is Jamey Carroll and he is apparently on the verge of a multi-year deal with an undisclosed team. Keeping my fingers crossed that the team is the Rays.
But, as we all know, the Rays are not going to sign a major name nor are they going to mortgage the future and trade top minor league talent to acquire a major bat. If they do trade it will most likely be from their plethora of major league ready pitching and hopefully land the Rays a young first baseman with pop.
But, as recent memory has suggested, the Rays have been great at filling gaps by finding used goods like Casey Kotchman, Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour... the list goes on, and I imagine the list will continue to go on this offseason.
With holes to fill in the bullpen, at first, catcher, and depth needed all over, the Rays will attempt to sign a few guys on minor league deals in hopes of striking gold. Here are a few players that I think the Rays would and should target.
First Base: I have always been a fan of Russell Branyan and I see no harm in offering him a minor league deal with a spring training invite. The man possesses one of the best HR/AB ratios in history and a good glove at first base. On-base machine and rarely healthy Nick Johnson would be another target of mine if he can stand up and potentially DH. Other candidates: Juan Miranda, Brad Eldred, Brad Nelson.
Catcher: This is a very thin crop but you can never have enough depth at catcher. One option I like is Mitch Canham. He has little power and some question on defense but has great walk rates and just turned 27 so there may be some upside here. Can't hurt to add him for depth.
Infield: Another thin crop but there are a few guys that once intrigued me that could add some depth. Matt Antonelli is athletic and can play a few positions and Chin-Lung Hu can still play short. Brandon Wood has been thrown from team-to-team lately so why not the Rays? Steve Tolleson is another guy that has shown some ability to get on base but his defense is limited to third and he has little pop.
Outfield: If Nate McLouth can be had on a minor league deal then it needs to be done. He has on-base skills and can play solid defense in left and still has some pull power in that bat. In all honesty, the Rays have decent depth here and there are plenty of guys who they can get on a cheap major league deal that will pay solid dividens. I'm looking at you Andruw Jones.
Bullpen: Blaine Boyer has been my Russell Branyan of relief pitchers. The career 56% groundball rate and 4.00 FIP look good to me and the mid-90s sinker and mid-80s slider combo look good to me. Manny Corpas, if healthy, provides some good upside with career ERA, FIP, and xFIP all under 4.00. Mitch Stetter is a good LOOGY candidate with 63 strikeouts and only 33 hits allowed to 202 lefties in his career. He strikes out nearly one-third of all lefties he faces and only allows a hit to less than one-fifth.
I'm not seeing much gold here but there is depth to add on minor league deals. Anyone else out there that you would like to see added on a minor league deal?