SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 27: Josh Willingham #16 of the Oakland Athletics is congratulated by third base coach Mike Gallego #3 after hitting a three-run homer in the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 27, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
We're only one day into the Winter Meetings, but it appears the Rays have already been busy on the rumor mill. Some of the rumors are old hat -- Niemann and Davis are both on the market, interest in B.J. Upton is mild, etc. -- but there's one especially juicy rumor out there. According to Jerry Crasnick and Ken Rosenthal, the Rays are making a "serious run" at Josh Willingham. They are one of the final three or four finalists.
Some of us here have lusted after Willingham for the past couple of seasons, as he is underrated and well above average offensively. He has never posted below a .350 wOBA over a full season, and he walks around 10% of the time with a large amount of power (29 HRs last season, .232 ISO). According to both UZR and DRS, he's slightly below average defensively in the outfield, but the Rays would be signing him to either play first base or DH.
Going into the offseason, it looked like Willingham would be off-limits to the Rays yet again due to his Type-A free agent label. Signing him would cost the Rays their first round draft pick, so he wasn't worth the investment. But with the new CBA agreement, Willingham was one of the lower rated Type A free agents that had their status change. He's a modified Type A, and he won't cost the Rays a draft pick to sign him. Game on.
The question is, how expensive will Willingham be? He's going to be 33 years old next season and is supposedly looking for a multi-year deal, and he made $6 million in arbitration last season (and that was before hitting 29 homers in 2011). He'll easily be a bargain, but do the Rays have the budget room to sign him for $7-9 million/year for multiple years? And if they do, how many years do you give a slugger entering his mid-30s?