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Jim Bowden names top free agent fits for the Rays

“Top” as in Bowden’s top-50 for the 2016 off-season.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Texas Rangers
Ian Desmond #20 of the Texas Rangers looks on before having the coolers dumped on him in celebration of his walk off single in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Globe Life Park in Arlington on September 19, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.
Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

Jim Bowden, the former Nationals General Manager, is a writer behind ESPN’s paywall so you may not see his work frequently. His opinions are flashy, but his contract values are of worth, so we’ll report on them as they are relevant here.

At the end of last week, Bowden released his top-50 free agents and assigned contract values, which included comparable recent contracts as well as possible team fits.

The Rays were tagged with six free agents (some reasonable, some more farfetched) and it’s interesting to see his thought process as someone who used to cook at the hot stove. Let’s take a look at his connections:

7. Ian Desmond, CF/LF/SS

Key quote: “versatile and willing to play several positions... He has strong leadership qualities and has been a positive influence in the clubhouse.”

Projected contract: 4 years, $62 million (AAV: $15.5M)

Bowden projects a contract for Desmond somewhere between Michael Bourn and Carlos Beltran, which is an awful lot of money to commit to a player past age 30, but Desmond is a team leader with athleticism that creates defensive ability. That should age well, particularly if the Rays were looking to spend.

Then again, Tampa Bay was willing to let World Series MVP Ben Zobrist depart the organization, a player who fit a similar description, so it’s hard to see this happening.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles
Matt Wieters
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

11. Matt Wieters, C

Key quote: “look for him to return to his Gold Glove-caliber ways in 2017.”

Projected contract: 3 years, $40 million (AAV: $13.33M)

The best case scenario for the Rays would be to land Wieters on a Miguel Montero deal, which had a $12 million AAV, and it’s unlikely the Rays will be signing any catcher to a deal on par with Longoria’s salary, particularly when in house and minor league free agent options approximate the job.

After all, Miguel Montero remains the third catcher on the Chicago Cubs depth chart after Contreras and Schwarber, two utility players making the league minimum.

Texas Rangers v Houston Astros
Jason Castro
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

17. Jason Castro, C

Key quote: “He fits best with a team that is trying to develop talented young pitching.”

Projected contract: 2 years, $15 million (AAV: $7.5M)

In a world where Kurt Suzuki continues pulling in $6 million AAV contracts, this is an incredibly reasonable deal for the Rays, should $7.5 million hold true. His best skills involve pitch framing and game calling, which are known to be things the Rays value in a backstop.

You can read about the Rays’ pursuit of Jason Castro here:

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees
Pedro Alvarez
Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

32. Pedro Alvarez, 3B/DH

Key quote: “Alvarez is a one-dimensional player who still has 30-35 home run power if he plays every day and if you can live with his .311 lifetime on-base percentage at the DH position.”

Projected contract: 1 year, $8 million

Do the Rays need another left handed designated hitter? I’m not so sure, particularly at an AAV that could cost more than Castro. Then again, DH tends to be the most difficult position to fill with consistent above-average performance in the American League, and the Rays have an opening.

If you had to best a few million on Pedro Alvarez or Eric Thames, who would you pick? Between them, Alvarez has the better MLB track record, so there’s reason to speculate.

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game Seven
Rajai Davis
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33. Rajai Davis, LF

Key quote: “Davis led the AL in stolen bases with 43... He doesn't get good jumps or angles in the outfield, but makes up for it with his speed.”

Projected contract: 2 years, $14 million (AAV: $7M)

Now we’re cooking with heat. The 36-year old outfielder had a strong showing with the Indians in 2016, which you may have noticed during the World Series, and the Rays would value his versatility overall.

If Davis were available on a one year deal, this seems like a reasonable free agent pursuit. A two year commitment makes me think the Rays would not win a bidding war for his services.

Tampa Bay Rays v Arizona Diamondbacks
Desmond Jennings
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

50. Desmond Jennings, OF

Key quote: “What in the world has happened to Jennings?”

Projected contract: 1 year, $2 million

The Rays might have let the door hit him on his way out, so I’m not convinced of this last connection made by Bowden, but the Rays were one of a few teams named as fits. Bowden also listed the Giants or Rangers, who do seem like a more reasonable bet for an outfielder eager to play on grass instead of turf.

The Rays have outfield depth to spare in the minors at the moment in Mikie Mahtook and several utility infielders, so it’s hard to see this connection as a major league deal.