Tampa Bay Rays free-agent outlook
NOV 13, 2013 1:53p ET
The postseason is over, and free agency will heat up soon. This window will present a number of questions for the Tampa Bay Rays: Will they try to re-sign James Loney? What about Fernando Rodney and Jose Molina?
Look for Tampa Bay's priorities to center around securing a versatile catcher, as well as a strong first baseman and dependable relievers. Like in previous years, the Rays will search for bargains to build depth in areas of need. Savvy scouting will be valuable.
Here's a closer look at free agents who appeared with the Rays last season ...
Jesse Crain, reliever
Stats: 0.74 ERA, 46 strikeouts
Salary: $4.5 million
2013 impact: He was gained in a trade with the Chicago White Sox in July but never pitched for the Rays because of extended rehab for a right shoulder strain. Tampa Bay had hoped that he would heal in time for their postseason push, but those visions never came to fruition. Before the injury, Crain had impressive production. It was enough to earn his first All-Star Game appearance. Looking back, he would have been an interesting addition to a bullpen that needed depth in the second half.
Offseason Prediction: He'll likely return if the Rays are willing to make the financial commitment.
Roberto Hernandez, right-hander
Stats: 6-13, 4.89 ERA, 113 strikeouts
Salary: $3.25 million
2013 impact: He was the weakest link of the Rays' rotation for much of the year. He won the last rotation spot late in spring training, beating out right-hander Jeff Niemann in a close competition. He struggled with his command most of the season, and he was moved to the bullpen late. He was signed to be an innings-eater. But he only threw 151, his fewest in a season with more than three starts since appearing in 125 1/3 with the Cleveland Indians in 2009. He was an experiment that didn't pan out the way the Rays had hoped.
Offseason Prediction: He'll likely surface elsewhere.
Kelly Johnson, infielder/outfielder
Stats: .235, 16 HR, 52 RBI
Salary: $2.45 million
2013 impact: He became a versatile contributor early, but his impact diminished after Wil Myers' promotion from Triple-A Durham in June. He had a season-high 91 at-bats in May, when he hit .330 with seven homers and 26 RBI. He was valued for his ability to play multiple infield and outfield positions. In later months, though, his appearances became less frequent. He never had more than the 69 at-bats in June, and his absence from the lineup was more noticeable with Myers' presence. Still, Johnson was a serviceable addition after spending 2012 with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Offseason Prediction: He could play for his fourth team in as many years by signing elsewhere.
James Loney, first baseman
Stats: .299, 13 HR, 75 RBI
Salary: $2 million
2013 impact: He became one of the season's most pleasant surprises. His batting average was his best since hitting .288 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011, and his RBI were the most since earning 88 with the Dodgers in 2010. His fielding skill also became valued. Manager Joe Maddon routinely praised Loney's ability to scoop throws at first base, a talent that paid dividends as the season progressed. He had a quiet disposition about him, especially at the start, but he seemed to grow as he gained comfort.
Offseason Prediction: He likely priced himself out of Tampa Bay with his standout year.
Jose Molina, catcher
Stats: .233, 2 HR, 18 RBI
Salary: $1.8 million
2013 impact: He served as a mentor of sorts to Jose Lobaton, who grew as a catcher and hitter in his third Rays season. Molina played 99 games, continuing a pattern of durability with the Rays. He appeared in 102 in 2012, which were the most since he played 100 with the New York Yankees in 2008. His fielding became somewhat of an issue late in the year. Lobaton looked to be the more effective defensive catcher, but the Rays value Molina's veteran eye.
Offseason Prediction: Don't be surprised to see Molina return for a third season with Tampa Bay.
Fernando Rodney, closer
Stats: 3.38 ERA, 37 saves, 82 strikeouts
Salary: $2.5 million
2013 impact: He was historic in 2012 but hair-raising at times last season. He followed his stellar 48-save, 0.60 ERA 2012 campaign with eight blown saves last season. It marked the most missed chances of his career and only the second time he had more than six. (He had seven blown saves in 2010 with the Los Angeles Angels.) Walks were to blame for his problems. He gave up 36, which were the most since he allowed a career-high 41 with the Detroit Tigers in 2009 and 21 more than he surrendered in 2012. Rodney will always be valued for his velocity -- he routinely threw near 100 mph -- but a lack of command also is part of his profile.
Offseason Prediction: Look for him to sign a rich contract elsewhere. He was productive for the Rays in two seasons, but if he returns to Tampa Bay, it could be for less than what he'll be priced on the market.
Luke Scott, designated hitter
Stats: .241, 9 HR, 40 RBI
Salary: $2.75 million
2013 impact: Injuries continued to plague Scott's Rays career. He played 91 games, five fewer than his debut season with Tampa Bay in 2012. He hasn't played more than 100 since making 131 appearances with the Baltimore Orioles in 2010. Scott had a brief spark in July, when he hit a season-best .284 with four homers and 11 RBI. But his playing time diminished starting in mid-August. He had 17 at-bats that month and 16 in September.
Offseason Prediction: His time with the Rays is likely over.
Jamey Wright, reliever
Stats: 3.09 ERA, 65 strikeouts
2013 impact: The well-traveled veteran received his wish and reached the playoffs for the first time in a career that began with the Colorado Rockies in 1996. He became a trusted middle-reliever, what with the 70 innings he pitched being the most since he threw 79 with the Kansas City Royals in 2009. His ERA was the best of his career, and his strikeouts were the most since he had a career-high 101 with the Rockies in 2005. The Rays made a savvy move to sign him, and the decision paid off with a stable bullpen presence.
Offseason Prediction: He wants to return to the Rays. It's not a stretch to see him back if the team can make the financials work.
Delmon Young, designated hitter
Stats: .260, 11 HR, 38 RBI
2013 impact: The Philadelphia Phillies released him in August, but the Rays re-signed their former first-round pick by the end of that month. He provided decent power numbers while hitting .258 with three homers and seven RBI in September. His impact also was felt in the postseason, when he hit .273 with one homer and three RBI. He was an economical addition late in the year, and he also became a clear upgrade from Scott at DH. He had 62 at-bats in September, along with 11 in the postseason.
Offseason Prediction: It wouldn't be a surprise to see him return at an affordable rate.
Keep an eye on …
Ryan Hanigan, catcher
The Cincinnati Reds signed Brayan Pena to a two-year deal, so that means Hanigan likely will be traded. The Rays have expressed interest in signing a catcher to complement Lobaton, though they will track what it will take to re-sign Molina. Hanigan is a career .262 hitter with 20 homers and 138 RBI in seven seasons, all with the Reds.
Jose Veras, reliever
The 33-year-old began the season as the Houston Astros' closer, but he transitioned into a setup role for the Detroit Tigers. If the Rays are looking to add relief help with Rodney's possible departure, Veras could be worth a glance. He had a 3.02 ERA with 21 saves and 60 strikeouts last season.
Corey Hart, first baseman
The Rays will look for opportunity on the market if Loney signs elsewhere. Hart could be interesting to watch. He comes with some health issues -- he missed all of last season because of surgeries on both knees. He's a career .276 hitter with 154 homers and 508 RBI in nine seasons, all with the Milwaukee Brewers.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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