The Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays both made big news leading up to this year’s winter meetings and figure to keep tinkering with their rosters after departing Nashville, Tenn.
During the actual meetings — four days that included many rumors but relatively little action — the two Florida teams helped each other: The Rays filled a need while alleviating the Marlins of a potential headache.
That’s what went down when Miami traded shortstop Yunel Escobar to Tampa Bay for minor league infielder Derek Dietrich.
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Escobar had been acquired from Toronto in Miami’s 12-player trade on Nov. 19. Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said Escobar and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, also obtained in the deal, would form a new left side of the infield.
That plan fell apart, however, when Escobar told the Marlins he was uncomfortable moving to third from his natural position of shortstop. Thus, trading the player was at the top of the Marlins’ agenda heading to Nashville.
The Rays, meanwhile, arrived at the winter meetings seeking a shortstop to play alongside third baseman Evan Longoria, who a week earlier signed a $100 million contract extension.
In Escobar, Tampa Bay acquired a very talented 30-year-old whom some scouts label as being immature and prone to mistakes. He received a three-game suspension in September for writing a homosexual slur on the eye-black under his eyes during a game. He since has apologized for the incident.
“I think he definitely learned a lesson from the eye-black incident,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “I think it had a real impact on him and that he feels remorse about it. And the digging that we did, we believe that it was an isolated incident and that nothing of that nature will be a concern going forward, or we wouldn’t have acquired him.”
Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon could be the ideal manager to help Escobar flourish. The personable Maddon has helped create a winning culture and “team-first” atmosphere that should be easy for any player to embrace.
In trying to remain an AL East force, the Rays addressed another need at the meetings when they signed free-agent first baseman James Loney, who hits for average and sports a good glove.
Tampa Bay still would like to add some offensive pop, likely in the form of a designated hitter or outfielder. Rumors in Nashville indicated the price tag likely would be a starting pitcher, such as James Shields or Jeremy Hellickson.
Kansas City outfield prospect Wil Myers has been the subject of trade rumors involving the Rays.
On the final day of the meetings, Miami took two players in the Rule 5 draft. The Marlins selected outfielder Alfredo Silverio from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round and left-hander Braulio Lara from the Rays in the second.
Tampa Bay also lost left-hander Kyle Lobstein, who taken by the New York Mets.
Players selected in the Rule 5 draft, who are obtained for $50,000, must spend the entire season on the major league roster of the obtaining team, otherwise he is offered back to his original team for $25,000.
Silverio, 25, is an interesting case after missing all of last season because of injuries suffered in a car accident. He was good (.306 average, 16 home runs, 85 RBI) at Double-A in 2011 and likely will open the season on the disabled list. But at some point next season, he could get a look in center field.
Miami, in total rebuilding mode under new manager Mike Redmond, continues to seek help at third base. The eventual solution could be in the form of a free agent (perhaps Ryan Raburn or Ian Stewart) or via trade.
With slugging outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and starter Ricky Nolasco upset with the Marlins’ overall direction, other teams inquired about their availability. Miami has insisted Stanton will not be traded and has not shopped Nolasco.