Rays Roundup: Friedman in No Rush to Deal

In this week's edition of Rays Roundup: Andrew Friedman says Rays can be patient this off-season but refuses to discuss Astros rumors, Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman are still possibilities to return to team, John Jaso is swapped for reliever Josh Lueke and two Rays rookies are honored by Topps.

INSIDE PITCH

The Rays head into the winter meetings seeking to improve their offense without weakening their defense.

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman acknowledges that it's somewhat of "a sliding scale," with a lot of analysis and evaluation required to determine if they will end up better off should they make some moves.

Their primary focus is on the two open positions in their lineup, designated hitter and first base. There is a possibility they could bring back one or both of the incumbents, both of whom are now free agents -- Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon.

Friedman said it's possible one or both could return, that they remained "very much in the discussion." But he also indicated the Rays would take their time and realized there was a risk of losing them to another team.

The Rays have a surplus of starting pitchers from which they could deal, with a stable that runs eight deep: returnees James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann, plus Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and Alex Torres, who all made their debuts during the 2011 season.

Friedman said the Rays aren't seeking to deal any of them, but if they do, it more likely would be for additional help on the big-league level than for prospects.


NOTES, QUOTES

--C Jose Molina and the Rays agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract with a 2013 option for the same salary. Despite being 36 and never having started more than 81 games behind the plate in a season, he said he is willing and able to handle whatever duties the Rays have in mind for him. "I'll be ready to catch 162 games, put it that way," Molina said. "Whatever the team needs me to do, I will be ready for it. I can't tell you I'm going to catch 120 because I never catch that many games, but the one thing for sure is that I will be ready, I will be prepared for that challenge."

--C John Jaso's struggles at the plate in 2011 may have been correctable, but combined with his poor work behind the plate -- headlined by his throwing out only eight of 58 baserunners -- the Rays decided to give up and trade him to the Mariners for RHP Josh Lueke. Jaso hit .224/.298/.354 with five homers and 27 RBI in 89 games this year.

--RHP Josh Lueke will compete for a spot in the Tampa Bay bullpen after being acquired from Seattle in exchange for C John Jaso. The deal came with some controversy, as Lueke served time in jail in 2009 after pleading no contest to a charge of false imprisonment. Executive VP Andrew Friedman said the Rays looked thoroughly into the incident that that they were "satisfied that he is going to be the kind of person and teammate that we look for, and we expect him to contribute positively to our group."

Lueke, 26, appeared in 25 games as a rookie in 2011, going 1-1 with a 6.06 ERA. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder was 2-4 with a 2.76 ERA in 30 relief appearances for Class AAA Tacoma.

--Executive VP Andrew Friedman has declined to comment on the possibility of taking a top-level job with the Astros, who asked for and received permission to talk with him. Friedman is a Houston native and has been labeled in Houston media reports as the team's top choice, but he is considered unlikely to leave Tampa Bay.

--RHP Jeremy Hellickson -- already voted the AL Rookie of the Year -- and OF Desmond Jennings were named to the 10-player Topps rookie all-star team.

BY THE NUMBERS: .193 -- Combined batting average of Rays shortstops in 2011, the lowest mark in the majors.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This year we can be a little more selective and a little more patient. ... It's still relatively early -- for us." -- Executive VP Andrew Friedman, on the team's plans going into the winter meetings.


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