Rays' offseason focus appears set on aim to contend

Tampa Bay has no gaping holes; additional outfielder could provide boost to '17 club

Rays' offseason focus appears set on aim to contend

ST. PETERSBURG -- A little more than one month remains before the Rays report to Port Charlotte, Fla., for Spring Training, and there might not be as much offseason work left to do as one would think.

Heading into the offseason following a 68-win season, Tampa Bay could have declared its intentions to rebuild. Ostensibly, that would have meant shipping some of the team's higher-priced players to contending teams for prospects. However, based on the Wilson Ramos signing, the Rays appear set on trying to be contenders in the American League East this season.

Translation: If Tampa Bay does trade any of its coveted starting pitchers, the yield would likely be a piece that could help it in the 2017 season rather than seeds for future Major League crops.

Hot Stove Tracker

Operating under the premise that the Rays plan to keep their team intact, they don't have any gaping holes to fill. The infield is set with Evan Longoria, Matt Duffy, Logan Forsythe and Brad Miller. They have Luke Maile and Curt Casali starting the season at catcher, with Ramos on the way at the midpoint. Kevin Kiermaier is in center field, Steven Souza Jr. is in right and Corey Dickerson is the left fielder/DH.

Alex Colome and Brad Boxberger man the back end of the bullpen, which makes building a 'pen less of a daunting task. And of course, there's the team's wealth of starting pitching.

Given that depth, trading Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly or Alex Cobb would not be an admission of intent to rebuild, but rather a prudent business move, provided the Rays would be able to acquire the outfield piece they need to strengthen the 2017 club.

At this time last season, speculation suggested Tampa Bay would trade hard-throwing lefty Jake McGee. Nobody foresaw Dickerson being the target for the return in the deal. Who might the Rays target this season? In theory, that outfield piece would be a right-handed bat that could play left field and occasionally center, too.

Earlier in the offseason, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash addressed who the ideal outfielder would be.

"Personally, I like the speed factor and a guy that is capable of playing some center field," Cash said. "I mean, we all saw what took place when [Kiermaier] got hurt. He's a special player. We're not going to go find Kevin Kiermaier-type defense to fill in if there's an off-day here or there or on injury. But to have a guy to come in to kind of hold center field down would be great."

Cash on Kiermaier's fine defense

The big if for making a trade for such an outfielder is the Rays' reluctance to cut into their depth of starting pitchers. A couple of injuries can deplete even the best of staffs. In addition, would trading a starter now bring a higher yield than if Tampa Bay waited until the non-waiver Trade Deadline?

The other option to fill the outfield need would be free agency.

Peter Bourjos might be an interesting fit. He can play left, right and center field, he's got speed and he hits right-handed.

The Rays could also fill the slot from within. Mikie Mahtook is fast, hits right-handed and can play center field.

Stay tuned as the Hot Stove season continues to unfold.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.