Pitching at top of mind for Rays this offseason

Expect Archer's name to crop up in trade rumors again

Pitching at top of mind for Rays this offseason

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays failed to reach the postseason for the fourth consecutive season in 2017. But mixed with that disappointment, the club has a lot to be excited about going forward.

The Rays should have a strong influx of players coming up from the farm system. How they envision that group of players fitting in will affect what the front office does when piecing together the 2018 squad.

Rays fall short in 2017 despite improvements

Overall, the roster at the end of the season looked strong. However, much of the composition of that roster should change. During the offseason, look for the Rays to sign a handful of free agents, make a trade or two and possibly sign one of their young Major Leaguers to a long-term deal.

Follow along at MLB.com to see what moves the Rays make during the coming offseason.

Biggest needs

1. First base: Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda gave the Rays plenty of firepower at the position in 2017. Both are free agents, so unless the market is unkind, there's a good chance each will sign elsewhere. Jake Bauers, who spent the season at Triple-A Durham and packs plenty of power, is a good bet to win the job.

Possible FA fits: If Bauers is not able to win the job in the spring, the Rays might try to re-sign Duda or Morrison, if one doesn't get the offer he is looking for. Mike Napoli also might serve as an interesting option. The Rangers have an $11 million option for the veteran's services in 2018 with a $2.5 million buyout. He could provide a right-handed bat to complement Bauers, who hits from the left side.

2. Starting pitching: Alex Cobb will likely leave via free agency. His loss will leave a hole in the rotation, particularly where veteran leadership is concerned. And it's likely Chris Archer will be mentioned in a lot of trade rumors, as has been the case the past several offseasons. The Rays don't like to go to market to sign free-agent pitchers, but this year might be different if they decide they need one or two for the back end of the rotation.

Possible FA fits: Chris Tillman, who made $10.05 million in 2017, had a disappointing season for the Orioles. The Rays like nothing better than signing players on the rebound. The veteran right-hander is one year removed from a 16-6 season with a 3.77 ERA. And keep in mind, he has spent his entire career at Orioles Park at Camden Yards, which definitely favors the hitters.

3. Bullpen: The Rays cobbled together a formidable bullpen by the latter stages of the season, but they're likely to lose Steve Cishek, Tommy Hunter and Sergio Romo to free agency. They'll still have Alex Colome, Dan Jennings, Brad Boxberger and a healthy Xavier Cedeno. In addition, they'll have Ryne Stanek and Jaime Schultz coming up from Durham. But look for them to pick up a veteran free agent or two. Typically these signings are veterans who are signed to Minor League deals with invitations to Spring Training.

Possible FA fits: Veterans Dustin McGowan, Jason Motte and Oliver Perez could be candidates. Having Jim Hickey as the pitching coach, with the success he's had bringing out the best in veteran pitchers, will go a long way toward any free-agent sales pitch.

Gray areas 

1. Left field: At the end of the season, the Rays were using Corey Dickerson, Mallex Smith and Peter Bourjos in left field. Despite Dickerson's weight loss and improved speed in the outfield, he'll more than likely be the team's full-time designated hitter. Neither Bourjos nor Smith is viewed as an everyday player, so bringing in a left fielder is something the team might consider.

Possible FA fits: Bringing Bourjos back is a viable option. He knows how to come off the bench, he can still run and he's a quality clubhouse guy. Veteran Rajai Davis is also an option, albeit a more expensive one.

X-factors

1. Money to burn? The Rays should shed a good bit of payroll with the collection of free agents they're likely to lose. And the team could trade one or more of its higher-paid pitchers, which puts Jake Odorizzi and Archer front and center. Still, a paring of the payroll has never translated to spending on free agents for the Rays. The team has taken a prudent approach by not having a set payroll. And owner Stu Sternberg has believed in spending based on the situation. 

2. Who's on second? Unless the Rays trade Brad Miller during the offseason, he'll likely be penciled in as the team's second baseman. But if the team decides to re-sign Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, they will need to make a decision on highly touted shortstop Willy Adames. Would they break him in at second base? And what if Matt Duffy returns healthy after missing all of 2017? Will he get a crack at second? 

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.