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Winter Meetings productive for Rays

Winter Meetings productive for Rays

LAS VEGAS -- Yes, the Rays made it to the World Series in 2008, but the Winter Meetings -- and the Yankees' subsequent signing of free-agent left-hander CC Sabathia for big bucks -- brought Tampa Bay a reminder of who it must compete against to repeat as American League champions.

"We have unique challenges that we're confronted with, and so do the Yankees," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "Money is not one of their concerns, but they have other issues they have to deal with. And last year, I think we showed that payrolls don't necessarily decide the standings. It certainly helps, but it doesn't automatically decide them either."

Nevertheless, the Rays battle the way they best know how, which is to draft and develop their core players and augment that process with reasonably priced free agents or through trades, like the one they made Wednesday night, when they acquired outfielder Matt Joyce from the Tigers for right-hander Edwin Jackson.

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"From our standpoint, it was a productive week," Friedman said. "We acquired a guy that, going into the offseason, we had targeted. On the other side, we lost a pitcher we liked in Edwin Jackson."

The Rays arrived at the Winter Meetings looking to sign a free-agent designated hitter -- or right fielder -- to bolster the offense. To that end, they had face-to-face meetings with Milton Bradley and Jason Giambi and they met with Bobby Abreu's agent. They also are said to still be interested in Raul Ibanez, Adam Dunn and Pat Burrell.

"We feel like we've advanced some things with other teams as well on other fronts," Friedman said. "I'm not sure if anything will happen or not, but there also was great opportunity for us to sit down with a couple of players and agents to talk a little bit more about their interest in playing in Tampa Bay and our interest in having them. So I think it always helps to sit down face-to-face, as opposed to having conversations on the phone. And we feel like we've advanced the ball on multiple fronts."

Because the Rays must efficiently navigate their payroll, Friedman said they are going through a "methodical process" while trying to find that free agent who can fill Tampa Bay's offensive need at the right price.

"We've conveyed to certain agents that if something picks up on their end, we can move quickly," Friedman said. "But our resources are somewhat finite. So I think it's unrealistic for us to come over the top and blow the top off the market and preempt the market to get a deal done. But I think we'll be competitive. And I guess I should insert the caveat, I hope we're competitive.

"I expect we will be with at least a couple of guys. It all depends on the overall interest out there and how competitive the market gets and that's something that I don't think has really crystallized thus far."

According to manager Joe Maddon, one of the nice offshoots of being defending AL champions is having the franchise turn into a destination spot for players, which could be seen this week in Las Vegas.

"Obviously what we've done opens up the opportunity to have the conversations with a Bradley or a Giambi or an Abreu," Maddon said. "If you talk to guys like that, of course they want to make money, but they want to win first.

"... These guys are all, 'I want to win, guys.' And if you haven't done that, or haven't shown the chance to do it again, they're really not going to speak to you all that much with any kind of sincerity. So everything has kind of flipped in regard to that. We're able to go after that kind of guy with sincerity and I think they look at us in the same way. And, of course, everything has changed since this past season."

Deals done: The Rays acquired Joyce from the Tigers in a trade for Jackson.

Rule 5 activity: The Rays lost right-hander Eduardo Morlan to the Brewers before selecting right-hander Derek Rodriguez from the White Sox organization with the 19th pick of the Draft.

Goals accomplished: Joyce gives the Rays more depth in the outfield, whether he wins the right-field job out of Spring Training or not. As Friedman points out, the Rays must also be concerned about their future as well as their present if they are to continue to be successful. They control Joyce for six years and he still has options.

Unfinished business: The Rays still would like to acquire a power bat to fill the DH slot, and they want to add a couple of pieces to the bullpen.

GM's bottom line: "It's a fact of life: our margin of error is much smaller than the teams we compete against in our division. We have to keep that in mind with every transaction we make." -- Friedman

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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