When newly named Tampa Bay Rays GM and senior VP of baseball operations Erik Neander arrives at the Winter Meetings, he is likely to be a popular fellow.
The Rays have what is generally considered to be a top ten farm system. They finished the 2016 season at 68-94 in fifth place in the always tough AL East Division.
Now might be the perfect time for Neander and Matthew Silverman, the club’s President for Baseball Operations, to begin looking at building a contender for a few years down the road.
To that end, the Rays would have two of the most attractive assets as the Winter Meetings open.
Those would be starting pitcher Chris Archer and veteran third baseman Evan Longoria.
ARCHER TOP RAYS ASSET
Archer has an extremely favorable contract situation. He is guaranteed just $19 million over the next three seasons.
There are also affordable options at $9 and $10 million for the subsequent two years with buyouts that amount to nothing.
The 28-year-old righty has made at least 32 starts in three straight seasons. He finished third in the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year voting, and in 2015 was an All-Star, finishing fifth in the AL Cy Young voting that season.
In 2016, Archer led the American League with 19 losses against just nine victories. However, he allowed just 183 hits over 201.1 innings with a 233/67 K:BB ratio.
The Cubs and Braves are believed in on Archer. The Tigers, if they choose to go for it again rather than rebuild themselves, are also among those thought to have interest in the pitcher.
LONGO ON THE BLOCK?
The 31-year-old Longoria is the unquestioned team leader. He just finished his ninth season in Tampa. In the 2016 season, Longoria hit .273 with a .521 slugging percentage. He banged 36 homers and 41 doubles, with 98 RBI and 83 runs scored.
Longo will be expensive, dollars and cents-wise. He is owed another $94 million over the next six years, which would take him through his age-36 season.
He is probably a good bet to bring back value. Longoria has missed significant time just once in his nine years. He was the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year, a 3x All-Star, and 2x Gold Glover. He has received MVP votes six times, including this season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets both have been heavily linked to Longoria.
Other Rays players who may be available this offseason include starting pitcher Drew Smyly, lefty reliever Xavier Cedeno, and second baseman Logan Forsythe.
NEW RAYS MANAGEMENT TEAM
Odds are that as the Winter Meetings approach, Silverman and Neander have already begun preliminary discussions aimed at getting something done. In a short time, the Rays front office team has developed a solid reputation.
This will be Neander’s first go-around in his new role, and Silverman’s second time around. As last year’s Winter Meetings got underway, Silverman was asked about his style of being direct, even blunt.
“There’s certain teams who come in and officer audacious proposals that are more entertaining than anything else,” he said per Marc Topkin with the Tampa Bay Times. “That is not our style. We like to cut to the chase and have targeted discussions and move on quickly if there isn’t a deal to be had.
“That’s the approach we’ve taken. It’s not necessarily the right approach, but it is one that we’re comfortable with and has led to some strong relationships with the clubs across the league.”
Look for the Rays to get a big deal or two done during this offseason. The Winter Meetings will be the place it happens. At the very least it will be the place where preliminary discussions move those deals forward.