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Friedman looks ahead to meetings

Posted Dec 4, 2008 by Marc Lancaster

Updated Dec 4, 2008 at 03:16 PM

Just returned from Tropicana Field, where the local media had a chance to meet with Andrew Friedman in advance of the winter meetings. Friedman covered a number of topics in a half-hour session. Here are the highlights, with more to come once I go back through my tape if I realize I left something out:

* Friedman said the team’s first priority this winter is improving the offense, with the focus on the right field/DH slot. He said he doesn’t know if that slot will go to one player or two, but he doesn’t consider it realistic to bring in two “impact-type guys” for those spots.

* While Friedman considers pitching the Rays’ greatest area of depth, he said that doesn’t necessarily mean the Rays feel like they need to move anyone to make room in the rotation or bullpen.

* Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel, who will be out of options in 2009, will get a look in the bullpen.

* David Price, as we already knew, will not. But Friedman said he is absolutely not penciled in as one of the five starters in the big-league rotation at this point because they Rays already have five incumbent starters. (Of course, that could and would change in a hurry if Edwin Jackson or Andy Sonnanstine was dealt.)

* Friedman said the Rays are more focused on the free-agent market than they have been in the past, largely because they’re in a situation where they expect to be in the hunt for 2009 and as such are more open to taking on players who could help them immediately rather than those they can control for a number of years. That’s where what is increasingly expected to be a soft market for the non-elite free agents could help the Rays, as players who in other years might have received monster multiyear contracts elsewhere could fall to Tampa Bay for a one-year deal.

* The Rays remain in touch with the agents for free agents Rocco Baldelli, Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske, and depending on how things break there’s a chance they could return.

* The team doesn’t expect B.J. Upton, who recently underwent shoulder surgery, to be ready to play in time for the first spring training games. But with exhibitions running from Feb. 25-April 4, the Rays believe he’ll have plenty of time to gear up for the season. In fact, look for the Rays to take it slow with all of their regulars early in spring training given the length of the spring schedule next year.

* The Rays are planning to build a baseball academy in Marilia, Brazil, with construction beginning early next year. Friedman said it could take a decade or so to see a prospect rise all the way from there to the majors, but the Rays felt they could tap into Brazil’s athletic culture and find talent there once people are exposed to baseball. The Rays have been scouting in Brazil for a while, and Rays special assistant Andres Reiner has made several trips to the South American country to gauge interest there.

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