Rays looking for catching and pitching help as winter meetings begin

If the calendar says it’s early December, it must mean it’s time for the annual winter baseball meetings.

Except for this year, the winter meetings in person have been canceled due to COVID. This year, all transactions will be done virtually and over the phone.

The Rays have two significant needs this of-season. Finding a starting catcher is at the top of their list, and the Rays could also use a pitcher to solidify the bullpen and the starting rotation.

The Rays have one catcher on the roster in Ronaldo Hernandez, and he does not have Major League experience.

Hernandez, one of the top 20 prospects in the Rays organization for the last few years, will be in Port Charlotte come February with the Rays. It would be a surprise if he made the roster.

On a zoom call with reporters Monday, Rays General Manager Erik Neander said that not attending the winter meetings in person should not prohibit the Rays from doing what they need to with their roster.

“Yeah, this is different, but I think us and every other club, we still know we have a business to take care of, and while it’s different, we’re not having a hard time communicating, conversing by phone.”

Neander said that he is happy with the roster outside of the catching situation but is always looking for ways to improve.

“We’ve got a really good group. I know we’d be more than happy to roll into next year with what we have, minus our catching situation. But, as always, we’re going to keep an open mind, try to do the best we can to be as competitive as possible within our means.”

With money always an issue with the Rays, there is no one on the Rays roster that is untouchable except for Wander Franco.

To create some roster flexibility, the Rays may trade Snell or Keirmaier to free up some money to bring in a couple of free agents.

With their catching situation, the Rays have not ruled out re-signing Mike Zunino or Kevan Smith. Zunino, at a reduced salary from his four million dollars in 2020.

With Charlie Morton in Atlanta, the Rays will fill that spot in the rotation from this group of three Josh Fleming, Shane McClanahan, and possibly Brent Honeywell.

Snell, Glasnow, and Yarbrough will remain the top three starters, with Fleming having the inside track to the number four spot in the rotation.

McClanahan and Honeywell will battle for the fifth spot.

Although McClanahan has worked primarily in relief, Neander said on the call Monday that McClanahan would be “stretched out as a starter” when training camp opens in February.

Trevor Richards, Aaron Slegers, and prospect Joe Ryan are also candidates to fill that fifth spot in the rotation.

Neander said that the Rays are planning to open spring training on time and expect a 26 man roster.

Neander also said that he expects to play a 162 game schedule as best they can with the COVID pandemic still raging.

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