Evan Longoria hits off tee, continues to make progress

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Though returning by April 29 may be an overly optimistic goal, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is making progress from his strained left oblique and should be ready not too long after that date.

From Joe Smith of the St. Petersburg Times comes word that Longoria took swings off a tee Thursday for the first time since suffering the muscle strain and reported no abnormal pain or discomfort.

If Longoria is able to progress to live batting practice this weekend, he may be ticketed for a minor league rehab assignment by April 26 or 27. He should be cleared after three or four games down on the farm.

Longoria was 0-for-5 with a walk before he suffered the unfortunate injury. Felipe Lopez and Sean Rodriguez have been manning the hot corner for Tampa Bay in his absence.

Mike Napoli and Rays have “mutual interest” in a deal

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times unloaded a lot of interesting news items about the Rays last night, including a report that the Rays might have “mutual interest” in a deal with free agent first baseman/DH Mike Napoli. The Rangers declined Napoli’s $11 million option earlier this month and owe the veteran infielder a $2.5 million buyout.

Napoli, 36, had a strange year in Texas. He turned in 29 home runs, good for 11th-most among AL hitters, but finished the year batting just .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, his -0.5 fWAR was the worst mark of his career to date, but on the bright side, he should come cheap for a team looking to swap out their veterans come spring.

Of course, the specifics of the Rays’ offseason plan have yet to be divulged — or, by all accounts from Topkin, even decided on. The club could go the refurbishment route, changing out some of their higher-paid veterans for a mix of prospects and cheaper aging players; or they could opt for a full rebuild, which Topkin cautions against as it could have a negative effect on the financing of a new ballpark. Either way, the Rays figure to offload some of their bigger contracts this winter, and will need to decide if they want to retain Alex Colome, Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, Evan Longoria and others before pursuing any other major free agents.