Will Middlebrooks, Yunel Escobar

The Rays’ all just wasn’t quite enough

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The Rays used 22 of their 25 players in Tuesday’s loss, and they were one inning away from turning to their Game 5 starter. Still, no matter how much Joe Maddon maneuvered, there was no outgunning the Red Sox this week.

It was plenty close. The Rays got the break they needed in the second inning, when Stephen Drew’s near-three-run double was instead turned into an inning-ending double play by a leaping James Loney. With Jeremy Hellickson and Jamey Wright done after two, Maddon relied on lefties Matt Moore and Alex Torres to hold the fort for the late-game relievers. The Red Sox, better set up to face a righty with Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew hitting consecutively, couldn’t get a rally going.

Alas, the Red Sox were able to outlast the Rays, even after Tampa Bay scored first. I was critical last night when Sox skipper John Farrell used Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa for just two batters apiece, but that meant Boston’s big three was fresher tonight than the Rays’ top three of Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney. It was Peralta the Red Sox broke through against, though the two runs were charged to Peralta. Rodney allowed another in the ninth.

Meanwhile, Breslow, Tazawa and closer Koji Uehara combined to allow one hit and strike out seven in 3 1/3 scoreless innings for the Red Sox. Breslow was particularly outstanding, fanning four in a row and getting five outs in all.

Give the Rays credit, though. It was a terrific effort, with nine pitchers throwing nine innings. Had it gone to the 10th, David Price was coming in, and the Rays just would have figured out Game 5 later.

Now it could be another harsh offseason for the Rays. Attendance didn’t increase as hope, so the payroll probably won’t add much from the usual $60 million-$65 million. Price’s salary will jump from $10 million to $15 million or so in arbitration, which could mean he’s made his final start for the club. James Loney figures to be too expensive to retain, so the Rays will have to dip back into the bargain bin at first base again. Rodney also seems certain to exit, as will several role players.

Still, even without Price, the Rays could put out a rotation of Alex Cobb, Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, and Price will likely bring back another Wil Myers-type prospect to integrate into the lineup, plus perhaps another young pitcher or two. Despite the modest payroll, there will be no writing off the Rays anytime soon. Price or no, they’ll be back to scare the pants off the Red Sox and the rest of the AL’s heavy hitters again next season.

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.