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12/07/08 9:00 PM EST

Rays enter Meetings on offensive

Defending AL champs willing to go after free agents in Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- A swagger accompanied the defending American League champion Rays to the Winter Meetings at the Bellagio on Monday, the first day of baseball's four days in the desert.

The Rays are not facing a major overhaul this offseason, so they will continue to look for key components to help the team try to return to the World Series in 2009. The primary focus will be on making a trade or signing a free agent to improve the offense and the bullpen.

"I'd say we're a little more focused on the free-agent market than we have been in years past," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "Some of that has to do with having less players to trade per se."

Friedman clarified his comment by noting Tampa Bay won't shy away from making a trade.

"But in years past, it was 80-20 [trades to free agents]," Friedman said. "I think it's now something more in the 50-50 range."

As for the offense, the Rays are flexible with their plan for improvement, whether it's by acquiring a full-time right fielder or a designated hitter.

"Our focus is on improving our offense -- whether that's at the DH spot, right field, whatever it is," Friedman said. "We'd like to add a guy that improves our offense.

"There's certainly a lot of names out there. There's guys in the free-agent market that we're talking to. There's trade options as well."

Friedman is not sure how the current economy will affect baseball when it comes to the acquisition of players.

"The conversations [with other teams] have been just as frequent as they've been in years past, but with both agents and teams, we're finding there aren't very many people who want to be aggressive and really force things ahead," Friedman said. "I think everybody's kind of sitting back a little bit, trying to figure out the effect the economy will have on teams, and as a result, inertia has set in a little bit."

Friedman showed a sense of humor when asked whether he expects activity to pick up during the Winter Meetings.

"I feel like if something does happen early, that it will pick up considerably," Friedman said. "But if it continues like it has and that doesn't happen, we may end up spending a lot of time at the craps table."

Other events and happenings on tap for the Winter Meetings include:

• Monday: Results of pre-1943 and post-1942 HOF Veterans Committee ballots will be announced at 1 p.m. ET.

• Tuesday: The Ford C. Frick Award winner will be announced at 2 p.m. ET.

• Wednesday: The Baseball Writers' Association of America's Spink Award winner will be announced at noon ET. This year's finalists are Bob Elliott (Ottawa Citizen), Nick Peters (Sacramento Bee) and Dave van Dyck (Chicago Tribune).

Also Wednesday, there will be an announcement from MLB regarding the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

• Thursday: The Rule 5 Draft will be held at noon ET.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.