The Rays have done quite a bit already this offseason, re-signing 1B James Loney to keep their infield intact, acquiring C Ryan Hanigan and RHP Heath Bell, bringing back OF David DeJesus and RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo and cobbling a team they feel, with a few more additions, has a chance to again be a legit contender.
One thing they have not done, as you may have heard, is trade ace David Price.
With the start of spring training now closer than the end of the season, the Rays' position appears to be the same as it was. They are willing to listen on Price, who has two seasons until free agency, but it's going to take a lot — in terms of young talent — to get him. Fair conclusion: They haven't been made a good-enough offer yet.
That could change — if not in the next couple of weeks that typically are quiet in baseball than in January — as teams, some that have talked to the Rays and some that maybe have not, reassess needs and options, perhaps with more desperation. Resolution of Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka's status is a factor; if he isn't available, that should increase the demand for Price (as well as remaining free agents Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana) because there would be one fewer frontline starter to be had.
But there is no deadline, no drop-dead date by which the Rays have to make a deal or tell Price he isn't being traded. Reports that they are motivated to do so by Dec. 31 to hand off payment of $4 million in deferred money are incorrect: The payment isn't due until Oct. 1, and it is the Rays' obligation, so really a nonfactor, as including it would be the same as asking for cash in a deal and subject to MLB approval.
In essence, the Rays are waiting to see if someone makes it worth their while to trade Price and take the accompanying step back team-wise. Sure that could get uncomfortable for Price as spring training nears, even awkward as he reports to camp, but it's only a higher-profile example of the uncertainty many players face.
There hasn't been much media chatter about a Price deal, though that may be more a product of the Rays' intense efforts at secrecy than a lack of actual talks. Some things that have surfaced are dubious, others just wrong. For example, a report out of Cleveland that the Rays asked for C/1B Carlos Santana and RHP Danny Salazar plus top prospects was so exaggerated that a team source dismissed it as "completely off-base."
The Mariners are the team considered most likely to make a play for Price but seem to talk more about what prospects they don't want to trade (Taijuan Walker, James Paxton). Agent Bo McKinnis saying Price wouldn't consider an extension in Seattle could dim the Mariners' interest, though Price then said he would be "open minded to anything." Other teams such as the Dodgers and Rangers still appear viable partners, and expect others to emerge.
As the Rays continue to listen on Price, they have other issues to address. With the payroll (including Price's approximate $13 million) already projected at what would be a franchise-high $74 million, they are weighing several options in filling out their bench (right-handed hitting outfielder or second baseman, backup corner infielder, maybe some combo thereof); considering Jamey Wright, Jesse Crain and now maybe Grant Balfour among candidates for a bullpen spot; and looking to trade now-third catcher Jose Lobaton.
"Coming into the offseason there were a number of things we wanted to be aggressive to target, and we feel like we've gotten a number of guys that specifically address those areas," executive VP Andrew Friedman said Friday. "There are still things left we would like to accomplish, and we're going to be as aggressive as we can in our pursuit of returning to October."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Loney passed his physical; announcement of his three-year, $21 million deal is held up to work out some details, such as size of the signing bonus portion ($4 million to $5 million). … Kelly Nash is finalizing a deal to return to the Rays TV broadcasts next season, working with Todd Kalas on pre-, in- and postgame reports. … With Billy Gardner Jr. leaving unexpectedly after seven seasons at Double-A Montgomery to manage Washington's Triple-A team, the Rays' minor-league staffs won't be set until January. … A second "Players and Pooches" calendar, including AL rookie of the year Wil Myers, is available for $15 at team stores and Pet Pal Animal Shelter sites in St. Petersburg. … 3B Evan Longoria thoroughly enjoyed interviewing Will Ferrell and other actors from the Anchorman 2 movie for an MLB Fan Cave video: "I had a blast, and it was an honor." … Joe Maddon was 14th in Craig Calcaterra's hardballtalk.com ranking of MLB managers by handsomeness, described as "a niche taste" who is "just as likely to be seen wearing socks with sandals in an RV as he is to be seen drinking wine and doing something suave." Detroit's Brad Ausmus was No. 1.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays