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Rays need to define 2013 roles for Ben Zobrist, Wade Davis

Among the myriad decisions the Rays face this winter, from which free agents to retain to whether to trade a starter for a bat to how to get the defense back to an elite level, two of the most interesting involve Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis.

If the Rays believe Zobrist, 31, can play as well over a full season at shortstop as he did for the final two months this year, they could fill one major 2013 hole and give themselves additional flexibility in filling out the rest of the lineup.

Despite a rough first two months, Zobrist, with the bonus of being a switch-hitter, had another solid season, hitting .270 with 20 home runs, 74 RBIs, 14 steals and an .848 on-base plus slugging percentage.

You know how many shortstops matched those numbers this season in either league?

None.

(For what it's worth, Zobrist, per baseball-reference.com, over 2009-12 has the highest wins above replacement, or WAR,, 26.6, of any player, ahead of Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, etc.)

The question for the Rays will be whether his defense is good enough. Just four errors in 47 games at shortstop is encouraging, though range and durability through a full season may be concerns.

"As a shortstop, he's an interesting player," manager Joe Maddon said.

Bumped from the starting rotation by rookie LHP Matt Moore and RHP Jeff Niemann, Davis adapted well to the bullpen, showing the increased velocity and intensity the Rays expected, and he had some pretty impressive numbers: a 2.43 ERA over 54 appearances, 87 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings, a .189 opponents average.

Now the question is whether to keep Davis in the pen with an eye toward future closer's duty, trade a starter to make room for his return to the rotation or deal him (and the $2.8 million 2013 and $4.8 million '14 salaries, and $2.5 million buyout or three one-year options he has).

"Wade Davis could absolutely start on most any team," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "How it unfolds for us right now, I don't know. But a guy who handles it as well as he did, it's a hard thing to go back and ask him to do it again being that his heart is in the rotation.

"But there's just so many things that will play out that four months from now will look very different than it does today, and I don't know in which direction."

TUNING IN: Though the Rays were last in the majors in attendance (1.56 million) and had only a 2 percent increase, their TV ratings on Sun Sports were up 28 percent, from a 3.8 rating in 2011 to 4.9.

POINTS TO PONDER: Had the two-wild card system been in place in the American League all along, this would have been the first time since 2002 that 90 wins, as the Rays had, wasn't enough to make the playoffs. … Six of the Rays' 27 one-run losses were to the Orioles, whom they finished three games behind in the wild-card race.

MISCELLANY: Bench coach Dave Martinez's name is coming up in Boston as a possible managerial candidate. … As much as it seems the Rays hoard starting pitchers, since the end of the 2008 season they have traded three prominent ones — Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza plus Jason Hammel and Mitch Talbot. … INF Jeff Keppinger, RHP Joel Peralta and DH Luke Scott are among the potential free agents saying they'd like to return. … The Cy Young Award votes are in, and the announcement is set for Nov. 14. … Bart Braun, a top scout with the Rays since 1995, was hired by the Phillies as a special assistant.

Rays need to define 2013 roles for Ben Zobrist, Wade Davis 10/06/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 6, 2012 10:22pm]

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