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Rays Tales: Looking ahead to the Tampa Bay Rays' offseason

The Rays obviously hope there is a lot more to talk about this season. But there is certainly going to be a lot to discuss during the offseason, as they face a series of decisions that could significantly alter the look of their team.

1. For starters, who's going to start?

The Rays will head toward 2013 with seven legitimate candidates for the rotation: David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer. And eight if they want to consider shifting Wade Davis back from the bullpen.

Certainly the depth proved helpful this season as Niemann and Hellickson were on the DL and Price had to skip a start. But given the needs they have elsewhere, it would follow — though the Rays don't always do what's expected — that they would have to deal from their depth.

Shields, who has a $10.25 million option they'll pick up, figures to be a prime topic of conversation. And they have to listen — as hard as it may be — on Price, who likely will surpass $8 million in his second season of arbitration and keep going up from there. Obviously in either case they'd have to get back a tremendous package.

Realistically, they'll probably talk about everybody but Niemann, who is coming off a rotator cuff issue, and Moore, who is signed long term on team-friendly terms. And even if they make a deal or two, they still have the makings of a solid rotation.

2. Where does Ben Zobrist play?

It has been a rite of winter as the Rays assembled their roster knowing they could use Zobrist at second base or in rightfield or, as it tended to work out, both. But now the puzzle has three sides, as Zobrist returned to his original shortstop position on Aug. 9 and has done well — well enough that it's now a legit option to consider leaving him there and filling other holes. None of the other in-house options looks as appealing: Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez.

3. Which free agents will be back?

The Rays have 10 players who could be free agents.

Of the four they have options on, three appear obvious decisions: Yes on Shields ($10.25 million) and RHP Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million), no on DH Luke Scott ($6 million). The more interesting call, given how much trouble they've had filling the spot, is C Jose Molina ($1.8 million), who has some value beyond his low batting average.

Of the other six, figure that CF B.J. Upton and 1B Carlos Peña are gone, and probably at least a couple from the bullpen trio of LHP J.P. Howell and RHPs Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta. And that the Rays will try to keep INF Jeff Keppinger, who has been their leading hitter while starting at four positions.

4. What to do with Wade Davis?

Davis turned into a pretty good middle reliever this season, showing the increased velocity and intensity the Rays expected with him limited to one or two innings and putting up decent numbers, 3-0, 2.57 in 51 games, with 81 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings. It seems the Rays would get more for their $2.8 million if he were starting next season, but if Farnsworth and Peralta leave, Davis could be more valuable as a setup man — and in training as a potential future closer.

5. Who's on first?

And catcher? And in the outfield? From the look of things, the Rays will have three or four spots on the field to fill. Next year's first baseman isn't here yet, and the Rays, you'd think, are hoping neither is their frontline catcher. And probably not the DH. The outfield could be a bit of a puzzle, with some combination of Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce and either Zobrist (if they get another shortstop) or Upton's replacement.

Rays rumblings

The Rays found a way to get CF B.J. Upton to play a little deeper. Noting Upton positions himself based on the burst logo on the centerfield turf, the Rays repainted it about 15 feet further back. … Bench coach Dave Martinez remains among the frontrunners for the Houston manager's job, with a decision possible this week. Ex-Astros C Brad Ausmus dropping out helps. … Drawing just 48,895 total for four games with the Red Sox is at least partly the Rays' fault, pegging the games with premium prices (lowest ticket $17) and not adjusting given the circumstances. … Passed on from an instructional league game vs. Baltimore: '12 first-rounder Richie Shaffer asking who the old guy batting was just before a home run by rehabbing DH Jim Thome. … OF Sam Fuld is closely following Israel's play in the World Baseball Classic qualifier; if the team makes it he hopes to join for the spring tournament.

Got a minute? Evan Longoria

Something you're scared of? Insects, with snakes a close second.

Late-night snack? Ice cream. I'll switch but right now, I like Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia.

Karaoke song if you had to? Any '80s rock, probably Bon Jovi, something fairly easy to sing.

Favorite TV show? 24 — I've watched all eight seasons.

Celebrity crush? Jaime Edmondson (his model/Playboy playmate girlfriend).

Rays Tales: Looking ahead to the Tampa Bay Rays' offseason 09/22/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 22, 2012 11:38pm]
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