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5 big questions for the Rays going into 2019

MLB.com @wwchastain

Heading into any offseason, every team has questions and the Rays are no exception. Here are five questions general manager Erik Neander and the Rays face after the 2018 season:

1. Who will close in 2019?
The Rays never officially anointed Sergio Romo as the team's closer in 2018, but the veteran filled that role. Chances are Romo will not be back in 2019, which leaves several candidates for the job: Diego Castillo, Ryne Stanek and Jose Alvarado. Of that group, Alvarado would appear to be the favorite, because the hard-throwing left-hander pitched in a lot of high-leverage situations in 2018. Castillo and Stanek also throw hard, but they were used more in the "opener" role in 2018.

Heading into any offseason, every team has questions and the Rays are no exception. Here are five questions general manager Erik Neander and the Rays face after the 2018 season:

1. Who will close in 2019?
The Rays never officially anointed Sergio Romo as the team's closer in 2018, but the veteran filled that role. Chances are Romo will not be back in 2019, which leaves several candidates for the job: Diego Castillo, Ryne Stanek and Jose Alvarado. Of that group, Alvarado would appear to be the favorite, because the hard-throwing left-hander pitched in a lot of high-leverage situations in 2018. Castillo and Stanek also throw hard, but they were used more in the "opener" role in 2018.

Video: TB@CLE: Alvarado strikes out Kipnis, records save

2. Will the Rays use "openers" again?
Given the team's number of wins and the fact many of those came when the Rays used "openers," there's little doubt that Tampa Bay will again employ "openers" in 2019. The starting rotation will likely be Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and one more starter to be named -- perhaps Ryan Yarbrough, Jalen Beeks, or Yonny Chirinos. But the Rays could opt to go with three "opener" slots in the five-man rotation. Fans should look forward to seeing what approach the Rays' think tank comes up with after crunching the data from the 2018 season.

Video: Stanek joins MLB Now to discuss the Rays' season

3. What do the Rays do with their crowded infield situation?
Based on the composition of the Rays' infield headed at the end of the season, they have a nice problem to solve. Right now, you'd have to say the starting infield would be Matt Duffy at third, Willy Adames at shortstop, and Joey Wendle or Daniel Robertson at second, and Jake Bauers at first.

Video: TB@TEX: Wendle scatters 4 hits vs. Rangers pitching

So what do they do with Brandon Lowe, Andrew Velazquez and DH/infielders C.J. Cron and Ji-Man Choi? And, on top of that, Robertson might have been the team's most valuable offensive player before he got injured, and Wendle might have been the team's most valuable offensive player down the stretch. All of the above-mentioned names had pluses. Rays management will have to be creative in deciding who starts the season with the team, who starts the season at Triple-A Durham, and who gets moved to another organization. The choices are not apparent, which is a good problem to have.

4. Will the Rays be active in the free-agent market?
Typically, the Rays are not big players in the free-agent market. However, they do usually find a few players. Normally these players are signed at a discount or are Minor League free agents with an invite to Spring Training. Tampa Bay has been particularly successful bringing in veteran relievers as pieces for the bullpen.

Otherwise, don't expect the Rays to be too active where free agency is concerned. However, this year could be an exception given that they will head into the offseason with a low payroll, which might lend itself to spending some money on free agents -- particularly given the fact that the team seems to be a contender..

5. Do the Rays trade any of their young talent to get that one big impact player?
Based on the overall depth of the organization's farm system, along with the depth they have at the Major League level, there's a good chance the Rays might package a prospect or two to another club for a player they identify who could put them over the top as contenders in the tough American League East. Trading for a player or players has always been the approach more often followed by the Rays than signing high-priced free agents.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays