LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations, smiled when asked whether he feels pressure to trade David Price. After all, comments addressing specific players are strictly taboo as far as he's concerned.
Friedman did, however, offer an answer when asked if he feels pressure to trade any of the team's players.
"Our longstanding goal, as we head into any offseason, is to try and thread a very narrow middle, which is to be as good as we can be in the upcoming season, and continue to keep one eye on the future in terms of being able to sustain success for as long as we can," Friedman said on Tuesday during Day 2 of the Winter Meetings. "Every guy in our organization has a little different fit in how they help us in the short-term and how they help us in the long-term. It's our job to kind of navigate that to figure out how we put together as competitive a team as we can."
Whether that translates to Friedman feeling compelled to trade his ace can't be determined, but he did say he would be comfortable starting the 2014 season with his current roster.
"Short of what we would do at first base, I think we have a chance to be really good. That's our goal," Friedman said. "Looking at it from a run-prevention standpoint, we feel like we're in a good position to keep runs off the board. If we're able to improve upon that the rest of the winter, all the better.
"And from a run-scoring standpoint, obviously, we need to figure out what we're going to do at first base. But having [David] DeJesus all year, having Wil Myers for a full season, I mean, there's things in there we feel will make us a better offensive team. But obviously, we want to get better on that front as well."
So although the rumors about where Price will play next season continued, the feeling continues to be that the Rays are fielding offers. But what has Tampa Bay in a good position in regard to a possible deal is the fact that club doesn't seem to believe that opening the season with him on the mound would be the worst-case scenario.
Price is due to make approximately $30 million over the next two seasons before being available for free agency. The way the Rays have conducted business in the past, coupled with the fact that their payroll is not that of larger-market teams, has fueled the speculation that he will be traded. But Friedman does not have a "hard and fast number" that the payroll must be under.
"It's much more about trying to fill out a roster within the limitations that we have," Friedman said. "And to have some give-and-take within that is just helpful in terms of how we plan and how we try to be opportunistic. I think if we had too many restrictions on every different facet of how you acquire players, it becomes really restricting and not as feasible to be able to react quickly to different things that come up, which happens a lot."
And when asked if the Opening Day payroll could be higher than last year's ($61.9 million), Friedman noted, "Seems that way."
In other Rays news from the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort:
• The recent acquisition of Ryan Hanigan bolstered the catching situation to where Tampa Bay is three-deep, with Hanigan, Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton.
Though speculation has suggested the Rays will trade Lobaton, manager Joe Maddon likes the catching depth.
"It's kind of fun," Maddon said. "Ryan Hanigan is a guy that Andrew and I have been talking about for a couple of years."
Maddon recalled seeing Hanigan when the Rays played the Reds in 2011.
"That was the first time I ever saw him," Maddon said. "I didn't even know about him. He played really well against us. I know he hit a home run. That's not the point. I like the way he bats, the way he caught, the way he blocked the ball, all that stuff. And we did more research, and obviously, we got him now."
Maddon also likes the work of Molina and Lobaton.
"J-Mo really adds a lot to our pitching staff, and we value what he does a lot," Maddon said. "Everybody wants to evaluate players by batting average all the time, and that is the least of my concerns. So you look at that. Here comes Lobaton. I mean, Lobaton, by the end of last season, really played some pretty good baseball offensively also. So you have all this stuff going on, and [it's] easily the strongest position we've ever been in in regards to catching."
• Even though Tampa Bay traded for Heath Bell and re-signed Juan Carlos Oviedo, giving the team two experienced closers, Maddon won't declare who the closer will be in 2014.
"We'll find that out come Spring Training," he said. "But Heath's very capable of pitching the ninth inning. Oviedo's done that in the past. Joel Peralta has done a nice job, Jake McGee is knocking on the door. So we have all kinds of potential guys to do that. But honestly, I'm not going to say, 'So-and-so is the closer right now.' We're into [who can pitch in] the high-leverage moment."
The situation brings to mind Kyle Farnsworth's in 2011, when he served as the closer but never officially wore that title. He then lost his job to Fernando Rodney in 2012, who that year put together what has been recognized as the best season by a closer.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.