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First baseman ranks high on Rays' agenda

Tampa Bay could bring back Loney or look at free agents, trade market

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Making progress toward the desired end characterized the Rays' time spent during this year's Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort.

While most of the baseball world wondered who would trade for David Price, the Rays seemed most interested in solving the puzzle regarding who will play first base in 2014. Critical to that search is finding someone capable of playing solid defense.

"We want somebody who can play over there," manager Joe Maddon said. "We need somebody who can play first base well. We just have to. There's no getting around that."

Free agent James Loney, last year's starting first baseman, is reportedly looking for a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $30 million. If Loney's demands somehow drop to where Tampa Bay could afford him, there is little doubt the club would like to have him back.

Rumors have the Rays interested in the right-handed-hitting Mark Reynolds, but even though the free agent has power, he's more of a free swinger than what the club has had in the past. As for potential trade candidates, Tampa Bay has been mentioned as suitors for Ike Davis of the Mets and Mitch Moreland of the Rangers.

"I think in the next week I feel confident we'll be able to figure something out," executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said about solving the first-base situation. "I think the conversations have reached a point where I don't see them dragging on much longer than that time period. But it's tough to say with an extremely high level of conviction, but I'd be surprised if it went past five, six, seven days."

Meanwhile, until the Rays decide whether they will trade Price or keep him in the fold, they will be receiving calls from other teams hoping to acquire the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner.

Whatever happens with Price could dictate how the final pieces fall for putting together next year's club. Would trading him bring the Rays the first baseman they need to fill out the everyday lineup? If they trade Price, will the organization need to receive a young starter more in its price range in the deal to take his place? Could Tampa Bay be planning to package Price along with another player or two to make a blockbuster deal? All those questions remained unanswered as the club departed the Winter Meetings.

"We've had a lot of different discussions with teams on a lot of different fronts," Friedman said. "Some have more momentum than when we got here and others less. There's some guys that we're targeting in trade that we're trying to figure out if we can line up, and hopefully we'll be able to figure that out soon."

Deals done: After acquiring shortstop Yunel Escobar at the 2012 Winter Meetings, the Rays did not make any deals at this year's Meetings. However, look for activity to take place in the coming weeks. Last year's blockbuster deal that sent James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson (the player to be named) to the Royals for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard took place immediately following the Winter Meetings.

Rule 5 Draft activity: No one interested the Rays in the Major League phase, so they took a pass. They didn't walk away empty-handed, though, as they claimed right-hander Enderson Franco from Rookie Level Greeneville in the Astros' organization in the Triple-A phase. Later in the same phase, they lost catcher Omar Narvaez, who played at Class A Hudson Valley.

Goals accomplished: For most of the Winter Meetings, the Rays were the talk of the baseball world because of the speculation about Price getting traded, which fueled the first two days. Those rumors were less prevalent in the final two days, leaving Price's status an unknown as the team heads into the remainder of the offseason. Tampa Bay will no doubt receive many offers for its ace, the question is whether any teams will be willing to part with the requisite players for an ace.

Unfinished business: After a rather silent week, the Rays' shopping list remains the same as when they arrived in Lake Buena Vista. The top priority is finding a first baseman. The club would love to bring back Loney, but several teams are showing interest in him. If Tampa Bay doesn't bring him back, it will likely sign a free agent, though the idea of acquiring a first baseman in a trade that might include Price is a possibility.

Team's bottom line: "I think we've advanced the ball in some areas to potentially do some things sooner than later," said Friedman.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for
Read More: Tampa Bay Rays, James Loney, David Price