Most of this year's bullpen depended on blowing away the other team's hitters, except for when Joel Peralta was in there. He's cagey and competes, and once again he proved to be a solid performer. I really liked having Peralta to come in and [pitch] the eighth inning this season. I know he is a free agent, but what do you think the chances of him coming back for next season are? Does he even want to come back?
-- Joe P., Tampa
I talked to Peralta on the final day of the season, and the Dominican Republic native definitely would like to return, which he made emphatically clear in his comments. He even said he would deal with the Rays first and exclusively, because he wants to remain in Tampa. Whether he returns could come down to whether Peralta gets a two-year offer from another team.
Peralta clearly understands what his value is from a financial point of view. If the Rays do manage to bring him back, I would expect him to once again be a pitcher who can be counted on during late-inning situations when the game heats up.
Do you think Ben Zobrist will be the team's shortstop in 2013? I thought he played really well once he moved over there this season. And by moving him over there, it allowed Joe Maddon to get another hitter in the lineup. I'm all for him being the Opening Day shortstop.
-- Nick L., Bradenton, Fla.
I agree with you, having Zobrist at shortstop proved to be a good move on several fronts. First, having him there helped the offense by allowing the addition of another hitter to the lineup and creating an opening in right field, an offensive position Zobrist normally played before making the move to shortstop. In addition, Zobrist likes playing the position and he made all of the routine plays. Maddon even noted that Zobrist had "no chrome," meaning he wasn't flashy. The Rays manager meant that as a compliment.
The way I see it, the one thing that could make the shortstop position interesting is if Hak-Ju Lee is deemed ready to take over the position at the Major League level. Lee is an above-average fielder who can stun you with the way he plays defense, but I don't know if he's ready to make the jump yet. If I had to make a bet right now, I'd say Zobrist will be the Opening Day shortstop next season.
I think the Rays should trade James Shields. After the way he ended the season, I don't think his value could ever be higher than it is right now. I say trade "Big Game" and get an impact player for the offense. I mean, it's not like the Rays don't have a surplus of starting pitching. What do you think?
-- Tim C., Brooksville, Fla.
I don't think it's that much of a cut-and-dried decision. While Shields will make $10.25 million next season if the Rays exercise their club option for his services, that's a bargain, relatively speaking. Having Shields and David Price at the top of the rotation gives the team 400-plus innings. That goes a long way toward allowing the bullpen to be successful, because having pitchers who go into the sixth or seventh inning every night lets Maddon use the members of the bullpen to match up against certain hitters or pitch in situations where they are strongest, rather than just coming in and having to cover innings. Not only is Shields talented, he is the obvious leader of the staff. If the Rays do decide to trade him, I think they will have to get a lot in return.
Why didn't the Rays move Wade Davis back into the rotation this season when they had injuries like the one to Jeff Niemann? After all, Davis was the guy Niemann beat out for the final spot in the rotation. Do you think Davis will be back in the starting rotation next season.
-- Terry G., St. Petersburg, Fla.
First, Davis was not moved back into the starting rotation because Maddon and company did not want to jerk him around this season. Rather than moving Davis back and forth, they wanted to give him a fair chance to succeed in the bullpen, which he did. While there are pitchers who do pitch in the bullpen and make an occasional spot start, the routines of starters and relievers are dramatically different. Thus, the Rays took the route they chose.
As for next season, let's wait and see what the roster looks like before making an early call. But based on the grace that Davis handled his assignment this year, along with his talent and his desire to be a starter, I think he'll get an opportunity to win a spot as a starter next spring.