I would hate to see "Big Game James" be dealt, but realistically Tampa Bay needs a bat, and we have plenty of pitchers. What do you think the possibility is of James Shields being traded?
-- Chris M., Port Richey, Fla.
Just like in years past, I believe the Rays will listen to offers, but I don't see them going out of their way to trade him. As executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has said on many occasions, having to go to market to acquire pitching is the one situation the organization does not want to get itself into.
However, if a young first baseman or right fielder with a nice contract came onto the radar, who knows? As for Shields, in talking to him this past week, he still wants to remain with the Rays and would like to end his career with the team. He said the Tampa Bay area is his home.
I feel the Rays should stockpile all the pitching they can. Will they try to sign someone off the scrap heap or maybe Ben Sheets out of retirement? I know his velocity is down from before his arm problems, but he did win four games for Atlanta. Just a thought, but Jim Hickey does a heckuva job with the staff. Do you think Shane Victorino has any tread left on his tires?
-- Steve M., McMinnville, Tenn.
The Rays do not generally offer many insights into what they are thinking as far as player moves. The rare exception is their take on having as much starting pitching as possible. Having said that, if they don't trade any of the starters who pitched this season, they will have a nice war chest of starters, thus, I wouldn't expect them to sign many starters off the "scrap heap," as you say. But pitching is always needed for Triple-A, so they might sign a starter or two with the idea they can pitch at Durham and give the club some insurance.
As for the bullpen, Tampa Bay has been successful signing veteran relievers and getting great contributions from them.
Finally, Victorino: He might be a candidate for center field if B.J. Upton goes elsewhere as expected. Obviously that would depend on how much tread the Rays think Victorino has remaining on his tires and how much money it would cost them to sign him.
Do you think the Rays will break the trend and go after a big bat like Josh Hamilton? It would be great to get him back with the Rays.
-- Steve G., Auburndale, Fla.
No doubt the Rays would love to have Hamilton rejoin the team. He would immediately give the offense a major jolt. But in my opinion, there is little chance of him returning to Tampa Bay based on what he is projected to sign for this offseason.
What is the plan regarding both catcher and first base? I love Carlos Pena, but he has clearly fallen off and can't be counted on any longer. Jose Molina was just painful to watch and Jose Lobaton does not impress me at all. Are there any catchers scheduled to be on the market that would be in our price range?
-- Peter G., Arlington, Va.
First, I don't really see any catchers out there in the Rays' price range. Next, after picking up Molina's option last week, it's clear to me Tampa Bay wants him to be a part of its catching situation in 2013. Friedman noted that this year's team was strong in the area of run prevention, and the club felt as though Molina had a lot to do with that.
As for the rest of the group, I'm sure the Rays will look at other options at catcher, but I believe they will arrive at Port Charlotte with the idea Lobaton, Chris Giminez or Stephen Vogt will win the other catching spot.
Evan Longoria is clearly a major talent that the Rays need in their lineup, but it seems over the last two seasons, he's gotten hurt and we lose him for quite a while. One can't help but wonder if this is a conditioning problem or a physical problem with his body.
-- Wayne W., Spring Hill, Fla.
I can tell you this: The problem has nothing to do with Longoria's efforts in conditioning. From what I've gathered, the Rays third baseman works hard in the offseason. Unfortunately, he had an oblique injury in 2011 and a hamstring injury in '12 that cost him a bunch of games.
Longoria's situation reminds me a little bit of Carl Crawford's, when he used to have hamstring problems. Like Longoria, Crawford worked extremely hard in the offseason, only to end up having problems during the season. Crawford continued to experiment with his offseason conditioning until he found a program that worked for him. So, again, I think the effort is there for Longoria, he just needs to find the right offseason plan to help him prevent future injuries.
Longoria's health problems have been frustrating for Rays fans because he is the team's best offensive player, but nobody is more frustrated about Longoria's situation than Longoria.