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Inbox: Assessing risk of Longoria's deal

I think Evan Longoria is one of the best players in baseball, and anybody can see that the Rays are a lot better with him than without. Having said that, I think the Rays are nuts for signing him to a long-term deal based on his history of injuries. To me, they are taking a huge -- and unnecessary -- risk. What do you think?
-- George N., Jacksonville, Fla.

Andrew Friedman did not deny that there is risk involved in this deal, which guarantees Longoria an additional $100 million and can last up to 11 more seasons, but the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations quickly added that there is risk involved in almost any deal.

Friedman's comments notwithstanding, I'll agree with you that based on Longoria's injury history, there is some risk, particularly when Tampa Bay had him locked in for another four years from the initial deal he signed. But Longoria is assuming some of the risk as well.

Based on the escalating salaries of top-tier free agents, he could easily make significantly more money as a free agent if he continued at his current level of play. After listening to both parties talk about the deal on Monday, I felt that each side gave a little bit to complete a deal that both wanted.

From my perspective, the Rays missed the playoffs due to inadequate defense in the first half that cost them several games. Longoria's injury hurt defensively, and it seemed that the left side of the infield was a liability. Now, one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball -- B.J. Upton -- will likely leave for greener pastures. Since the Rays have plenty of pitching depth, do you think they should focus on improving their defense instead of their offense, or vice versa?
-- Noel P., Hudson, Fla.

I totally agree with your point about the first half -- the Rays' defense was not good during that period. It seemed that Longoria's injury created a snowball effect that caused several players to play out of position for prolonged periods while covering for his absence.

Which direction will Tampa Bay go in the offseason? Hard to say, but you can bet the club is crunching the numbers right now, trying to figure out what combination will give it the best combination of offense, defense and chemistry necessary to again reach the playoffs.

Which of the Rays' starting pitchers is the most expendable and would generate the biggest return in a trade?
-- Andrew M., St. Petersburg

According to Friedman, the one thing the organization can't do is get into a position where it has to "go to market" to get starting pitching. Having said that, I don't think there is any question that David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson are the club's most highly valued starters, which isn't a slight to the long list of starting pitchers the team has in its stable.

While the Rays value each of those three pitchers, each has questions leading to factors Tampa Bay must consider when determining whether to move forward with a commitment to them. Shields, for example, always gives the team a chance to win, has great stuff, is the leader of the staff and logs more than 200 innings every season. He's been a horse. If you're the Rays, you're looking at the fact that he will make $10.25 million in 2013, when he'll be 31, and they have other pitchers coming up from the Minors. Should Tampa Bay keep Shields while he's at top market value or trade him to fill a need?

The same goes for Price, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. Should the Rays shop him before his salary escalates to an outrageous level? Tough call to make. On the other hand, in order to get something of value in return, you must give up something of quality. Next week, the speculation about Tampa Bay's pitchers will again heat up when the Winter Meetings get under way in Nashville, Tenn. Truthfully, I'd be more surprised if the club traded one of its starters -- particularly Shields, Price or Hellickson -- than if it stood pat.

Jeff Keppinger was a great signing last year. I thought he was the best offensive player on the team other than Longoria when he was in the lineup. Is there a chance the Rays re-sign him? I would have thought that was a no-brainer.
-- Doug G., Gainesville, Fla.

Keppinger really opened my eyes last year. I didn't know much about him, but watching him play almost every day was a treat. The veteran infielder was the consummate professional. I enjoyed writing a story about him in August after I was able to spend some time with him. Once we began to talk about hitting, I marveled at how knowledgeable he was. The veteran has great ideas that he puts into place every time he steps to the plate, and I can't write enough about how impressed I was with his approach and how he played.

Having said that, I think I understand where the Rays stand with Keppinger. They, too, loved what he brought the team. But they're always interested in what they perceive to be the value of any given player. Tampa Bay loved what Keppinger gave the club at the salary it paid him last year. However, after the season he put together in 2012, there's little doubt he will command a higher salary next season than he made this season. He may even get a multiyear deal for more than what the team feels he's worth.

So while I think the Rays might like nothing more than to see Keppinger return next season, I'd be surprised if they sign him. It's a numbers game, and I don't know if the numbers will add up for his return, although I certainly believe the team still has great interest in him.

Tampa Bay Rays, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Keppinger, Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields