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Inbox: Why was now the time to deal pitching?

I can't believe the Rays traded one starting pitcher, much less two. What do you think of this deal? And why do you think the team suddenly departed from their cautious approach regarding their starting pitchers? And if they were going to trade one or two of them, why didn't they use them to get a power-hitting catcher. That would have given our offense a much-needed boost, and Jose Molina wouldn't have to catch as many games.
-- Cecil B., Naples, Fla.

As for starting pitchers being traded, the Rays indeed have taken a cautious approach. But in my opinion, the one thing the team was afraid of happening was to hang on to a starter too long. In other words, they want to get good use out of their starters and trade them before their value declines. James Shields' value would likely have never gotten any higher after his past two seasons, and he stands to make approximately $22 million over the next couple of years.

The Rays and Royals began discussing this deal in October, and Tampa Bay really liked what it saw in Wil Myers, who was the key player in the deal. He's said to be a five-tool outfielder. The Rays also got three other top prospects from the Royals' farm system. Myers sounds like the real deal, but we'll have to wait and see. Jumping from Triple-A to the Major Leagues is no easy task.

As for trading for a catcher that hits, there aren't many of those in baseball, and the ones that exist aren't available. In short, Johnny Bench just isn't out there.

What do you think the Rays' DH plans are?
-- Richard S., Brandon, Fla.

Right now, I think they still plan on signing a free agent or trading for one. However, from what executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said during the Winter Meetings, they don't feel panicked about bringing one aboard. If they don't find the right match, I would imagine they will juggle the spot, as they have done many times in the past.

What do the Rays plan to do with Mikie Mahtook? No one really talks about him, but he is a highly-rated prospect.
-- Daniel B.

Mahtook had a solid season in 2012 between Class A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, hitting .277 with nine home runs and 62 RBIs. He is a well-thought-of prospect, and I would expect to see him at Triple-A Durham this season, though they might start him at Montgomery. The Rays are extremely cautious about moving prospects too quickly through their system.

Why did the Rays trade for Yunel Escobar when Ben Zobrist played a perfectly good shortstop? Escobar sounds like a bad apple and Zobrist likes to play the position. I think Zobrist is one of the best players in baseball and easily one of the most underrated as well as being one of the best character guys.
-- Dave W., Ocala, Fla.

Acquiring Escobar will allow the Rays to once again rely on Zobrist's versatility. I expect Zobrist will play right field on nights when a left-hander starts for the other team, and you'll see him play second base when a right-hander is on the mound. While Escobar does have some baggage, I think being in Tampa Bay's clubhouse can bring out the best in him. I can already see Joel Peralta taking Escobar under his wing. And back to Zobrist, he truly is one of the nicest guys in the game.

Do you really think that James Loney is the answer at first base? His numbers aren't very good. Of course, Carlos Pena didn't have his greatest season last year. Have you heard any news about where Carlos might play in 2013?
-- Larry S., Orlando, Fla.

Based on what Loney's numbers looked like in 2012, you would not think he was the answer, but the Rays have had good luck at grabbing guys after they've had a little dip in production and then seeing a resurgence. We know Loney is going to show a good glove, and a good bat might not be that far away. He has a .282 career average, and even though he hit just .249 last year, that is a marked improvement over Pena's .197. Pena also struck out 182 times in 497 at-bats, while Loney struck out just 51 times in 434 at-bats, so that should bring a welcome change. However, Pena did hit 19 home runs compared to Loney's six.

As for where Pena might play this season, I have not heard anything. Here's what Pena's agent, Scott Boras, had to say about his client at the Winter Meetings: "I think Carlos is a guy that didn't have a year that's representative of what he's done the last three years. He's been about a 30-home-run guy and about a 90-RBI guy. He was a little bit off that. Still, I think he's young. By first baseman age, he's young. He provides well-above-average defense and first-base power, and is still productive. He's gotten interest."

Tampa Bay Rays