If Evan Longoria stays healthy for the full 2013 season, what do you predict will happen to his stats? And will his trade value go up? For the Rays to keep him, his value has to go up.
-- Mike L., Toronto
First, in my opinion -- and I think in most people's opinions as well -- Longoria is the team's best player. When he plays, the Rays win more than they lose. I'm aware that a lot of things come into play for whether the Rays win or not, but Longoria's influence is profound. Thus, if he plays in most of the team's games in 2013, I believe the team will have a solid chance to reach the postseason.
Now, you ask what kind of numbers Longoria can put up if healthy. I truly believe he can put up the kind of numbers that would make him a leading candidate to become the American League MVP -- something along the lines of a .300 average, 35-40 home runs, and 100-plus RBIs. As for his trade value, I don't believe the team will be looking to trade him any time soon. They have signed him to a lengthy extension, so the team can factor in his salary to any future budgets and adjust accordingly without any surprises.
Jason Bartlett is a free agent. He had a lot of success with us, including an All-Star season in 2009. Do you see the Rays bringing him back on a Minor League deal?
-- Taylor L., Bradenton, Fla.
You are correct, Bartlett played a key role in the Rays' success while with the team from 2008-2010 before getting traded to the Padres. He had struggles while on the Padres and is now a free agent. In my opinion, Bartlett is a Major League shortstop and no team would be in a bind putting him in the lineup on a daily basis.
Having said that, I don't think the Rays are in the market for another shortstop. Yunel Escobar will be the team's starter and the team still has Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson, not to mention Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee at the Minor League level. However, few can figure out how the Rays reach the decisions they make when putting together their teams. They just always seem to get it right.
How would you compare the offensive outlook of this year's lineup so far (absent a designated hitter) vs. the production of last year's offense? Personally, with some of the additions this offseason and hopes that returning players (Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings, etc.) have resolved some batting woes, I'm thinking we should have a very strong lineup that will be able to put up a lot a numbers (albeit via small ball rather than via the home run). Your thoughts?
-- Jason C., Mulberry, Fla.
First and foremost, I believe this year's lineup will be better based on the assumption that Longoria will be available all season. As I note in one of the previous questions, the different in the Rays' lineup with him is dramatic.
In addition to Longoria, Tampa Bay will likely get better production at first base and DH this season. James Loney will take over at first base for Carlos Pena, whose return to the team did not turn out as well as hoped. As for the DH, Luke Scott's numbers were not terrible, but he was injured so much that the Rays never got the bang they were hoping to get from his bat.
The team will be minus B.J. Upton, who moved to the Braves via free agency. Perhaps Joyce becoming an everyday player can shore up the vacancy left by Upton, or maybe top prospect Wil Myers will step up once he arrives to the big leagues. Again, I do think this year's team has the potential to be much better offensively than last year's team, which did not set a high bar.
How much of a detriment do you think it will be having Joel Peralta, Fernando Rodney, and Ben Zobrist participate in the World Baseball Classic?
-- Carl A., Tampa
Obviously, there are always concerns about pitchers using up too many pitches before the regular season begins. However, Peralta and Rodney are both iron men from the Dominican Republic, where pitching year round doesn't seem to be a problem. Both are used to pitching during winter leagues, so I don't believe in their cases that the added games will be a problem since they are usually up to speed by this time of the year anyway.
As for Zobrist, he'll have to get his hitting stroke honed earlier than usual, which might be a good thing based on his slow start in 2012. The only consideration with him will be to make sure he gets rested enough. Rays manager Joe Maddon has always been proactive in that regard. Thus, I don't think Tampa Bay will have any major problems stemming from participating in the grand event.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.