ST. PETERSBURG -- No doubt, the biggest question facing the Rays this offseason is whether or not to trade David Price.
Typical of how the Rays do business, they are not tipping their hand about their plans. Never have they said that they intend to trade Price. However, the Rays' lack of declaration for their intent has not silenced the rumors. Already there have been reports of Price going to the Dodgers or Angels. Even the left-hander has bought into the idea he will be traded.
A day after the Red Sox eliminated the Rays from the 2013 postseason, Price offered his thoughts on the subject.
"If you go from what's kind of been done in the past, I guess you're going to have to think you're going to get traded," the lefty said. "That's kind of the way it's happened with this organization with pitchers when they get to this period of their career. We've seen it happen a couple of times already. And I don't know what's going to happen. But I know what's happened in the past."
In recent years, the Rays traded Matt Garza to the Cubs following the 2010 season, and James Shields was dealt to the Royals following the 2012 season.
Price also allowed that he wasn't frustrated or disappointed by his situation.
"It's just part of baseball," Price said. "I've seen it going on, so it's something I've prepared myself for."
While the climate appears ripe for Price to be traded, Tampa Bay should not feel any pressure to make a deal.
Consider the fact the southpaw does not become a free agent until after the 2015 season. However, he is arbitration-eligible and will almost certainly receive a bump from his 2013 salary, which was a bit over $10 million.
While $13 million to $14 million for one player is tough for an organization like the Rays to swallow, there are worse things than having Price as their Opening Day starter for the 2014 season.
Having that to fall back on, the Rays appear to be playing with house money. If another team wants to try to pry Price loose, it will have to come with a sweet deal, as the Royals did in the Shields deal. While Kansas City isn't complaining about said deal, given what Shields did on the field and the climate he helped create in the clubhouse this past season, Tampa Bay acquired American League Rookie of the Year Award winner Wil Myers in the trade.
Ultimately, if a deal is made, the Rays not only will have a void to fill where performance is concerned. The team also will need to find a way to account for the 200-plus innings Price normally brings to the table. While the pitcher did not reach 200 innings in 2013 -- he compiled 186 2/3 in 27 starts -- he did pitch 200-plus innings in each of the previous three seasons.
If Price does get dealt, the rotation would have four apparent locks with Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Chris Archer.
After that, Jake Odorizzi -- who came to Tampa Bay in the Shields trade -- would be the top contender to fill the fifth spot.
Odorizzi would still have to win the job in Spring Training. Others in the mix could include up-and-coming prospects from the Dominican Republic, Alex Colome and Enny Romero.
Rays fans had a chance to see each during the 2013 season. Colome is right-handed, Romero throws left-handed. Both throw hard. And it's not a stretch to think either could find his way to the Major Leagues in 2014.
"Both Enny and Alex had very encouraging debuts," said executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "We always talk about looking for pitchers with the stuff to beat good hitters in the strike zone. You need that to compete in the AL East, and both of these guys absolutely have it. Enny in particular hasn't had much time to refine his craft at Triple-A, but we feel that both players can contribute significantly in the coming year."
Jeff Niemann, conceivably a non-tender candidate after right shoulder surgery, could also be a contender for the rotation. But given the timetable for recovery, it's likely he would not be able to be ready for the start of the season.
A final consideration in the decision of whether or not to trade Price will be how the Rays view the state of their starting pitching. They must believe that those coming up give them enough depth to make such a trade, or that they receive a pitching prospect or two if such a deal were made. Because, as Friedman is prone to note, the one situation Tampa Bay cannot get into is having to "go to market" to get starting pitching.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.