ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays officials will arrive in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Sunday night for Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings looking to find the final piece for their everyday lineup and perhaps another piece for their bullpen. Meanwhile, conversations about what the team will do with ace David Price should dominate every nook and cranny of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort.
Whatever happens with Price could dictate how the final pieces fall for putting together next year's team. Would trading him bring the Rays the first baseman they need to fill out the everyday lineup? If the southpaw is traded, will Tampa Bay need to receive a young starter in the deal -- more in its price range -- to take his place? Could the club be planning to package Price along with another player or two to make a blockbuster deal as it did with the Royals immediately following last year's Winter Meetings? All are relevant questions as the focus of Major League Baseball moves to Central Florida.
Here is a quick glance at the Rays' situation.
First base: "First base is an area we absolutely have to address," executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said during a Wednesday conference call.
James Loney became Tampa Bay's first baseman at the 2012 Winter Meetings, and the team received major bang for its buck. Loney signed a one-year deal for $2 million, plus $1 million in incentives, and hit .299, with 13 home runs and 75 RBIs. In addition, he played Gold Glove-caliber defense.
"He's someone that we're interested in, and he knows that," team president Matt Silverman said during an interview with local radio station 620 AM. "The good thing for us is he liked it here. We liked him, he fit in well."
Silverman also offered the following disclaimer by noting: "Our wallet isn't as big as other teams', so that's one disadvantage for us. But I'm hopeful that he can be here."
If Loney is not re-signed to play first, the Rays could turn their attention to trade possibilities such as Mitch Moreland, Mark Trumbo, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda -- or they might look to the free-agent market to consider the likes of Corey Hart, Mark Reynolds and Kevin Youkilis.
Bullpen: Tuesday's acquisition of Heath Bell from the D-backs immediately shored up the Rays' bullpen, provided the veteran closer can return to his old form -- a prospect Arizona general manager Kevin Towers believes is entirely possible.
"I still think he has a lot left in the tank," Towers said. "One thing I loved about Heath is he has a very resilient arm. He'll never shy away from taking the baseball, regardless of how he's been throwing. He has a lot of confidence in his ability, and he's a guy who when other pitchers need rest, this guy will take the ball on back-to-back-to-back-to-back days. If that means pitching in a game that's out of hand just to help the bullpen and the staff out, he'll do it."
The Rays will likely hedge their bet by bringing in other veteran relievers to compete for spots in next year's bullpen, which they have had great success doing throughout the successful run they have enjoyed since 2008.
Who they can trade if necessary
Price: The Rays' ace is the big enchilada for the offseason. He will likely make around $14 million through arbitration next season and will no doubt command more in the coming years. That makes Price a trade candidate, but not necessarily one the club feels compelled to trade unless the right offer comes along. If indeed he is traded, the starting rotation would consist of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson and Chris Archer in the top four spots. Battling for the fifth spot would be Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome and Enny Romero. Tampa Bay would also likely bring in a veteran arm to camp, as it did last season with Roberto Hernandez.
Catchers Jose Lobaton or Jose Molina: The Rays have catching depth for the first time in years after trading for Ryan Hanigan. If Lobaton or Molina is dealt, Chris Gimenez would be next in line if an injury occurred.
The Rays' Top 10 prospects, per MLB.com, are pitchers Taylor Guerrieri, Odorizzi, Colome, Romero, Blake Snell and Mike Montgomery ; shortstop Hak-Ju Lee ; catcher Nick Ciuffo; third baseman Richie Shaffer; and outfielder Drew Vettleson.
The widely held view of Tampa Bay's farm system is that it knows how to produce pitchers but struggles with developing everyday players. Six pitchers can be found among the organization's top 10 prospects, but that's about the ratio any organization would want since pitchers turn over more frequently due in large part to the precariousness of having healthy pitchers. On the plus side, of the three position players listed, two play skill positions -- shortstop and catcher -- and the third has an element of power.
Rule 5 Draft
The Rays have two openings on their 40-man roster, but they have shied away from making picks in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft in recent years. They have not selected a player in the Major League phase since picking left-hander Cesar Cabral with the 14th pick in 2010. Nevertheless, the organization will be ready to pounce if the right player is available.
Big contracts they might unload
With the Rays, it's not necessarily big contracts, but contracts that make other players with lower salaries more attractive. Matt Joyce has been tendered a contract and could make around $3.75 million next season. Given the fact the club has Wil Myers, David DeJesus and Desmond Jennings in the outfield and Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer pushing up from the Minor Leagues, Joyce could be a trade candidate. Sean Rodriguez might fit that category as well. He is arbitration-eligible, and the utility infielder should come in at around $1.3 million. Meanwhile, Tim Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, now appears ready. Though he doesn't have Rodriguez's power potential, Beckham can play second and shortstop.
Tampa Bay's payroll is expected to come down from last season's $61.9 million mark due to the lack of attendance, but nobody knows how much that figure will be reduced. Obviously, the payroll will drop significantly if Price is traded. But in the past, owner Stu Sternberg has shown a tendency to surprise where the team's payroll is concerned. And the Rays never seem to have a hard number they must stay under.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.