What's the latest on David Price? Are the Rays going to keep him or trade him? If they are going to trade their ace, why hasn't that happened yet?
-- John T., Tampa, Fla.
Speculation about Price continues, and I've got to admit that I've been surprised there hasn't been more action. Looking at the situation, the Rays don't have to trade Price. The southpaw should make about $30 million over the next two seasons, and he's under team control. If Price stays, he's the Opening Day starter -- and that's not a bad thing.
Price is likely at his peak value right now, a fact Tampa Bay understands, as do possible suitors. Last year's trade that sent James Shields to the Royals and brought Wil Myers to the Rays was a fair deal for both teams, but I think there is some sentiment among rival general managers that they don't want to trade a potential American League Rookie of the Year Award winner (like Myers) to acquire Price.
There also seems to be merit in the idea that interested clubs are waiting to see what happens with Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (the period to sign him ends Jan. 24 at 5 p.m. ET) before they make a play for Price. So a lot of variables affect the many possibilities, and will continue to do so. But I've got to say, I'm starting to think that Tampa Bay will bring Price back this season.
I like the acquisition of Ryan Hanigan, but the Rays still have Jose Molina, who just signed a two-year deal, and Jose Lobaton. What is happening with the catching situation?
-- Doug M., Los Angeles
Lobaton appears to be the odd man out, if you do the math. Based on the strong manner that Lobaton ended the season, I admit to being surprised by this situation as well. Earlier in the offseason, Lobaton was rumored to be headed to the White Sox in a trade, which didn't happen. Could Lobaton be a piece in a deal trading Price elsewhere?
There are worse things than having three healthy Major League catchers, as the chances of an injury occurring to one of the three catchers -- or any number of backstops on other clubs -- is great. Thus, the Rays would be covered if they have an injury, or they can deal a catcher to a team with a catching problem. Manager Joe Maddon noted during the Winter Meetings that having three catchers on the 25-man roster would be an odd situation, but not out of the question. Still, I expect Lobaton to be traded elsewhere.
For the first time in a few seasons, the Rays begin this year with very few question marks. From the guys the team has brought back and the trades it has made, I truly believe that this club can be good. Do you think Tampa Bay has a realistic shot at taking the AL East crown from Boston and making a deep run in the playoffs this season?
-- Ben J., St. Petersburg
Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman noted during a conference call that the 2014 payroll could come in at a record-high number, which he explained by saying that the Rays feel like they have a "really good chance to be great" in 2014. I would agree with Friedman about the chances for this year's team -- particularly if Price returns. In addition, Boston and New York seem to be in transition.
Since no one is willing to give up that top prospect for Price this year, will the Rays be looking to maybe trade Jeremy Hellickson for good prospects or another bat? I feel the club still needs one more power hitter.
-- Brandon D., Clearwater, Fla.
I don't believe a trade of Hellickson is imminent. While the Rays have a policy to entertain any possible deal, I don't think dealing Hellickson is on the radar. For one reason, his value is probably lower than normal, given his 2013 season. In addition, I think Hellickson is a good bet to rebound to his previous form this year. As for another bat, the organization always seems to be looking for more offense. Part of that problem can be attributed to the cost associated with another power hitter, and another part of that equation is Tampa Bay's preference for having somebody who can field as well as hit.
Who will play left field this season? Ever since Carl Crawford left, it's been somewhat of a jam.
-- Ariel K., Chicago
Right now, the outfield looks like Desmond Jennings in center field, Myers in right and David DeJesus or Matt Joyce in left -- with either of that pair being used at designated hitter when not playing the field. You can probably count on seeing Sean Rodriguez out in left on occasion as well.
With three legitimate .300 hitters in Evan Longoria, Myers and James Loney, is this potentially the best offensive team the Rays have fielded to start a season?
-- John S., Palm Harbor, Fla.
I would agree with you -- and don't forget Ben Zobrist. Factor in the other possibilities of Jennings reaching his potential and Hanigan rebounding from a subpar 2013 offensively, and the outlook looks pretty bright.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.