Grant Balfour's signing is great news -- I was worried about Heath Bell or Juan Carlos Oviedo closing for the team. Do you read anything about keeping David Price into the signing of Balfour? Seems like if the Rays are spending the money on Balfour, they may as well go for it with Price.
-- Sam C., Tampa, Fla.
I would agree with you. The possibility of Price returning seems to be gaining momentum daily. At Thursday's news conference, Rays manager Joe Maddon had this to say when asked about Price:
"Right now, David's a Ray, and I hope he stays a Ray, quite frankly. Love him, love having him. We keep talking about all of these different components within the clubhouse that make a difference. Who makes more of a difference than he does? With all these wonderful things that we're doing right now, to have him there to spearhead the starting rotation, what trumps that? I don't think anything does. In our world, anything could happen. There's no question about that. But I want to believe that David's going to be there, and hopefully he's going to be a Ray for a long time."
However, one word of caution. Tampa Bay's payroll is hovering at around $80 million, by my count. That is a lot of dough for a team that ranks last in attendance. Keeping Price will cost the team $14 million, which doesn't sound like a lot of money when you hear what other players of his caliber are making, but it's still a lot of money just the same. Still, while I believe Stu Sternberg is an intelligent businessman, I also believe he's a true baseball fan and he craves having a World Series champion.
Now that the Rays have three catchers, it appears that Jose Lobaton won't get as much plate time. Considering that he turned out to be a potent offensive force, is it possible that Maddon would consider utilizing him at DH at times, alternating with Matt Joyce or Sean Rodriguez?
-- Jeffrey K., Lehigh Acres, Fla.
As anybody knows, the Rays are unpredictable, which makes guessing what they will do during the offseason -- or at any time during the year -- a challenging endeavor. However, while Maddon has said that carrying three catchers is possible, I don't think it's probable. Thus, I believe Lobaton will be traded before Spring Training.
Why does a dead-pull hitter not bunt against a shift?
-- C, Youngstown, Ohio
Good question. The shift is becoming more and more prominent. Last season, I even noticed more teams shifting on right-handed pull hitters. Rays fans are familiar with the shift, since Maddon has employed wacky-looking shifts throughout his tenure as manager.
Tampa Bay fans also saw Carlos Pena struggle against the shift, having potential hits taken away by the extra infielder on the right side. Occasionally Pena would successfully bunt, but he was paid for putting the ball into the seats, so his average suffered. Part of the problem is the art of bunting is not an easy task. I once asked Carl Crawford why he didn't bunt more. He looked at me and smiled before noting, "Bunting is hard, dawg."
How will Ryan Hanigan perform in handling the Rays' pitching staff?
-- Scott T., Lake Suzy, Fla.
I don't remember seeing Hanigan play, but from everything I've read and heard about him, he is a catching junkie who knows how to handle a pitching staff. During the conference call after Tampa Bay acquired him, Hanigan told reporters he planned to get video of all the Rays' pitchers, so he could spend the rest of the winter familiarizing himself with them. Once Spring Training begins, I'm sure he'll make it a priority to catch all of them so he can absorb all of their nuances.
I also expect to see him in the company of Jose Molina, picking the veteran catcher's brain about what he knows. Thus, I expect Hanigan to be the real deal behind the plate, and that means knowing how to handle a pitching staff properly. Everything I've heard about him from scouts and players is that he is a quality catcher.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.