Chances of Each Important Tampa Bay Rays Player Returning

Jamal WilburgCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2013

Chances of Each Important Tampa Bay Rays Player Returning

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    The Tampa Bay Rays have some difficult decisions to make.

    Their 2013 season is over after being eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALDS. Now they must begin the decision-making process that will ultimately lead to their 2014 roster.

    It is a very safe expectation that third baseman Evan Longoria, pitcher Matt Moore and pitcher Joel Peralta will all be on the roster next season. They are the only three players who have contracts in place, without requiring an option or potential arbitration.

    It is also a very safe assumption that the remaining core of the roster will be comprised of young, talented key contributors including outfielder Wil Myers, outfielder Desmond Jennings, pitcher Chris Archer, pitcher Alex Cobb and catcher Jose Lobaton. The Rays value young, talented players and would not be able to afford to replace them in free agency with their budget restraints, and furloughs are not an option.

    That is where the probability changes for key personnel from this season’s postseason run.

    There are some very key contributors to the team, most notably ace David Price, who could be gone by the time Opening Day comes around.

    Here is a look at the probability of six of the most important players returning to the Rays in 2014. Part of the evaluation will include the value of the player, determined by his cost compared to his production. Also, intangibles including leadership and experience will be considered along with organizational trends.

     

    All statistics and contract information courtesy of baseball-reference.com

5. Fernando Rodney

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    It is very likely Fernando Rodney has played in his final game for the Tampa Bay Rays. The 36-year-old pitcher will be a free agent at the end of 2013.

    Nobody expected Rodney to live up to his 0.60 ERA and 48-save performance he put up in 2012. However, it also is shocking that he regressed all the way to a 3.38 ERA and only 37 saves. His eight blown saves in 2013 are the most in his career.

    It is not unusual for the Rays to move on from a closer. They have had pitchers including Rafael Soriano and Kyle Farnsworth rotate through Tampa. If his asking price is too high, the Rays will likely look for their next reclamation project, or use Joel Peralta, to close games.

4. Yunel Escobar

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    Expect the Tampa Bay Rays to pick up the $5 million option on Yunel Escobar.

    Escobar provided a high level of defense which the Rays covet. His amazing plays coupled with a .989 fielding percentage and only seven errors should give him a strong candidacy for a Gold Glove Award.

    His .256/.332/.366 line along with 37 extra-base hits was an improvement over shortstops in previous seasons including Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson.

    Without Escobar, shortstop would return to being a position of need for the Rays. That is something they cannot afford if they plan on contending in 2014.

3. James Loney

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    James Loney is an interesting situation for the Tampa Bay Rays.

    He joined the team coming off of a 2012 season where he posted a .249/.293/.336 line and only 26 extra-base hits.

    The Rays were able to sign him to a one-year deal for $2 million for 2013. His value is sure to increase following the season he has put together.

    Loney finished 2013 with a .299/.348/.430 line, 46 extra-base hits, 75 RBI and 44 walks. If not for Game 163, he would have finished with the season with a .300 average. He also provided outstanding defense and would be an asset the team would surely like to keep.

    It all depends on the price.

    If Loney is looking for $7 million a year, he will likely be out of the Rays' budget. The team has rotated through first basemen over the past few seasons, going through players including Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman.

    The chances of Loney returning to the Rays in 2014 are not likely.

2. Ben Zobrist

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    Ben Zobrist's return to the Tampa Bay Rays is as likely as Tropicana Field attendance coming up as a discussion topic in the offseason.

    The Rays have a team option that they will likely pick up on the two-time All-Star, keeping him on the roster.

    Zobrist is one of Joe Maddon's most-used utility players. In 2013, he played six different positions for the Rays and over his career has played as many as eight in one season.

    His stats are also consistently good. He finished 2013 with a .275/.354/.402 line that included 51 extra-base hits, 71 RBI and 72 walks.

1. David Price

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    David Price will be the most challenging and likely most thought-out decision the Tampa Bay Rays will make in the offseason.

    He is still eligible for arbitration for two more seasons, but it is highly unlikely he will leave the team as a free agent in 2016. History says he will most likely be traded before then.

    The Rays have a history of allowing position players like B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford to hit free agency but trading away starting pitching while they can get something in return.

    Starting pitching has been the Rays' most valuable asset to trade in exchange for prospects. Since 2009, they have traded away Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, James Shields and Wade Davis from their rotation in exchange for multiple pieces that make up the core of the roster.

    Some of the players they have received in return from those trades include Sean Rodriguez, Chris Archer and Wil Myers.

    David Price would demand as much, if not more.

    He could return to the Rays in 2014, as they do not have a suitable replacement.

    He is the leader of the staff. When Kazmir was traded, Shields was ready to take over, and when Shields left, Price was ready. Right now there is no pitcher that is absolutely ready to lead the rotation. Also, with the injuries and decreased performance in 2013 of the Rays rotation, they may need Price for another season to ensure they have a staff that can lead them to a 90-win season.

    Even with the intangibles, if the Rays get a good enough offer, it is likely Price will be traded before the 2014 season.