Matt Moore looks like he belongs. He seems to be mature beyond his years, he's got great athletic ability, and he knows how to pitch. What do you think the Rays will do with him next season? The idea of sending him back to the Minor Leagues seems pretty ridiculous at this point?
-- Kevin S., St. Petersburg
Moore does appear to be the real deal. He's dominated everywhere he's pitched -- including the Major Leagues, so he certainly seems to have earned a shot. If he's in the competition to become one of the Rays' five starters next season, the team will arrive to Port Charlotte with James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, Moore, and Alex Torres fighting for those five spots. Some might suggest that the Rays trade one or more of this group to give the offense a boost.
Personally, I don't believe that will happen. And if it does happen, I don't believe it would come to fruition until the end of Spring Training. Why? The Rays make no bones about the fact they are built around starting pitching. While that depth appears eight deep right now, injuries happen. The Rays have been extremely fortunate in having good health for the most part among their starters. But as anybody who follows baseball understands, that can quickly change. So at the very least, the Rays would want to see how their depth stood at the end of Spring Training before pulling the trigger on any deals. Alas, the Rays management always manages to surprise with the road they take, so only time will tell if they trade one of their starters to acquire more offense. If they do take that road, count me among the surprised.
Great season for the team. I agree with what you recently wrote when you said the 2011 season looked like "bridge year" and it turned into a playoff run. From the looks of things, they will have many of the same faces in 2012 that they had in 2011. What do you think is the biggest area of concern for 2012?
-- Jeff S., Tarpon Springs, Fla.
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I would agree that it appears next year's team will look a lot like the 2011 team. To me, the biggest area of concern is the catching, particularly if Kelly Shoppach is not brought back. Harken back to the beginning of September when manager Joe Maddon said the catching duties would fall to Jose Lobaton and John Jaso. They appeared to be the future. To Shoppach's credit, he remained silent and when the defense of Jaso regressed and the offense of Lobaton never resembled what he did at Triple-A Durham, Shoppach was re-inserted into the lineup and he managed to give the team some consistency at the position. The pitchers like having Shoppach behind the dish and he was far and away the Rays' best receiver at throwing out opposing runners. And while he did not hit for any kind of average, he does give the Rays a power threat.
In fact, one has to wonder if he were to be inserted into the lineup full time if he might come through with 20-plus homers. Now the question comes, do the Rays bring Shoppach back at $3.2 million for 2012 or do they buy him out at $300,000? If they do not bring Shoppach back, they will be faced with finding the best combination from among Robinson Chirinos -- who reportedly broke his right wrist in preseason action in Venezuela and will be sidelined until December -- Lobaton and Jaso or with finding a candidate through free agency or via trade. That scenario coupled with the great lack of Major League catching makes the possibility of bringing back Shoppach look like the best solution. Stay tuned.
Why don't the Rays solve their crowded starting pitching situation by converting Wade Davis into a reliever. With his fastball I could see him becoming a really good closer. What do you think?
-- Tim W., Largo, Fla.
While I agree that Davis would make an excellent relief pitcher, and might ultimately find his way out to the bullpen, giving up on him as a starter at this point would not be a wise move in my opinion. Davis has proven that he can be a solid Major League starter and a clutch one at that if you review the results of some of his bigger starts. Starters are extremely hard to develop, particularly ones of Davis' caliber. I think he has the stuff and the makeup to be an above-average starter, so I would be extremely surprised if he is moved to the bullpen.
Do you think the Rays should bring back Johnny Damon in 2012? I really like watching him play and from everything I've read, it sounds like he's a great player to have in the clubhouse.
-- Steve M., Orlando
I agree with all of the points you made about Damon, he is exciting and I believe he is a great influence in the clubhouse, too. In addition, I believe he is the best DH in team history, even though he is somewhat of a hybrid player in regard to the different things he gives the team. I believe the Rays would like to have him back next season and I also believe Damon would like to return. Ultimately, the question should be answered by how much each side gives when trying to reach an agreement for a new contract.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.