I hope the Rays will consider signing free-agent catcher Ramon Hernandez. He is good defensively, as he threw out nearly half of base stealers this year. And he would be a huge upgrade offensively, as he hit .282 with power this year. His salary in 2011 was the same as what Kelly Shoppach would make in 2012 if Shoppach's option is picked up ($3 million).
--Steve S., Clearwater, Fla.
Do you think the Rays will go after someone like David Ortiz this offseason to give some backup to Evan Longoria in the lineup?
--Phillip A., Spring Hill, Fla.
Ah, the Hot Stove League is upon us. However, in both of the above-mentioned cases I don't think you are going to see either come to fruition for the Rays. In Shoppach's case, I have a feeling that the Rays will find a way to bring him back based on what they have at catcher and the way Shoppach finished the season with his bat and his defense. If they don't pick up his option, they could still re-sign him. As for Ortiz, I'm sure the Rays would love to have the Red Sox slugger. Alas, he's simply too costly. No doubt many more rumors of trades and free-agency possibilities will become prominent in the coming weeks and will continue right up until the Rays report to Port Charlotte in February.
Do you think Kyle Farnsworth will pitch for the Rays next season? There is talk about how he is getting older and that he probably will be traded.
--Chris P., Fredericton, NB, Canada
I believe the Rays will first make sure that his elbow is sound -- remember that he had to nurse soreness in his right elbow for most of September. If all checks out, I think they will exercise his $3.3 million option for 2012, and why not? The big right-hander, who will be 36 in April, had 25 saves and a 2.18 ERA this season, which is pretty good at any age.
How soon can we expect to see Tim Beckham in a Rays uniform? After a slow start to his Minor League career, he played in this year's Futures Game, hit .275 with seven home runs at Double-A Montgomery and impressed here in Durham late in the season. Offensive production out of the shortstop position was abysmal this year and appears to be a big weakness going into 2012.
--Carl R., Durham, N.C.
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Shortstop is one of the Rays' most open positions at the moment, and certainly Beckham has to be considered a contender to win the position. Having said that, I believe the competition will primarily come down to Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez, with Elliot Johnson as an outside contender. Brignac looks to be the favorite to me based on the fact that he is the best fielder of that group. Unfortunately, he didn't give the Rays the offense they hoped for in 2011. That being said, Brignac did not let his offensive struggles affect his defense. As for Beckham, there is no reason to rush him. While Rays fans might feel like he's been around forever -- as he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 Draft -- he will only be 22 in January. He can make all of the plays, but he needs to do so with more consistency. At the very least, I think he starts the 2012 season at Triple-A Durham.
Johnny Damon is one of the great names of the Tampa Bay Rays and is the best designated hitter in Tampa Bay history. Damon came here to offer our players great insight on how to act and react in the postseason. He was amazing! He definitely gave our bats some meat and he always kept the bench positive. Would it be out of the question for him to return? His home and his family are in Orlando. Why wouldn't he return? Thanks!! Go Rays in 2012!
--Kenny S., St Petersburg, Fla.
I agree with everything you said about Damon. He gave the Rays a solid bat at DH and his leadership was immeasurable. He's said that he would like to come back, and the Rays have not said anything to indicate that they would not like to have him back. So it will come down to what happens on the dotted line.
I grew up in St. Petersburg and moved to Miami in 1984. Once the Rays came into the league I began to make the trek to St. Petersburg 10 to 12 times a year for games. I was impressed by the play of Casey Kotchman at first base this season and am wondering what you think the chances are of the Rays signing him to a two or three-year deal. I would think he'd be reasonably priced and would provide stability at first. Being a local guy with family in the area, I would think it would be good for Casey as well.
--Jeff B., Miami
Kotchman proved to be a steal for the Rays this season. He signed a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training and began the season at Triple-A Durham, but he quickly joined the team after Manny Ramirez retired unexpectedly. He then proceeded to play Gold Glove defense and proved to be a steady bat, all for $750,000. Based on what he did this season he stands to get a nice raise, whether it's from the Rays or on the free-agent market. However, there is no word from Kotchman regarding whether he plans to give the Rays a hometown discount.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.