Depending on the precarious health of Troy Percival, it's foreseeable that the Rays could start the 2009 season with a bullpen-by-committee rather than having a true closer. If that becomes the case, J.P. Howell, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour and Chad Bradford would likely lead that charge, unless one of the four emerges as the closer. And the possibility still remains that Tampa Bay will acquire bullpen help via a trade or a free-agent acquisition during the offseason.
Price got Rays fans excited about the prospect of him becoming the team's closer by the composed way he pitched and the stuff he showed during the postseason.
Particularly memorable from Price's stellar postseason was his outing against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, in which he entered the game in the eighth inning to face J.D. Drew with the bases loaded. The first pitch Price threw was an 89 mph slider on the outside part of the plate for strike one. He ended up striking out Drew, then got the final three outs in the ninth to preserve the win and earn a save in the game that sent the Rays to their first World Series.
Price went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 2 1/3 innings in three ALCS appearances, claiming the win in Game 2, and he went 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in two World Series appearances.
While Price is anointed to be a starter, Friedman said there is no guarantee he will be in the starting rotation at the beginning of the 2009 season. Currently, the Rays' rotation consists of Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine, and all enjoyed good seasons in 2008.
There is a chance Tampa Bay might trade one of its starters to acquire a right-handed power hitter, preferably one who plays right field, but Friedman said the Rays understand the strength of the organization is in the depth of their pitching.
"I don't think [trading one of the team's starters is] something we're going to actively try to do," Friedman said. "If someone wants one of our pitchers and it lines up for us, then great. But it's not something that's necessarily a goal.
"We feel like we do have starting pitching depth. But we're also very sensitive to getting too carried away with it. With the attrition rate [of starting pitching] we're also aware of how you could be waking up on the fifth day of the season and starting a Minor League free agent in that game."
Price, 23, was chosen by the Rays first overall in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt University before his meteoric rise through Tampa Bay's system in his first professional season. He went 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA in six starts at Class A Vero Beach before getting moved to Double-A Montgomery, where he went 7-0 with a 1.89 ERA. At Triple-A Durham, he went 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts before going 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in two playoff starts.
The Rays recalled Price on Sept. 13 and he made one start and four relief appearances, going 0-0 with a 1.93 ERA.