There is speculation that Jeremy Hellickson is drawing trade interest. Do you think it makes sense from the Rays' standpoint to trade Hellickson at this point over James Shields, who may be able to create a bigger return for the Rays?
-- Daniel B., St. Helens, U.K.
Sorting out which trade rumors are valid and which ones aren't can be dizzying. Where Hellickson and Shields are concerned, I believe a lot of teams are interested in both. What matters is what the Rays can get in return.
I get the impression Tampa Bay will not go out of its way to trade any of the club's starters, but the Rays are always willing to listen if somebody wants to dazzle them. So buckle up, it should be an interesting Hot Stove season for Tampa Bay.
I was impressed with the way that Stephen Vogt swung the bat this season, even though he never recorded his first Major League hit. I was wondering what role he might play in the 2013 season? Is he ready to catch in the Major Leagues?
-- Sam K., Tarpon Springs, Fla.
I've seen Vogt hit enough to believe that he can hit at the Major League level. His 0-for-25 is a freaky mark and probably has more to do with infrequent play at the Major League level than actual ability. Perhaps the most encouraging thing I saw from Vogt came at the end of the season, when he raised up and threw a strike to third to nail a would-be basestealer. His catching has definitely improved. How much? That's up to the Rays, who like Vogt's bat but want to see more behind the plate. He will go to Spring Training with a chance to win the second catching spot.
Will Rodney be coming back as the closer again next year? He did a magnificent job.
-- David V., Kenneth City, Fla.
Yes, the Rays picked up the $2.5 million option for Rodney's services in 2013, which, I might add, is quite a bargain. You have to tip your hat to the front office for once again finding a quality bullpen arm among the discard pile. And you have to credit Rodney for having what it takes to turn around his career.
Although the Rays' offense had its moments this year, it was a big letdown at the end of the season and at other points in the season, as it has been in the past couple of years. With the Rays having the pitching staff they do, it was obviously the offense that cost the Rays a playoff spot in 2012. How will the club address this problem and plan to fix it going into 2013?
-- Tyler F., Brentwood, N.Y.
I might be in the minority, but I don't think the Rays have a lot to repair in order to have a better offense in 2013. The biggest variable in the equation is whether Evan Longoria can be healthy for an entire season. Had he been healthy this year, Tampa Bay would have skated into the playoffs.
Having said that, I believe the Rays' offense will always be a little bit less imposing than other teams, since they favor pitching and defense. In other words, unless you are an exceptional hitter, they are going to go with a better player on defense. Run prevention is the team's mantra, and that mantra seems to have worked for the Giants two out of the past three seasons.
Is there any possibility that Sam Fuld becomes the full-time center fielder? Then they could leave Desmond Jennings in left and Matt Joyce in right.
-- Dan F., New Port Richey, Fla.
I believe the scenario you mention is the most plausible -- particularly to start the 2013 season. Jennings plays Gold Glove-type defense in left, so why move him to a new position? Meanwhile, Fuld has shown he can play all three outfield positions, and it might be fun to see how "The Legend of Sam Fuld" develops if he is given the chance to be an everyday player.