Rays have decisions to make on first base, David Price

Tampa Bay's left-handed ace David Price is one of baseball's hottest commodities this offseason.

Kim Klement

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — MLB’s winter meetings have come and gone.

The Tampa Bay Rays fell short of making high-profile moves (trading David Price), but that doesn’t mean a framework for future action wasn’t put in place.

Vague by design on Thursday, Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations, said the meetings were “very productive on a number of fronts.” By mid-afternoon, there were no new developments regarding Tampa Bay’s first-base situation. But there’s a good chance the Rays will answer the question within the next week.

Tampa Bay is likely waiting on James Loney either to return or seek a new home — and a raise — in free agency. If he goes elsewhere, possible targets include free agents Mark Reynolds and Kevin Youkilis. If the Seattle Mariners prepare a pitch for Price, Justin Smoak could be included in the conversations.

Oh yes, the Price situation.

Though it’s not known for sure, the cost should be mighty high to secure Tampa Bay’s ace. There’s no escaping the fact that any potential deal’s returns will be compared with what the Rays gained in a trade with the Kansas City Royals for James Shields last December.

“I think coming into it, we had a number of very specific discussions ongoing that we kind of wanted to work through them,” Friedman said. “I think some have advanced. Others look less likely. But all the information that we’ve gathered, I think, is going to be very helpful for us in trying to fulfill our remaining goals.”

Here’s a recap of what was learned here and what’s left to do in the days to follow:

What was accomplished: Traction gained in search of a first baseman

This is the club’s largest offseason need, and it appears Friedman is confident some closure will be reached soon. The Rays would prefer Loney to return — the comfort factor alone would be a reason why — but nobody should fault the eight-year veteran for seeking to receive the best payout he can in the open market.

“Just ongoing conversations,” Friedman said, when asked to describe the progress of first-baseman talks.

“I think within the next week, I feel very confident that we’ll be able to figure something out. I think the conversations have reached a point where I don’t see them dragging on much longer in that time period.

Loney offers a desirable blend of offensive and defensive skill. Expect the Milwaukee Brewers, minus Corey Hart, to pursue him aggressively. Other possible suitors, like the Pittsburgh Pirates, could emerge to raise his price and lure him away.

The Rays have revealed little about their top target in this area, but it appears they’re content with their progress. Certainly, Tampa Bay would feel secure in its position if Loney were to return.

Even if that’s not the case, expect them to target a strong defensive-first talent at first base to fill Loney’s absence. A left-handed option would be preferred since the Rays are heavy on right-handed hitters, but expect the best defensive option available to slide into this role.  

What’s left to do: What to do with Price?

It’s no shock that the ace left-hander remains the offseason’s hottest commodity. A number of teams have reportedly expressed interest in trading for the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner: the Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks, among others.

As expected, the Rays refused to tip their hand all week about how far possible Price trade talks have advanced. To them, information is power.

It would seem logical for the Rays to trade Price sometime before spring training. He’s not scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2015 season, so that means two years of control for a possible winner of the Price Sweepstakes.

This week, Friedman said Tampa Bay’s leadership feels no pressure to trade its prized asset as baseball’s hot-stove action heats up around them. See: Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade, etc.

The Rays will make this choice on their terms.

“We’ve had a lot of different discussions with teams on a lot of different fronts,” Friedman said. “I think some have more momentum than when we got here and others less. I think there are some guys that we’re targeting in a trade that we’re trying to figure out who we can line up. Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure it out soon.”

Will the Rays receive more for Price than what they gained in the Shields/Wil Myers trade last winter? Most throughout baseball think they should, but few possible landing spots for Price have the prospects to make such a blockbuster deal happen.  

This much is known: The drama’s not over. The Rays won’t rush a decision.

“You just know that if you’re going to trade a guy or player like that, the returns should be pretty darn good,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “But then again, you might be at the mercy of what’s available right now. Wil was available last year. There was room last year on the roster. Is there one this year? I’m not as privy to that scouting information to know if that’s true or not. But you’d like to believe you’re going to get a pretty good ransom in return.”

Time will tell. Until then, the baseball world will continue to watch, wait and wonder.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.