Pieces fall into place for Rays as Meetings wrap

By Bill Chastain / 12/06/12 4:30 PM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Unlike recent Winter Meetings in which the Rays did more talking about deals than pulling the trigger, they acquired two critical pieces for 2013 during this year's event.
On Monday, the Rays brought James Loney into the fold, agreeing to terms with the free-agent first baseman on a one-year, $2 million deal (which was made official on Thursday) with incentives worth $1 million. On Tuesday, Tampa Bay sent Minor League infielder Derek Dietrich to Miami in exchange for 30-year-old shortstop Yunel Escobar, who will make $5 million in 2013. His deal includes club options for '14 and '15 at $5 million per season.
As usual, the Rays' coveted group of starting pitchers produced plenty of rumors about which teams might acquire any of the group.
James Shields' name continued to be the most prevalent concerning any possible deals including a Tampa Bay starting pitcher. Earlier in the week, the Nationals were rumored to be interested in the veteran right-hander, but Washington ended up signing free-agent starter Dan Haren.
Though that deal fell through, Shields' name was hardly off the table as the Winter Meetings drew to a close on Thursday. According to several sources, Kansas City continues to be smitten with Shields and is said to be willing to part with its top prospect, outfielder Wil Myers, to get him.
The Rays are reluctant to part with any of their starters based on the belief that even if they have starting pitching depth, that status could quickly change if an injury were to occur. In addition, having to find a way to acquire pitching from outside the organization is not a position in which Tampa Bay wants to find itself.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman addressed the perception that the club is actively trying to trade a starter by saying the front office's goal was to field as competitive of a team as possible in 2013 while also keeping an eye on the future.
"And so, there's scenarios in which we keep our pitching and feel like we'll have a chance to be elite on the run-prevention side of things," Friedman said. "And there's scenarios where we move pitching and we're not as good on the run prevention. And ideally we gain enough ground on the run-scoring side to make up for what we lost on the other side."
Shields did not sound fazed about the rumors and seemed to be taking his situation in stride.
"I've been here before," Shields said in a phone conversation. "All you can do is sit back and watch everything play out."
Of note, on the final two days of the Winter Meetings, a rumor continued to circulate about the Rays being involved in a three-way deal that involved the Diamondbacks and Rangers. Shields and Justin Upton were players mentioned who might be a part of the deal.
While the three-way deal brought the latest speculation -- that's what it remained on Thursday, speculation. However, Friedman did feel like the club had made progress during the Winter Meetings.
"At the very least, we have more clarity," Friedman said. "I wouldn't say anything is imminent, but we have more clarity on how we might be able to complete this offseason looking out over the next six to eight weeks."
Deals done: Tampa Bay signed Loney to a one-year deal for $2 million, with incentives of up to $1 million. The Rays also traded Minor Leaguer Dietrech to the Marlins for Escobar.
Rule 5 Draft activity: In the Major League phase, the Rays lost left-hander Kyle Lobstein to the Mets -- who sold him to the Tigers -- and left-hander Braulio Lara to the Marlins. The Giants picked up right-hander Scott Shuman in the Triple-A phase.
Goals accomplished: Acquiring Loney and Escobar answered the questions about who would play first base and shortstop in 2013. Each of the players should give Tampa Bay's defense a boost. Offensively, Loney had a tough year in 2012, but there are reasons to believe he can bounce back. Escobar is no slouch on offense either. Having regulars at both positions will narrow down the amount of maneuvering manager Joe Maddon will have to do on an everyday basis.
Unfinished business: After a hectic week, the revised shopping list includes finding another right-handed bat, perhaps a power bat that could serve as the team's DH. In addition, the Rays need a few bullpen pieces and there are still questions about who will play where in the outfield.
Team's bottom line: "I know there's probably some chicken left on the bone there yet." -- Maddon on Loney