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Rumors swirl on Rays' Shields; Rodney, Molina back in mix

Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:44 AM

There is a report out of Los Angeles that the Dodgers have targeted Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields as their top offseason priority. For Shields, it's just part of life as the highest-paid member of the team.

The Rays made that official Wednesday when they picked up the 2013 options on Shields ($10.25 million), closer Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million) and catcher Jose Molina ($1.8 million) and declined the option on designated hitter Luke Scott ($6 million).

"In the past years my name was thrown out there quite a bit (in trade rumors), and I expect it to be thrown out there this offseason as well," Shields said. "But right now I'm happy my option got picked up, and I'm going to go about my offseason business as usual, and we'll see what happens."

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman reiterated Wednesday what he said after the season ended: He does not feel pressure to dip into the team's deep pitching to improve the offense.

"We certainly don't feel like we have to," Friedman said. "I don't think we ever want to enter into any decisions feeling like we have to do something and if something lines up that works well for both teams where we trade some pitching, we'll do it. But if it doesn't, we're more than happy to keep it and let that be a real strength of our 2013 team as well."

David Price, the 20-game winner in 2012 who could win his first Cy Young Award later this month, is arbitration-eligible, meaning his 2013 salary could jump as high as $10 million from the $4.35 million he made last season. Given the Rays' payroll issues, it's hard to imagine they could commit as much as $20 million to a pair of pitchers, even when those pitchers are Shields and Price.

But when asked if he sees a scenario where Price and Shields are on the Opening Day roster, Friedman said, "Of course, I do."

Said Shields, "It's up to Andrew. He has some decisions to make this offseason, but me and Price, we definitely want to be here. We've talked about this recently. We want to be a part of this pitching staff that we've developed over the last four or five years. We've had so much success here, and we want to keep this thing going."

Keeping Rodney was a no-brainer. Given what he did last season — a team record 48 saves and a 0.60 ERA that was the lowest in major-league history among relief pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched — $2.5 million is a bargain.

Friedman said he picked up Molina's option because he liked the way Molina worked with the pitching staff. What Friedman couldn't answer is what role Molina will play in 2013 — sharing the role with another catcher, as he did in 2012, or serving as a backup to a front-line catcher who will be added in the offseason.

"Who the other one is I don't know yet," Friedman said. "I don't know exactly how things are going to unfold and how things are going to shake out in terms of playing time. … As we sit here on Oct. 31 it's impossible to know."

The Rays bought out Scott's contract for $1 million. Though Scott's numbers — 14 home runs and 55 RBIs in 314 at-bats — project well over the course of a full season, he was coming off season-ending surgery in August 2011 and then was limited to 96 games because of injuries to his back and oblique.

"(We) just didn't want to make any decisions right now that would push us in any one certain direction," Friedman said. "I want to have a lot of flexibility in our decision-making process. We have a lot of guys potentially to add, so I felt like that gave us the most flexibility."

The Rays signed Scott before the 2012 season to play DH and add depth at first base and the corner outfield spots. That could remain a scenario for 2013.

"Both sides will keep the door open as the winter unfolds," Friedman said.

rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227 Twitter: RMooneyTrib