TAMPA, Fla. -- The Rays and their reigning American League Cy Young Award winner are saying all the right things about his long-term future.
Tampa Bay has not once publicly mentioned wanting to trade left-hander David Price, and according to principal owner Stuart Sternberg, it hasn't even been discussed internally.
Price, who won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, says he feels at home in Tampa Bay and could spend his entire career there, but he understands what he's worth. The Rays say they want to keep him as long as possible, that he's a big part of their success, but if they were to lock him up as they did teammate Evan Longoria, they'd have to consider how little they'd have left to spend on the rest of their roster.
"We haven't had those thoughts," Sternberg said earlier this spring when asked about Price becoming too expensive for the Rays' lower-income payroll, forcing them to trade him. "Others have speculated. It's been speculation, but we haven't had those thoughts at all."
Ah, the speculation. It's what fuels the rumor mill every offseason and right around the middle of each season as the July 31 Trade Deadline draws near. The speculation that began in earnest over the winter likely will continue this year and every year until Price is either signed to a long-term deal or is wearing another uniform.
Price certainly isn't alone in that regard. Plenty of names will be bandied about in the coming months as the season rolls on, with contending teams attempting to bolster their rosters for the stretch run or fill holes created by injury, while the rest of the pack looks to build for the future.
Granted, it's impossible to predict what will happen at this year's Trade Deadline. Who knows what the standings will look like come midseason? We can't peer into the future to see who's going to be hurt, who's going to be available or unavailable, who's going to need what and how they're going to go about acquiring it.
But the speculation will continue, and it won't be limited to just Price. Giancarlo Stanton, for instance, has been dealing with the rumors ever since the Marlins unloaded all their other star players this offseason. Stanton expressed his unhappiness with the moves and everyone else started counting down the days until Miami sends him off for a king's ransom. And like Price, those rumors probably will follow Stanton into the season, no matter what he or the Marlins say.
Don't believe it? Ask B.J. Upton, the Braves center fielder, whose name was often a popular topic in trade speculation toward the end of his tenure with the Rays. He never was traded, instead playing out his contract despite the particularly persistent rumors in 2011 and '12.
Nerve-wracking as that time admittedly was for him, he learned to take it in stride. He'd poke fun at the rumors, walking into the clubhouse each day and reminding reporters that he hadn't gone anywhere yet. Last July 31, he literally watched the clock tick past the Deadline and threw up his hands in celebration.
Justin Upton, B.J.'s brother, faced even more of those rumors and questions in Arizona. The only difference was that the speculation turned into reality for the younger Upton, who was dealt to Atlanta over the winter.
"It's something that you don't have any control over, so the best thing you can do then is just go and play," B.J. Upton said. "Like I used to say, whatever happens happens. It's out of your control.
"You've got to answer the questions about being traded and all that. Doing it every day, it does get exhausting. There's nothing you can do. If they're going to trade you, they're going to trade you."
But that didn't stop the speculation, and it won't stop us from looking forward to a few potential key storylines as the calendar pages flip toward July 31.
Biggest names: We're talking Price, Stanton and maybe even Padres third baseman Chase Headley -- All-Stars and potential franchise cornerstones. We've seen what the Rays are saying about Price, and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said in February that Stanton "will be here this year, and I'm hopeful that he will be here the next year." Padres GM Josh Byrnes had similar news, recently telling MLB Network's Peter Gammons that San Diego is focused on building a good offensive team and isn't "breaking it up now," which would mean Headley isn't going anywhere.
That's not to say clubs have never publicly made it seem as if players were unavailable before trading them, but that's the situation as we know it at this point.
Who could sell: Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has made more than a dozen trades since taking the position in December 2011, and as Houston continues rebuilding from the ground up, that probably won't stop this year. Recent reports say the Astros could shop right-handers Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell, though Luhnow recently told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, "Right now it would take a significant offer to even consider something." Houston also brought in veterans Carlos Pena, Jose Veras and Rick Ankiel, who could net a few prospects or young players if they perform well during the first half of the season.
The Twins could be in position to sell, too, in much the same way that they traded center fielders Denard Span and Ben Revere over the offseason to help replenish their supply of young pitching. First baseman Justin Morneau could become a hot commodity for clubs looking to add a powerful left-handed bat. Michael Cuddyer, Morneau's former Minnesota teammate now with the Rockies, has also been widely considered a potential trade target.
The Cubs made plenty of moves at last year's Deadline and figure to be active again this year if they struggle to stay in contention. Right-hander Matt Garza could be a trade candidate if he's healthy and pitching well, and outfielder Alfonso Soriano could provide a boost for a team looking for more offense.
Who could buy: This is the most difficult aspect of the trade market to predict at this point. But take a look at the clubs that are expected to make a playoff push and might be searching to fill holes. For instance, if Pete Kozma can't match his excellent end to 2012 over a full season as Rafael Furcal's replacement, the Cardinals could be looking for a shortstop.
Depending on how their current teams fare and whether a few top prospects develop quickly enough, it stands to reason that Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera, Baltimore's J.J. Hardy or even Texas' Elvis Andrus could be available.
What about the relievers? Bullpens are so volatile and so constantly in flux that teams' wants and needs in that area constantly change throughout the course of a season, right up to the Deadline.
Injuries will play such a large part in determining possible Deadline buyers, as they always do. If the Rangers hadn't lost Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz last year, maybe they wouldn't have pursued Ryan Dempster as strongly. Had Buster Posey not been injured in 2011, maybe the Giants wouldn't have had to give up pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran to bolster their offense.
Until the talks turn into transactions, we'll have to wait and see, just like many players must do amid the speculation.
"Whether I'm a Ray or whatever else I am, this mound is still 60 feet, six inches away from home plate," Price said. "It doesn't change what I do from a day-to-day basis. It doesn't weigh on me at all. I don't put any thought into it, to be honest."