Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey “wouldn’t be surprised” if Fernando Rodney returns

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The Rays addressed their need for a closer by acquiring Heath Bell in a three-team trade at the beginning of December. Fernando Rodney, who had been their closer for the past two seasons, became a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013 regular season, but the right-hander has yet to sign with a new team. As a result, pitching coach Jim Hickey says he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Rodney ends up returning to the Rays, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.

GM Andrew Friedman also said he would “see if anything makes sense” in terms of adding additional relievers. If the Rays were to sign Rodney, he would likely remain as the closer, pushing Bell into a set-up role. Bell had good defense-independent numbers last season but gave up way too many home runs (12 in 65.2 innings) and allows an unusually high rate of hits on batted balls for a back-end reliever. Meanwhile, Rodney had an historically great season in 2012 (0.60 ERA) and still had one of the better seasons of his career last year (3.38 ERA).

Martin Maldonado and Willson Contreras say they’re willing to pay fines rather than follow new mound visit rule

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On Monday, Major League Baseball announced some changes aimed at improving the game’s pace of play, something that has been a pet cause for commissioner Rob Manfred. Among the changes was a limit on mound visits whether from managers and coaches, the catcher, or other defenders. Each team will have six non-pitching change mound visits per game and one additional visit each inning in extra innings. Craig wrote more in depth on the changes here if you happened to miss it.

Angels catcher Martin Maldonado says he is going to do what’s necessary to stay on the same page with his pitchers. Via Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register, Maldonado said, “If the game is on the line, I’m going to go out there. If we’re at six [visits], and it’s going to be the seventh, I’m going to go out there, even if I have to pay a fine. I’m there for the pitchers.”

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said as much on Tuesday. Per Josh Frydman of WGN News, Contreras said, “What about if you have a tight game and you have to go out there? They can’t say anything about that, that’s my team and we just care about wins. If they’re going to fine me about number seven mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Exhibition games haven’t even started yet, but two notable backstops — the lesser-known Maldonado won a Gold Glove last year — are clearly not happy with the rule change. As Craig alluded to in his article yesterday, arguments between catchers and umpires (and, subsequently, managers and umpires) are probably going to become more frequent, which would likely end up nullifying any pace of play improvements.

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Update (4:43 PM ET): In response to this, Manfred said that if a catcher or coach made a seventh mound visit, there would have to be a pitching change (via Fletcher). However, chief baseball officer Joe Torre said (via SB Nation’s Eric Stephen) that the seventh visit cannot trigger a pitching change. The umpire would simply have to prevent the seventh mound visit.