Adjusting to the game

Mike Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

Roster changes are part of being a major league club. For the Tampa Bay Rays next season, some changes might be hard to swallow.

2008 was a pivotal year for the Tampa Bay Rays. That is the year they emerged onto the contention scene and were no longer thought of as a bottom dweller in the best division in baseball. But gone are the days of players like Troy Percival, Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske, and Scott Kazmir. Having one of the lowest payrolls in the bigs has forced the Rays to keep making moves on the diamond that other teams don’t normally face. This might include saying goodbye to players who mean a lot to a franchise. Unfortunately, in the move making process for the Rays, there are going to be additions and subtractions from the team.

As the 2010 season came to an end, Rays fans knew that next seasons squad will have a new look. How much of that look being new is still to be determined. Carl Crawford, the best player in franchise history and one of the best players in the game today, is at the end of his contract and is in the prime of his career. He is without a doubt one of the most sought after players on the market this off season, and the Rays will need close to a miracle to re-sign him. As if losing a player like Crawford wasn’t bad enough for the Rays this season, Tampa Bay’s starting nine next year might be missing two or three familiar names.

Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, and Grant Balfour are also eligible for free agency this offseason. Infielder Willy Aybar and reliever Dan Wheeler both have club options.

Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, B.J. Upton, Matt Garza, J.P. Howell, and Dioner Navarro are all arbitration eligible. This is huge as the Rays have a lower payroll by $12 million next season.

Although keeping Crawford is a long shot as he will be getting bids from the richest teams in the game, the Rays are hopeful he will return. This goes for Soriano and Pena as well as you could argue they are the two best to play their position in a Rays uniform.

However, one thing the Rays have going for them is their almost overflowing talent in the farm system. Almost every player is replaceable due to the Rays’ depth on the bench or standout in triple A waiting for a shot. Carl Crawford would be replaced by Desmond Jennings. The loss of a starting pitcher could be replaced by Jeremy Hellickson, who already proved he is ready for the majors in 2010. J.P Howell will be returning from arm surgery next year to fill the void in middle relief. Howell missed all of 2010 and was vital to the success in ‘08 and ‘09.  Dan Johnson can replace Carlos Pena, and John Jaso is the catcher of the future if Navarro or Kelly Shoppach were to leave. With an outfield looking like Jennings, Upton, and Zobrist, if Bartlett was to depart later, Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez are certainly a suitable turn two combination up the middle.

As this off season starts to heat up, we will soon find out if the Rays will look like the familiar division champions, or maybe a newer, younger, team of the future.