Timing can be everything, and for the Rays, it couldn't be worse this offseason.
They're trying to restock an entire bullpen while cutting payroll, and the relief market has exploded in terms of dollars and years being doled out.
"It's been," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "a very good offseason to be a reliever."
Agree or not with principal owner Stuart Sternberg's decision to cut back, the reality is the Rays aren't going to pay the price for any of the top free agents. Especially when setup men and middle relievers are getting staggering deals such as their own Joaquin Benoit, $16.5 million, three years from the Tigers; Scott Downs, $15 million over three from the Angels; Jesse Crain, $13 million over three from the White Sox.
"It's not something we anticipated," Friedman said. "Especially in an offseason when we needed to remake our bullpen, it's not necessarily ideal. But you have to react accordingly and do what you can."
And that's why the Rays have done what they've done, signing Joel Peralta from the low side of the market, taking a shot on Class A lefty Cesar Cabral in the Rule 5 draft and trading SS Jason Bartlett for three relievers — Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos and prospect Brandon Gomes — and some financial flexibility.
They need to do more, given that if they had to play today — and Friedman is correct in stressing they have 3½ months until they do — their top relievers would be Peralta (likely closer), Andy Sonnanstine, Russell and Ramos or Cabral. (LHP J.P. Howell is expected back sometime during the season.)
There's some money — though, with almost $40 million committed, it doesn't sound like much — to make another signing or two on the low end. They could push rookie Jake McGee and, maybe, Alex Torres; cast a wider net on minor-league invitees to join R.J. Swindle and Cory Wade; convert one of their starters (James Shields? Jeff Niemann?).
Or make another trade, though it's hard to foresee a big deal as Friedman maintains he is still not looking to part with one of his six starters. (You do wonder if that position will evolve as offers mount given Cliff Lee's decision and after Zack Greinke gets dealt from the Royals.)
SAYING THANKS: New Cub Carlos Peña bids an emotional goodbye to Tampa Bay in a half-page ad in Monday's Times, thanking the Rays "for believing in me when no one else did," his teammates for their friendship and the memories and the fans "for pulling for me every night and day. I will be forever grateful." … Carl Crawford hasn't said his thanks yet, but the drays.com bloggers took out an ad in Friday's tbt* thanking him.
Crawford FALLOUT: Angels owner Arte Moreno made it clear to the Los Angeles Times he didn't think Crawford was worth the seven-year, $142 million contract, saying the money was "crazy," the term "a huge risk financially" and the overall deal was not "smart business" because they'd have had to raise ticket prices. Plus, they didn't project Crawford to hit for power in their ballpark.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: With Reid Brignac taking over at short and Elliot Johnson in line for a utility role, Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist are projected to split time at second. … Irony of the Peralta signing is Friedman's first move on the job in October 2005 was claiming him on waivers, but the Royals got him. … Evan Longoria's new national TV spot is for Gillette, according to the Denver Post, paired with Rockies LF Carlos Gonzalez. … Manager Joe Maddon and team staff cooked and served about 1,000 meals to the needy during his four-day Thanks-mas. … Bodog.com's odds on the Rays winning the 2011 World Series have already gone up from 14-1 at the start of the offseason to 20-1. (The Phillies are the favorite at 3-1, the Red Sox 5-1.) … Benoit won the mlb.com/MLB Network GIBBY award for top setup man. … The Rays will keep the dirt infield at the Trop when switching to Astroturf for next season. … There won't be changes to the uniforms for 2011, meaning the road jerseys will continue to say RAYS rather than TAMPA BAY.