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Comeback for Pat Burrell may be key to Tampa Bay Rays' season

What single player is most key to the Rays' 2010 success?

There are lots of answers.

Assuming health, stars Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Carlos Peña are obviously all integral.

From there, you could make a case for RHP Rafael Soriano, the $7 million-a-year closer they unexpectedly brought in. For CF B.J. Upton, who has the potential to be a differencemaker. For RHP Jeff Niemann or LHP David Price or, actually, any of the starters in a young rotation that must perform.

What about Pat Burrell?

The biggest disappointment in a downer of a 2009 season, Burrell's return to form could have a huge impact.

This was the guy, after all, who averaged .262 with 31 homers and 99 RBIs over the previous four seasons in Philly. And as bad as he was last year (.221. 14, 64), it may be going a bit far to think he's just done at age 33.

Word is that Burrell has been working out extensively at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona, specifically strengthening his back, and is in tremendous shape. That's one reason to think he could rebound.

Factor in an increased comfort level with the adjustments to the DH role and AL game. Add in — $9 million salary or not — his pride. And there's this: The previous two times he was at the end of a contract, he came up pretty big — .282 with 37 homers and 116 RBIs in 2002, .250 with 33 homers and 86 RBIs in 2008.

Arbitrary matter: There has been no reason, thus far anyway, to think the Rays and Upton will work out a multiyear deal to avoid Friday's scheduled arbitration hearing. The Rays — 3-0 under exec VP Andrew Friedman — will again be represented by senior VP/general counsel John Higgins and use the Proskauer Rose law firm. Upton will join agent Larry Reynolds for the sure-to-be interesting experience.

Manny matter: An MLB-union agreement stemming from a Manny Ramirez-Dodgers issue won't alter the Rays' position on seeking charitable donations from players signing long-term deals.

"We believe it is important for all of our players to be charitable, and our long-term contracts have taken that belief one step further by securing commitments for charitable donations," team president Matt Silverman said. "That will continue to be our practice, and we will work within whatever rules apply."

Rays rumblings: It remains a long shot with Detroit more likely, but free agent Johnny Damon said Friday that the Rays are still a possible destination. … Baseball America has the Rays back atop its organizational talent ranking after a drop to fourth; it's their third No. 1 in four years. … In another interview promoting the MLB 2K10 video game, Longoria told ABC News he vacationed in London and Brazil, plays a lot of Call of Duty and Rock Band (but not baseball) video games and is working out to strengthen his hamstrings with the goal of playing all 162 games. … The Port Charlotte spring stadium will be the second sports facility named Mosaic. The same company has a deal with the Saskatchewan football stadium. … Andy Freed and Dave Wills kick off their Hot Stove radio show from 7 to 8 Monday on 620-AM. Freed had a busy offseason as he and wife Amy welcomed twins Casey and Maddie. … The Rays are sure to welcome new Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, but not too much as he is also a part owner of the Red Sox. … LHP J.P. Howell, 1B Dan Johnson, SS prospect Tim Beckham and Longoria joined the offseason workouts at the Trop. … RHP Wade Townsend, the failed 2005 first-rounder, signed a minor-league deal with Toronto.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

Key dates

Feb. 19: First workout for pitchers and catchers, Port Charlotte

Feb. 20: FanFest, Tropicana Field

Feb. 24: First full-squad workout, Port Charlotte

March 3: First exhibition game, Sarasota

April 6: Season opener, Tropicana Field

Comeback for Pat Burrell may be key to Tampa Bay Rays' season 02/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 6, 2010 6:32pm]

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