ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays didn't live up to expectations this season. Now they'll quickly start working to make next season better than expected.
With the payroll expected to be sliced significantly from the team-record $73 million and up to a dozen potential free agents — topped by the big three of LF Carl Crawford, 1B Carlos Peña and closer Rafael Soriano — executive vice president Andrew Friedman faces numerous decisions.
Nearly the entire bullpen will be up for discussion, with Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and Chad Qualls eligible for free agency, Dan Wheeler having a $4 million option and Lance Cormier a potential non-tender candidate.
The other potential free agents are OFs Rocco Baldelli, Gabe Kapler and Brad Hawpe. C Dioner Navarro is also likely to be non-tendered.
Despite the significant losses, manager Joe Maddon does not believe they are headed for a major fall.
LINING UP: Maddon had his reasons — three specifically — for the way he built the lineup.
Basically, he chose Dan Johnson as the DH over Willy Aybar because of the way Johnson had been hitting left-handers recently; he dropped B.J. Upton to sixth in the order because of the protection he hoped it would provide for Peña; and he stuck with Kelly Shoppach at catcher as much because he didn't want to disrupt the pairing with starter David Price as for any offensive benefit of using John Jaso (which he said he gave considerable thought to).
J.P. DUTY: Reliever J.P. Howell rejoined the Rays for Tuesday's game, having spent the past seven weeks in Birmingham, Ala., rehabbing his surgically repaired left shoulder.
Howell said his teammates had been urging him to come back and join them in uniform for the game. "I was getting a lot of 'hate' texts from the guys," he said. "And (pitching coach Jim) Hickey was giving me some love. So I had to be here."
Howell, noticeably bulked up, said he is making great progress in his rehab, recently starting drills where he simulates his throwing motion with a ball in a sock. He hopes to be back early in the 2011 season.
MISCELLANY: The sellout crowd of 41,845 is the largest crowd at Tropicana Field since June 10, 2000 vs. Florida (42,823). … As he did in the Games 3 and 4 wins, Maddon brought out the lineup card. … The Rays lost their final six games when the opposition started a left-hander; before that, they were 36-17. … Price (14 combined strikeouts) and Rangers LHP Cliff Lee (21 strikeouts) had more strikeouts without allowing a walk in a postseason series than anyone in major-league history.