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Exodus of free agents nets Tampa Bay Rays multitude of draft picks

It's hard to see through the parade of Rays leaving, but there will be some good to come from the mass exodus of free agents. And it should be clearly in focus come June, when the Rays have a stunning 10 selections among the top 60 or so picks in the draft.

Under baseball's complicated compensation process, the Rays get two additional first-round picks, Boston's No. 24 (for the signing of Carl Crawford) and the Yankees' No. 31 (for Rafael Soriano), plus seven "sandwich" picks between the first and second round, one for each of the rated free agents they lost.

Add in Oakland's second-round pick (for signing RHP Grant Balfour) and the Rays' own first- (No. 32) and second-round picks and, pending some final adjustment to the draft order, the Rays would have 12 of the first 90 or so picks.

Even better, it's considered one of the deepest draft classes of recent years.

"There's a nice balance of everything, hitters and pitchers, college and high school," Baseball America's Jim Callis said. "With all the picks the Rays have, they should be able to address just about any area they want."

Making it more interesting, this is considered the last draft before Major League Baseball implements a strict slotting system for bonuses, so teams are likely to be overly aggressive in pursuit of premium high school prospects.

This excess for the Rays will come at a cost, however, and that will be an interesting part of the equation, to see how much they'll spend to maximize their opportunity. By some estimates, they'd need to budget $12 million to $15 million for this draft. The average per team the past three years has been $6.3 million with the Rays slightly above that: $9.9 million in 2008, $4 million in 2009 (when they didn't sign their top two picks) and $7.2 million in 2010.

Some of that money is likely to come from this season's savings, part of their "reallocation" of resources, including some of the $11 million they saved by trading SS Jason Bartlett and RHP Matt Garza as they reduce payroll.

NAME GAME: From the names left on the board, figure the Rays would prefer LHP Brian Fuentes over RHP Jon Rauch as closer and Vlad Guerrero as the best of the DH bunch. Another scenario is a lefty/righty combo such as Johnny Damon (or Russell Branyan) and Andruw Jones.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: With Tues­day's deadline to exchange arbitration figures and, under team policy, proceed to a hearing, settlements seem likely with CF B.J. Upton and RHP Andy Sonnanstine. … C John Jaso spent part of the offseason exploring Mayan ruins in Mexico and New Year's Eve in a cabin on a mountain. Of course he did. … OF Josh Sale, the 2010 top pick, now has tattoos covering both forearms, though with meaning — his mom's favorite Bible verse on one, the other a tribute to his Samoan heritage. … With Andy Freed signed through 2013, it follows that radio partner Dave Wills will get extended at least as far. And Todd Kalas will be "happily returning" to his pre-, in- and postgame TV duties, plus calling at least five games. … RHP Lance Cormier, the lone unsigned free agent from the bullpen, is talking to the Rays and three others. … One benefit to the Rays of the Yankees signing Soriano is the perceived split in the New York front office. Also, the Yankees will end up paying their bullpen (Mariano Rivera, Soriano, Pedro Feliciano, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Dave Robertson and a long man) about $35 million, which is more than the Rays' total payroll right now. … Callis also said: "It's scary to think how much better the Rays would be right now" had they drafted C Buster Posey instead of SS Tim Beckham in 2008.

>>fast facts

Launching pad

Pitching in the Rays' 2010 bullpen turned out to be a lucrative position based on the deals signed by six free agents:

Pitcher New team MoneyYears

Grant Balfour A's * $8.1 millionTwo

Joaquin Benoit Tigers $16.5 millionThree

Randy Choate Marlins $2.5 millionTwo

Chad Qualls Padres * $2 millionOne +

Rafael Soriano Yankees * $35 millionThree

Dan Wheeler Red Sox $3 millionOne +

* Not final yet + plus option

Exodus of free agents nets Tampa Bay Rays multitude of draft picks 01/15/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 15, 2011 6:11pm]
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