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Reduced payroll forces tough decisions on Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays have a lot to do this offseason.

By a rough estimate, they have close to $40 million committed to about 20 players — a dozen who are signed or arbitration eligible and another eight or so under team control. And with a working guesstimate that they'll have around $50 million to spend total, you can see how tough their decisions are going to be.

Most of the talk will be about how they replace high-profile free agents LF Carl Crawford, closer Rafael Soriano and 1B Carlos Peña (the only one of the three who might return).

But their primary priority might be the foundation of the bullpen.

Four other relievers besides Soriano are free agents: Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate and Chad Qualls. Dan Wheeler seems a likely fifth given a $4 million option or $1 million buyout, and Lance Cormier might be a sixth if he's not offered a contract after making $1.2 million last season and being eligible for arbitration again.

As it is now, the Rays have J.P. Howell coming off shoulder surgery and Andy Sonnanstine, Mike Ekstrom and Jake McGee coming back.

Manager Joe Maddon expressed hope that at least a couple of the veterans — Balfour (who made $2.05 million) and Choate ($700,000) would seem most likely — can be retained. Benoit, who made just $750,000 during his remarkable comeback season, might be looking to cash in out of their range.

"I'd like to believe that we're going to be able possibly to corral some of the guys that are already here," Maddon said. "I want to believe that the guys that had been here and had a lot of success this season want to come back. I want to believe that. That would be awesome if those guys chose to come back."

Choate and Balfour expressed interest at Wednesday's pack-up session in the clubhouse; Benoit wasn't there.

SEE YA, C.C.: Crawford, on how he wants to be remembered: "Just somebody who played really hard, gave it everything I had. Every ounce of me I had, I always put it out there on the field and just tried to do whatever I could to help the team win."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Bench coach Dave Martinez is expected to soon join the lengthy list of interviewees for the Blue Jays' managerial opening; the Brewers also might be interested. … Peter Gammons told WEEI radio the Red Sox will "go real hard" after Crawford, with the idea he'd be a middle-of-the-order bat. The Angels are also expected to have major interest. … Tuesday's Game 5 loss cost each Rays player and key staffers about $80,000 — the difference in a first-round playoff share (about $30,000) and a second ($110,000). … With Brian Anderson replacing Kevin Kennedy as the full-time TV analyst, securing the radio team should be up next — Andy Freed's at the end of another one-year deal; Dave Wills is signed through 2011. … Maddon's immediate offseason plans: complete purchase of his south Tampa house; buy new SUV; and make cross country drive to his Long Beach, Calif., home with stops in New Orleans, Austin, Texas, and Phoenix.

FAST FACTS

Lining up for 2011

Signed Mill.

INF/OF Ben Zobrist $4.5

RHP James Shields 4.25

C Kelly Shoppach 3.0

3B Evan Longoria 2.0

LHP David Price 1.25

Options/buyout

RHP Dan Wheeler $4M/$1M

INF/DH

Willy Aybar2.2M/275K

ArbitrationLikely

eligible amount

RHP Matt Garza $6M

SS Jason Bartlett 5.3M

OF B.J. Upton 4.7M

LHP J.P. Howell 1.4

RHP Andy Sonnanstine700K

Possible nontenders (2010 salary)

RHP Lance Cormier $1.2M

DH/1B Dan Johnson 500K

C Dioner Navarro 2.1M

Team control*

INF Reid Brignac, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Mike Ekstrom, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, C John Jaso, OF Matt Joyce, OF Desmond Jennings, LHP Jake McGee, RHP Jeff Niemann.

* Not eligible for arbitration or free agency.

Reduced payroll forces tough decisions on Tampa Bay Rays 10/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 16, 2010 9:15pm]

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