PORT CHARLOTTE — The decision to table talks with LF Carl Crawford until after the season should be effective in diminishing the potential distraction — for a while.
It still may get dicey at times, especially when the Rays play the Yankees, as they are considered his mostly likely free agent pursuers and the New York media have been known to be just a tad, shall we say, aggressive.
It will be interesting to see if Crawford, well aware how interest from the Yankees drives the free agent market, is any more willing to talk about his future in that situation and what he says when asked about the possibility of one day donning pinstripes. And when the Rays go to his hometown of Houston in May.
In theory, the Rays expect to be competing for a playoff spot all season, with Crawford a big part. As a result, they hold out hope of working out a deal after the season, though it would probably take a huge attendance increase, a trip back to the World Series and pretty good progress toward a new stadium for that to happen.
But just wait if the Rays aren't in the race come late July.
If Crawford leaves as a free agent, the Rays would get only a pair of draft picks for him. But by trading him before the July 31 deadline, they could get a major haul of talent. (Which will make for an extremely tough decision if they are on the fringe of the race, say 8-10 games out.)
There will be an endless stream of rumors — a Roy Halladay redux, as some suggest — as the pool of teams willing to trade for Crawford in an effort to get over the top this season is going to be larger than the ones that can legitimately afford him as a free agent.
And there will be nearly as many theories about what the Rays might do with such offers. Would they trade him to the rival Yankees or Red Sox? (The guess here is yes, if they had they best offer.) And at what premium? Would a National League team get a lower price? Would the Rays allow teams, or at least certain (non-AL East) teams, to explore signing Crawford to a long-term contract before making a deal?
And how much will Crawford get? At 29, with (at least) three All-Star appearances and four AL stolen base titles, he would be one of the most attractive free agents on the market. A Foxsports.com survey of 20 baseball people found the most common estimates were five-year deals for $60 million to $80 million, though others think he could make more in years and dollars, perhaps into triple digits.
Rays rumblings: Manager Joe Maddon isn't particularly pleased that 17 of the Rays' 32 exhibitions are against AL East teams because of the overexposure of pitchers. … 1B Russell Branyan said picking the Indians over the Rays was "a very tough decision" keyed to Cleveland's promise of being the everyday first baseman. … The Rays, according to the Las Avispas Cuban baseball blog, held a private workout for 22-year-old Cuban pitcher Juan Yasser Serrano. … Ex-Ray Troy Percival is serving as a guest spring instructor with the Angels. … Parking at Charlotte Sports Park is going up from $7 to $10.