PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays' chances of re-signing All-Star leftfielder Carl Crawford were probably a long shot to begin with. And after discussions this week failed to produce a deal, both sides decided Thursday to put off any further talks until after the season.
"We had an opportunity to exchange ideas with the club about a contract extension for Carl, and it was clear to all of us that an immediate agreement was not going to materialize," agent Brian Peters said.
"Thus, we all agreed to table discussions until the end of the year. We'd like to minimize distractions for Carl and the club and keep the focus on baseball, so we don't plan to comment upon Carl's contract status again until after the season."
Crawford is entering the final season of his six-year, $33.5 million deal that delayed his eligibility for free agency by two seasons and left him, by market value, underpaid. He has said he would like to stay with the only team he has known. But the reality is it's very unlikely the Rays — having already announced plans to reduce their payroll significantly — would be able to afford to keep him given the market for top free agents.
"I have said before that I'd love to sign a contract extension with the Rays, and I hope that things work out that way," Crawford, 28, said. "This organization has been great to me, and I love playing here. For now, I just want to put all my efforts into helping the Rays return to the World Series and to win it this time.
"There will be plenty of time after the season is over to talk about a new contract. To avoid potential distractions for me and my teammates, this is all I'm going to say about my contractual situation until after the season."
The Rays typically don't discuss contract negotiations and didn't have much to say about this situation.
"As we've said repeatedly, we're excited about having C.C. for the 2010 season and potentially beyond," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Thursday night. "But right now, all of our focus is on getting back to October."
The suspension of talks indicates there was a large gap in the sides' positions. It would seemingly make it more likely Crawford would want to explore the free agent market and see what he could get elsewhere (i.e., from the Yankees), though the Rays will have a brief exclusive window until free agency filing begins after the World Series. It also could influence the Rays' decision on whether to trade him in July if they are out of the race.
But the decision should reduce the potential of the issue being a distraction for Crawford and the team throughout the season. It also would allow the Rays to have a better idea of their finances — based on this season's attendance and, possibly, their stadium situation — before resuming negotiations.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org