ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' decision Monday to lock up All-Star leftfielder Carl Crawford for 2010 by picking up his $10 million option was an easy one.
Crawford, 28, the Rays' all-time leader in hits, games, RBIs and steals, is coming off arguably the best of his eight seasons.
The tough part will be whether Tampa Bay can sign him to a long-term deal — which he has said he's open to — or face the possibility that a face of the franchise could be a free agent in 2011 (unless the Rays trade him before).
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said both Crawford and the Rays are "very interested" in discussing a long-term deal that would "keep Carl in a Rays uniform for as long as possible," but he acknowledged an extension is "going to take some creativity."
"Carl is a big part of what we've accomplished and what we will accomplish in the future," Friedman said.
While Crawford's option was the biggest news Monday, the Rays also declined $2 million options on left-handed reliever Brian Shouse and backup catcher Gregg Zaun for 2010. They also claimed from the Reds right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez, a 27-year-old whom Friedman says they envision as a "future bullpen arm."
Friedman, who is at the GM meetings in Chicago, said declining Zaun's option is "by no means indicative of our future plans" as they plan to continue to have discussions with the 15-year veteran. Starting catcher Dioner Navarro, who had left elbow surgery in late October, is coming off a disappointing season, and Friedman said the Rays will continue to try to address the catcher and bullpen situations this winter.
Crawford, who was unavailable for comment, has said he'd like to get something done before spring training, acknowledging that dealing with pending free agency could impact his play. Friedman said "our preference is to never negotiate a contract during the season," but added, "you never say never."
Friedman raved about Crawford's work ethic, which buoyed the three-time All-Star to an impressive 2009 season in which he hit .305 with 15 homers, 68 RBIs and club-record 60 steals while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.
"Longer term contracts are as much about the talent as it is about the person, and I think you can read between the lines with our interest level," Friedman said. "His work ethic has never wavered and is something I think should allow him to age well."
Shouse, 41, missed several months last season (his first as a Ray) with an elbow strain and had a 4.50 ERA in 28 innings. Friedman said he wouldn't rule out future discussions with the lefty specialist but acknowledged there were other options. One is in house with lefty Randy Choate (who held lefties to a .141 average) and could be a less expensive alternative.
Zaun, 38, hit .287 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 34 games with the Rays, including .302 against right-handed pitching. The Palm Harbor resident said he would love to re-sign with the Rays and is willing to play whatever role (platoon, starter, backup) is asked of him.
"I had a really, really positive experience while I was there," Zaun said Monday night. "And I still feel like there's an enormous amount of success I can be a part of with that organization."
Shouse receives a $200,000 buyout and Zaun a $500,000 buyout, with both eligible for free agency.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.