The free agent signing period officially will open at 12:01 Sunday morning, and for the Rays it couldn't start soon enough.
In years past, free agency wasn't that big a deal. The Rays weren't looking to do much — save for the signings of Troy Percival and Pat Burrell, and you can decide how those worked out — and didn't have much to lose.
But this year is different.
With the payroll being slashed — and how much still undetermined — the Rays will have to be extremely prudent in any additions they make, literally not being able to afford any mistakes.
Executive VP Andrew Friedman said there are "select players" they're prepared to be "more aggressive with," but they are still likely to let the market play out.
As, or more, important are their own free agents. Not the big names that will dominate the national headlines — the Rays know Carl Crawford and closer Rafael Soriano are gone — but some of the other nine whose re-signing could make a huge difference in their 2011 chances, such as relievers Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit and Randy Choate, and maybe 1B Carlos Peña.
"In large part, it's going to be market-based," Friedman said. "There are a number of our guys we would definitely like to have back, but they earned the right to be free agents and they want to see what's out there. If we're able to reach an overlap, then we'll continue the relationship, which is obviously ideal in a number of instances."
The Rays' primary interest in what happens to Crawford (Angels, Tigers, Red Sox, Nationals, Rangers, Giants?) and Soriano (Angels, White Sox) is essentially limited to how it impacts their draft pick compensation.
For Type A players — Balfour, Crawford, Soriano, Wheeler — who are offered arbitration by the Nov. 23 deadline and decline, they get two picks: the signing team's first-round (or second if the team is among the bottom 15 finishers) and a compensation pick. For the Type B's — Benoit, Choate, Brad Hawpe, Peña, Chad Qualls — who decline arbitration, they get just a compensation pick. For Rocco Baldelli and Gabe Kapler, they wouldn't get anything. (A free agent who accepts arbitration is considered re-signed; salary to be determined.)
RAYS RUMBLINGS: An immediate benefit of Evan Longoria's long-term deal: He otherwise would have been eligible for arbitration this offseason as a Super 2, though he does get a raise from $2 million to $2.5 million as consolation. … OF/1B Leslie Anderson, the Cuban signee with a chance to compete for a 2011 job, was the Rays' lone rep in Saturday's Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game after hitting .304 in 17 games. … From the rumored rumor dept.: The Nationals and Cubs with interest in Peña, the Rockies in trading for James Shields. … It's one thing if the Yankees don't want to spend the money on Crawford, but it's quite another to see New York media suggest Brett Gardner is a better player. … The spring opener is Feb. 26 in Port Charlotte against Pittsburgh. … Joe Maddon gave a strong endorsement for former Angels coaching colleague Ron Roenicke to get the Brewers' manager's job. … The Rays on Monday will open a "store" at the Tampa Junior Achievement BizTown center, where fifth-graders operate the businesses. … C A.J. Pierzynski lists the Rays among good fits if he's not re-signed by the White Sox.