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Tampa Bay Rays have to decide soon whether to pick up options on three players

With the wild World Series finally over, the Rays have some key decisions to make in the next few days.

By midnight Monday, Tampa Bay will have to either pick up options on RHP James Shields ($7.5 million), RHP Kyle Farnsworth ($3.3 million) and C Kelly Shoppach ($3.2 million) or buy them out and allow them to be free agents.

Not all of them are clear-cut. Here's a breakdown.

Shields: This one would seem like the no-brainer of the three. The 29-year-old is coming off a remarkable bounceback season in which he made his first All-Star team, racked up a major-league-high 11 complete games and set career highs in wins (16), strikeouts (225) and innings (249⅓). While his option could escalate to $8 million based on his finish in the AL Cy Young voting, it'd still be a reasonable deal for a front-line starter and staff leader who has been one of the most durable pitchers in baseball (five straight seasons of 200-plus innings).

Shields wants to be back and believes he will.

Said agent Page Odle: "Nothing has been said to Jamey or myself to indicate that he won't be coming back for next year."

Farnsworth: It would seem as though the team is likely to pick up his option (rather than pay a $650,000 buyout). He exceeded expectations in his first full year in the closer's role, racking up a career-high 25 saves (after having 27 in his first 12 seasons), including five of four or more outs. Quality closers aren't cheap, and executive VP Andrew Friedman spoke at the end-of-the-year news conference as if the 35-year-old would be back. The only question remains whether the right elbow issue that put him out a couple of weeks in September is a concern.

Shoppach: He would be the first to tell you he had a disappointing year offensively, hitting .176, including .241 against left-handers. While the Rays could choose to buy out his option for $300,000, the 31-year-old veteran catcher has said he'd still be open to coming back. It's what he did behind the plate that could draw similar interest from Tampa Bay.

Shoppach caught 15 of 41 attempted basestealers (36.6 percent), best in the American League, and works well with the pitching staff. The team wanted to give rookie C Jose Lobaton a long look, and he didn't hit (.118), though he was hampered by injuries. If the team doesn't deem Lobaton or fellow rookie C Robinson Chirinos ready, Shoppach could be another option.

Ryan Ware, Shoppach's agent, said the catcher enjoyed his time with the Rays and is "not closing any doors," even if the club option isn't picked up.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: With the Angels hiring Jerry DiPoto as their general manager, the speculation about Friedman going elsewhere should quiet down (at least, for now); Friedman had met with the Angels and was reportedly their top choice. Angels manager Mike Scioscia spoke with Rays manager Joe Maddon and Padres manager Bud Black regarding the GM spot, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com, but neither was interested. … From the comments Maddon made to Boston's WEEI.com last week, he's staying put. "At this point in my life, there's no other place I would rather be than the Tampa Bay Rays," he told the station. "I mean that sincerely. Ownership. Front office. Players. Coaching staff. I cannot ask for a better situation."… While the coaches' contracts are up Monday, the staff is expected to remain the same, with the exception of a possible change at bullpen coach (Bobby Ramos missed a huge part of the year due to illness, assistant to the pitching coach Stan Boroski could step in). … Three Rays — DH Johnny Damon, 1B Casey Kotchman and RHP Juan Cruz — became free agents as of midnight Saturday.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays have to decide soon whether to pick up options on three players 10/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 29, 2011 9:34pm]
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