ST. PETERSBURG — Reconstruction of the free agent-depleted bullpen is the primary task for the Rays this offseason, and that process will at least begin without left-hander J.P. Howell.
Howell will not be ready to start the season as he continues to recover from May shoulder surgery, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, and the Rays are uncertain when he will be ready. Also in question is how effective Howell — who was 7-5, 2.84 with 17 saves in 2009 — will be.
"He's been incredibly diligent in the rehab process, he is as motivated as he can be to get back, and I think one thing all of us have learned about J.P. is to not bet against him, but it's going to be difficult," Friedman said. "It's going to be something that's hard to predict until he gets back on the mound and starts throwing pitches. I would definitely anticipate him missing some time, but I think it's hard to say whether that's coming back in May or July."
Howell, however, said in a text message he won't be out much longer: "Maybe mid April."
Of more immediate concern, the Rays have to decide by midnight if they'd rather let any of their arbitration-eligible players become free agents rather than tender them a contract.
Catcher Dioner Navarro, who deserted the team after being left off the playoff roster, will be let go. The Rays will spend the day discussing, and potentially negotiating for lower salaries, before deciding on up to four others: reliever Lance Cormier (who will get a raise from the $1.2 million he made last season), INF/DH Willy Aybar ($1.35 million), 1B/DH Dan Johnson ($500,000) and Howell ($1.8 million). They are expected to tender contracts to SS Jason Bartlett, CF B.J. Upton and RHPs Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.
SEEING RED: Soon-to-be ex-Ray Carl Crawford is meeting this week with the Red Sox, according to Yahoo Sports. The Angels are also seriously interested.
Around the majors
JETER SAGA: Yankees brass and shortstop Derek Jeter talked for nearly five hours in Tampa in what was described as a constructive meeting, ESPN reported. According to SI.com, the team indicated it would boost its initial offer of $45 million over three years.
In other Yankees news, right-handed reliever Alfredo Aceves is expected to miss the start of spring training after breaking his left collar bone in a bicycle accident in Mexico.
LEE, RANGERS TALK: Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and president Nolan Ryan visited with left-hander Cliff Lee in Arkansas this week, Daniels told ESPN.
PLAYOFF EXPANSION: Players want owners to hold off on approving a detailed plan for how to expand the playoffs until after the sides can negotiate over the addition of two wild-card teams.
NEW TV CREW: Orel Hershiser, Bobby Valentine and Dan Shulman will form the new announcing team for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, replacing Jon Miller and Joe Morgan after 21 seasons.
DRUG REPORT: Major League Baseball granted 105 exemptions for otherwise-banned stimulants in the past year because of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, virtually unchanged from the previous year's total.