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Tampa Bay Rays still confident, aren't changing approach as AL East rivals hand out big-money contracts

Ticking off the names of the other top players who haven't left, 3B Evan Longoria remains confident the Rays can still be competitive, even contenders.

"I wouldn't call it starting over because we still have a lot of the puzzle pieces," he said. "We just have to find new heroes, different guys to step in."

For now, that will be the focus.

Some will be internal, as executive VP Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon spoke last week about pushing some of their younger players with greater opportunity, guys like 2B Sean Rodriguez, OF Matt Joyce, C John Jaso and, potentially, SS Reid Brignac.

But they need more help, and the external search will be an ongoing process. As if it weren't a bad enough week to formally lose Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña (and at least work out a trade for SS Jason Bartlett, albeit not finalized), the dollars being doled out elsewhere were staggering.

The Rays are likely to wait for reduced prices on the leftovers, so while they are being connected to Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi and Manny Ramirez and other recognizable names, don't necessarily expect any quick action, perhaps not much until into January.

Of more importance, they are seeking out lesser names that have a chance to help more in future seasons, potentially in a major way.

"Under-the-radar type guys that we feel fit us well and have a lot of upside," Friedman said. "Right now, we're upside players. That's what our mind-set is and what we're going to aggressively try to accomplish."

The strides taken by the Red Sox, and plotted by the Yankees, to pull away don't change their approach. "It's something you expect," Friedman said. "You can just interchange the names; we go through this conversation every offseason. It just accentuates what we're up against."

But at some point, if the gap gets so big, and the reality of a possible fourth- or fifth-place finish hits them, you have to wonder if the Rays might decide they'd seen enough and cut the payroll further and cash in more of their trade chips for payoff in 2012 or beyond.

Talk of dealing Matt Garza to the Cubs, or any of the starters, has thus far been overblown, with a deal unlikely. But maybe the Rays eventually think more about it, and the same with the inquiries on CF B.J. Upton.

And then Longoria would need even more new friends.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Answering Sports Illustrated's question, D'backs OF Justin Upton on what it would take for the Rays to get him in trade: "They'd need B.J., James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson." … Longoria shot a new national TV commercial but couldn't say yet what for. … Maddon is jotting down some of Crawford's weaknesses and tendencies while fresh so they can be used in 2011 game-planning. … Would kind of be hard for the Rays not to trade Bartlett now, wouldn't it? … So far, the Rays have picked up Boston's No. 24 draft choice and two compensation-round picks. … 1B/DH Dan Johnson's contract is for $1 million, guaranteed, with no incentives. … Rafael Soriano won't be going to the Angels, either, as they say signing Scott Downs completed their bullpen. … Sounds like the Rays are working toward a new deal with radio man Andy Freed. … After a successful Thursday charity event, Maddon cooks and serves his Thanks-mas meal and hands out hooded sweatshirts at four stops this week: St. Petersburg's Sallie House on Monday, then Salvation Army offices in Fort Myers on Tuesday, St. Petersburg on Wednesday and Tampa on Thursday. … New Cub Peña sure talked a lot about reuniting with former Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jamarillo: "I know that he can help me."

Tampa Bay Rays still confident, aren't changing approach as AL East rivals hand out big-money contracts 12/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 11, 2010 8:15pm]
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