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Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers ALDS preview: Rays' 10 biggest decisions this year

There are thousands — if not tens of thousands — of decisions made over the course of a winter, spring training and a six-month season that impact a team. Here are 10 — some obvious, some obscure, some easy, some agonizing — that got the Rays were they are:

1 Rafael Soriano accepting arbitration from the Braves

Soriano's unexpected decision (rather than become a free agent) during the winter meetings set in motion a series of events that led to his even-more unexpected acquisition by the Rays. The Braves didn't want to pay him, so the Rays swooped in immediately to make a trade that might be MLB's deal of the year, swapping Jesse Chavez (whom the Rays had acquired from Pittsburgh in exchange for Aki Iwamura, whom they weren't going to retain anyway), and using the money they saved in dealing Scott Kazmir the previous August to sign Soriano to a one-year, $7.25 million deal. And less than a week after principal owner Stuart Sternberg said publicly, "There's no $7 million closer showing up."

2 Moving Carl Crawford from No. 2 to No. 3 in the batting order

Manager Joe Maddon had tried a lot of other things to spark an inconsistent and impotent offense when he dropped Crawford down a notch from his preferred spot in the order in early August, and it proved to be a great move. Crawford tends to put the ball in play, and that was exactly what the Rays needed from that spot. After hitting .299 with 58 RBIs in 105 games in the No. 2 spot, Crawford hit .326 with 32 RBIs in 47 games hitting third.

3 Dan Johnson accepting an assignment to Triple A

When the Rays decided in the spring they didn't have room for Johnson and took him off the 40-man roster, he could have left as a free agent and signed with any other team. But he agreed to go to Durham — lured in part by a hefty-for-Triple-A salary of $175,000, as well as potential opportunity later in the season — and it paid off, with an MVP season in the minors and a series of big and bigger hits for the Rays.

4 Signing Joaquin Benoit to a minor-league deal just before spring training

Benoit missed the entire 2009 season recovering from shoulder surgery, but the Rays remained very much interested and eager — outmaneuvering several other teams by offering a better opportunity. Their low-risk gamble paid off tremendously as Benoit became one of the most effective relievers in the majors. And one of the biggest bargains with a salary of $700,000.

5 Evan Longoria confronting B.J. Upton in the dugout

Longoria insisted he was merely reacting to the moment and talking to his friend when he confronted Upton after the centerfielder didn't hustle after a ball during the June 27 game. Doing so delivered two distinct messages: Upton's lack of hustle wouldn't be tolerated by his teammates, and Longoria was ready to be a leader. Plus, the Rays went 52-35 after that. "It turned out to be a good thing in the end for us," Longoria said, "but at the time it didn't look too good on TV."

6 Moving John Jaso to the leadoff spot

It was unlikely that Jaso would have been in the majors this season if Kelly Shoppach hadn't hurt his knee, considerably less likely that he'd become the Rays' primary catcher and not even fathomable that he'd be hitting leadoff. But Maddon recognized that Jaso consistently worked the most quality at-bats on the team (.372 on-base percentage, 59-39 walk/strikeout ratio), and was probably their best (not fastest) baserunner. He tried Jaso at the top of the order for the first time in June and by early August made it fairly regular.

7 Joe Maddon defending Carl Crawford's baserunning at the end of the Sept. 14 game

Crawford took a lot of criticism for his failed attempt to get to third base with two outs in the ninth against the Yankees, a move that goes against most baseball logic. But Maddon chose to be public and persistent in defending Crawford, which deflected additional chatter and kept Crawford engaged and happy. Consider that the latest, and highest profile, example of Maddon having his players' backs, which creates the positive vibe integral to their success when times are bad.

8 Acquiring Chad Qualls when Grant Balfour was injured just before the trading deadline

The Rays already were looking around for relief help, but when Balfour — one of their key setup men — was injured while roughhousing with pitching coach Jim Hickey before the July 30 game, they acted swiftly to acquire Qualls, a seven-year veteran with postseason experience, to help stabilize the situation, fill the void and pitch in some key situations.

9 Releasing Pat Burrell on May 15

It had become painfully obvious that Burrell wasn't going to produce with the Rays and, $9 million salary or not, he was going to have to go, and the Rays opted for sooner rather than later. (And they're certainly curious how he suddenly regained his form when he returned to the National League with the Giants, hitting .266 with 18 HRs and 51 RBIs.) As the Rays' DH in 24 games, Burrell hit .202 with two homers and 13 RBIs. In the other 129 games, Rays DHs hit a respectable .242 with 15 homers and 84 RBIs.

10Keeping both Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac in spring training

What seemed to be an either/or situation changed when OF Matt Joyce got hurt in the spring. Rather than just replace Joyce with another outfielder, the Rays took advantage of the dynamic duo's versatility and flexibility, and prospered as they combined to hit .253 with 17 homers and 85 RBIs while making 167 starts.

Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers ALDS preview: Rays' 10 biggest decisions this year 10/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 3:57pm]

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