Consider this another sign of the Rays' rise to prominence: Even TMZ cares.
DH Johnny Damon was leaving the posh Hollywood hangout BOA the other night when one of TMZ's celeb-chasing camera crews stopped him to ask if he'll be back with the Rays in 2012.
Damon, who told them he hoped so, may not know for a while. Because as hard at work as Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman and crew already are, they aren't likely to be positioned to make quick decisions on bringing back free agents Damon and/or native son 1B Casey Kotchman, nor on whom to bring in or ship out.
Knowing their resources will again be limited — the only question is how limited — Friedman faces an extreme juggling act, trying to improve an offense that scored a middle-of-the-pack 707 runs by about 10 percent without weakening a pitching staff that allowed an AL-fewest 611 and defense that made a major-league-low 73 errors.
He's talking a lot about finding "the optimal mix" of 13 position players that can best produce and prevent runs. And with only 26 home runs and 121 RBIs combined from Damon and Kotchman at traditional power spots, and the potential of trading CF B.J. Upton, who had 23 and 81, there is a lot to think about. (Perhaps the return of Carlos Peña?)
Trades, typically made in December and January, likely will be a major part of the process as teams — and not just the obvious ones (for example, the Rockies and Royals) — are already eyeing their eight-deep stash of starting pitchers.
Of nearer-term issues:
• Contracts with the coaches expire Oct. 31; all — except perhaps bullpen coach Bobby Ramos — are expected back (unless bench coach Dave Martinez gets the Cubs or Red Sox manager's job), but there still have to be negotiations. An extension for manager Joe Maddon, heading into the last year of his deal, may wait until spring.
• Option decisions are due post-World Series on RHP James Shields (a no-brainer at $7.5 million, after an innings escalator, with a chance to hit $8 million for a top-5 Cy Young finish); RHP Kyle Farnsworth (a likely yes at $3.3 million assuming his elbow checks out); and C Kelly Shoppach (a no at $3.2 million, but a possible re-sign for less).
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Senior VP Gerry Hunsicker continues to be reported as a candidate for GM jobs with the Angels and Orioles but is unlikely to pursue either — or any other — given how content he is with the Rays. … New York Daily News baseball columnist Bill Madden writes that the Rays are "destined for a tragic ending" and insists "contraction is coming," even though MLB also would have to eliminate a second team. … With the Red and White Sox changes, Friedman and Maddon are now MLB's second-longest tenured duo behind Detroit's Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland. … 3B Evan Longoria canceled a planned trip to Thailand due to the massive flooding there. … The AL rookie of the year award (Jeremy Hellickson?) is announced Nov. 14 and manager of the year (Maddon?) Nov. 16. … If Dave Eiland doesn't get the Royals (or another) pitching coach job, the Rays would have him back as a special assistant. … Among Instructional League standouts were 2011 No. 1 pick RHP Taylor Guerreri, who hit 97 mph at times, and LHP Enny Romero, a 20-year-old who struck out 140 in 114 IP while going 5-5, 4.26 at Class A Bowling Green.