A special baseball electronic conversation between sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton:
JR: Forget payroll. Forget long-term concerns. Just tell me right now, Gary: Do the Rays have a better team than the Yankees or Red Sox?
GS: No. The Rays are darned good, maybe even the third-best team in baseball. But if they win the division — and they could — it will be an upset.
JR: Yeah, I tend to agree. The Rays are solid, they have no glaring weaknesses, but I still think they need Boston or New York to have some kind of breakdown. And that's not out of the question. If the Rays have one thing on their side, it is youth.
GS: And speed. And defense. As we've said many times, they would own any other division.
JR: Do you know who I feel sorry for? Andrew Friedman. Because, at some point, he's the one who will have to decide whether the Rays are capable of running down New York or Boston this summer. If the Rays have a lead or are within a few games of the postseason picture, then the decision to stand pat is simple. But if they're eight or nine games out of the wild card on July 31, do you trade Crawford? Or Peña? Or Soriano? Or all three? When do you decide if 2011 becomes more important than 2010? And how would that impact the stadium debate? A little tougher than being a fantasy baseball GM, huh?
GS: I'd feel sorry for Andrew if he wasn't a Master of the Universe. Seriously, Friedman can't worry about the stadium, just the roster. And he has you and me to give him advice.
JR: Yes, we're often right. After the fact.
GS: Also, we're fun at parties.
JR: And since only a handful of pesky readers actually keep track of what we say, go ahead and give me some wildly articulate predictions. How much of a comeback does Pat Burrell have?
GS: I'm surprised he got to come back to the team. I think he'll be marginally better this year, but I don't think at the end of the season anyone is going to say, "Man, the Rays got their money's worth there." Now, you tell me. What kind of season does B.J. Upton have?
JR: I said last spring that B.J. was going to have a monster season. Turns out, I was way ahead of the curve. The monster season is coming in 2010. Okay, so who leads the staff in victories this season?
GS: My first reaction is to say Matt Garza, but I'm going to say David Price wins 16. Now, here's the big one. Do Crawford and Peña finish the season as Rays?
JR: Peña will be here in September. Crawford will not. What are the odds that you and I last that long?
GS: I'll be here. But you need to talk to the boss.