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The Rays' season, which ended Wednesday, went longer than any other, which was a good thing. But now as they look ahead to next season, they have less time to prepare than ever before.

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman leaves Monday for the annual GM meetings in California and acknowledges he and his staff have a lot to do.

"We're certainly not as far along in our offseason preparation as we were last year," Friedman said Wednesday. "We've tried to do a bit of catchup here in the last couple days. But the GM meetings will give us a chance to really immerse ourselves in the offseason.

"It's kind of the spring training of the offseason. For us, this is really our season. It's incredibly busy. We feel like we're in good position, but probably not as far along as we'd like to be. But I hope it's a situation we encounter every year."

Manager Joe Maddon has already starting contemplating adjustments to the usual spring schedule and plans an emphasis on fundamentals, figuring the postseason provided a valuable tutorial.

Due to roster management and the signing of several key players to long-term deals, the Rays have the bulk of the team under contract or control.

The only true free agents are OFs Rocco Baldelli, on whom the Rays declined a $6-million option, and Eric Hinske, who will be in line for a big raise from the bargain salary of $800,000.

The Rays hold options on two others, LH reliever Trever Miller ($2-million, or a $400,000 buyout) and DH Cliff Floyd ($3-million, plus some incentives, or a $250,000 buyout). Floyd said he will retire if his right shoulder injury, which he has been told is a slightly torn labrum, requires surgery.

More interesting will be how they handle their eight arbitration cases, including SS Jason Bartlett, RHP Edwin Jackson and C Dioner Navarro, who will be in line for significant raises to the $2-million range. The others are RHP Grant Balfour, INFs Willy Aybar and Dan Johnson and OFs Jonny Gomes and Gabe Gross.

BIG DEAL: Maddon likes to refer to travel director Jeff Ziegler as "the funniest man in the American League." Ziegler is now becoming one of the most well-known based on the attention paid to his efforts to relocate the Rays to Wilmington, Del., following Monday's suspension.

Nearly two dozen newspapers wrote stories about Ziegler on Wednesday, including the New York Times and Daily News, Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

BIGGER DEAL: The Rays' presence was front-page news in the Wilmington News Journal, under the headline: "Rays luxuriate at the Hotel du Pont." And the paper was pretty in-depth in its coverage, even checking with the clerk at the coffee shop to see what was ordered by Maddon (regular coffee) and bench coach Dave Martinez (vanilla latte!). "It was good," Martinez said.

NO AVERAGE JOE: Maddon spent part of the unscheduled off day back in Philadelphia visiting with his adult children, who were in from Arizona, and other area relatives.

Even though they chose a small, neighborhood Italian restaurant for dinner, he continued to be recognized at each turn. "Everywhere," he said. "It's unbelievable. ... Everyone says, 'Wish you well, good luck.' Nobody has been mean-spirited, not at all. It's all been good. It's all been fun."

LOOKING AHEAD: Maddon said he has not had time to talk with his coaches and to sort out if they were all coming back, though all except pitching coach Jim Hickey are believed to be under contract for next season.

"We haven't even broached that subject," he said. "We haven't talked to anybody. We haven't talked about any of that. I've mentioned different things about spring training among the guys that I want to get done, but on that we haven't spoken at all."