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Topkin: Observations from a busy week for the Rays

Rays catcher Curt Casali, who appeared in 84 games last season and had reason to believe he would at least make the team as a backup catcher, now faces a possible demotion, trade or release with the signing of veteran Derek Norris.
Rays catcher Curt Casali, who appeared in 84 games last season and had reason to believe he would at least make the team as a backup catcher, now faces a possible demotion, trade or release with the signing of veteran Derek Norris.
Published Mar. 26, 2017

PORT CHARLOTTE — It was a busy week in Rays land with business intertwining with baseball, from CF Kevin Kiermaier signing his long-term contract, to Team USA telling Chris Archer to stay home for the final, to principal owner Stuart Sternberg admitting several top stadium sites were unavailable, to free agent C Derek Norris being added to rock the worlds of returnees Curt Casali and Luke Maile.

Some thoughts, going backward:

> If Rays officials think Norris is a better player and a better fit than Casali, Maile or Jesus Sucre, it makes sense for them to sign him, and at a bargain price ($1.2 million, with $800,000 in incentives) and 2018 control. But it was an unpleasant surprise in some corners of the clubhouse and a stark reminder of how cruel the business aspect can be. Even after the December signing of Wilson Ramos (expected back from knee surgery midseason), the prespring trade for Sucre and an unsuccessful bid for Matt Wieters, Casali and Maile figured to be part of the plans, one as the backup and the other heading to Triple A. Now one might be in the minors and the other gone. "That's the game, man," Maile said. "The only solace I can really find right now is just knowing I'm not the first guy this happened to."

> Sternberg's comments about the stadium sites were interpreted by some skeptics as hints the Rays don't see a workable Tampa Bay site and eye a move out of the area. It didn't come across that way at all, more as a matter-of-fact update on how difficult the project is — to find a good site, governmental support and cost-effective financing. If anything, as Tampa Bay Times colleague John Romano writes today (page 1B), it might have been a sign that the best option will be building new on the Trop site.

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> Any suggestion or veiled criticism that Chris Archer was wrong in leaving Team USA during the World Baseball Classic is misguided. Manager Jim Leyland referred repeatedly to his loyalty for guys who were there the whole time, but how can Archer be faulted for sticking to the schedule he, the Rays and Team USA officials had agreed to? Archer was thrilled to pitch in the first round and would have stayed, but with no Team USA game on his day to pitch (March 16) and to stay on schedule for the season opener, he made the right call in coming back to Port Charlotte rather than flying first to San Diego. Though it won without him, Team USA made the wrong one in not having him back for the final. Archer will still have the memories, and will get his gold medal, but there shouldn't have been any tarnish.

> The deal with Kiermaier, guaranteeing $53.5 million over six years and up to $66.15 million over seven, truly looked to be a good one for both sides. Yes, the Rays may be paying more for defense than has been standard, and yes Kiermaier may have given up the chance to make more, but this deal works. As baseball operations president Matt Silverman said, "We consider this a reward-sharing proposition. It's risk sharing, but it's also reward sharing. This is one of those classic win-wins."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Prospect Adrian Rondon, the 2014 $2.95 million bonus baby, is being shifted from shortstop to third base on what will be a prospect-laden Class A Bowling Green team. … Times restaurant critic Laura Reiley reports the popular Urban group will open a stand at the Trop featuring chicken in a waffle cone, pulled pork, ribs and fried chicken. … Archer was 25th and Kiermaier 38th on Jonah Keri's si.com ranking of all players by trade value; Dodgers SS Corey Seager was No. 1. … In noting "tremendous" radio ratings, Sternberg praised the crew of Andy Freed, Neil Solondz and Dave Wills, saying "if you have sort of slugs in the booth and doing the pre- and postgame show, people respond to that — and I think we have good people." … With 7-Eleven signed on as a sponsor with $7.11 Friday tickets, is a Slurpee machine next at the Trop? … Not only are the Rays staging a traditional doubleheader June 10, there's chatter of a similarly old-school banner day parade between games. … Former Rays OF David DeJesus signed on for pre- and postgame TV work with the Cubs, and Jonny Gomes could do the same with the A's.