Discussion: The Future Of The Rays

In a piece for MLB.com, Hal Bodley discusses the challenge of maintaining competitive balance in baseball, using the potential payroll cut facing the Rays as an example. According to owner Stuart Sternberg, Tampa Bay may have to cut player salaries from over $70MM in 2010 to the $50MM range for 2011.

Bodley's article focuses more on revenue sharing and competitive balance around the league, but for our purposes, let's examine the Rays' specific case. In perhaps the scariest division in baseball, spending significantly less than the Red Sox and Yankees, will the Rays realistically be able to compete past this season?

A look at the 2011 free agent list reveals a few major contributors who could be entering their last year in Tampa, including Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Pat Burrell, and Rafael Soriano. The club still has a strong young nucleus that includes Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Wade Davis, and David Price, among others, but losing a third of their starting lineup and their closer would sting.

Could the team bring back one or two of those major free agents? Crawford, Pena, Burrell, and Soriano alone will earn over $36.5MM in 2010, so even taking into account next year's arbitration raises and reduced payroll, the team could have some negotiating flexibility with that money off the books. Or they could let everyone walk, pile up a few compensation draft picks, and spend that extra money elsewhere.

So, if you're running the Rays, facing a significant payroll cut for 2011, what's your approach? If your team is slipping from contention by the trading deadline, do you shop Crawford and other players? Which potential free agents, if any, do you attempt to bring back next season?

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