This off-season The Nats Blog will be conducting a series of interviews with sites from all thirty teams. One team a week leading up to the start of the 2011 baseball season. This week I spoke with Erik Hahmann from DRaysBay, one of the top Rays blogs on the net, to talk about the big decisions to be made in the upcoming months and how they plan to address them.
TNB: All signs are pointing to Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena leaving Tampa Bay next season. What does the team plan to do with the expected vacancies in left field and first base?
DRaysBay: Well the answer to the left field question is fairly simple; Desmond Jennings will take over. He's been a top Rays prospect for several years now and should be able to provide 65-75% of Crawford's production while making under $500k. Pena may not leave, however. He truly loves the Tampa Bay area and this organization. There's no way he comes close to making the $10m he did this season, but if the Rays offered a 2yr/$10m deal I think he'd strongly consider it. If he does indeed leave, I can see Dan Johnson, Ben Zobrist, Cuban prospect Leslie Anderson, or even an outside candidate being possibilities.
TNB: There have been some rumors circulating that the Rays are looking to cut their payroll by $20 million this off-season and are even considering trading James Shields. Do you agree with this plan?
DRaysBay: Slashing payroll for 2011 is a must, and a natural progression for this team. The $70m they spent in 2010 represented their maximum, and actually was over what they intended to spend. The contracts of Carl Crawford, Pat Burrell, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, Dan Wheeler, etc. all come off the books. It's the only way this franchise can operate. On trading James Shields...I doubt that happens because of how team friendly his contract is, but they're not above trading anyone not named Evan Longoria. More realistically you'll see someone like Matt Garza being dealt.
TNB: Due to financial constraints, are you worried that young talent like Evan Longoria and David Price will be leaving Tampa Bay once the opportunity presents itself?
DRaysBay: In Longoria's case he's locked up for awhile to a VERY team friendly contract. If the Rays get a new stadium by the time he's a free agent then maybe they can find a way for him to stay forever. As for Price, I'm hoping they can work out an extension with him at some point, but after the season he put up it won't come easy. If they do end up going elsewhere when they have the chance I can't blame them. The Rays aren't in position to put that much money into one player.
TNB: B.J. Upton was the second overall pick back in 2002 and had an impressive 2007 season where he hit .300 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI. However, he has been inconsistent ever since and posted a career low .237 average this season. What should we expect from him in the future?
DRaysBay: Upton is still a valuable player, no matter the perceived poor season he had. He actually posted a career high in extra base hits, which is encouraging. Going forward I foresee him having more seasons like his 2008 where he walked 90 times and was a table setter for an offense. I doubt we ever see any seasons like his 2007, but that was fueled by a Batting Average on Balls in Play of over .360. That's not a number that is sustainable.
TNB: And now the question on everyone's mind...where are all the Rays fans?
DRaysBay: They exist. The Rays' TV numbers for the season were very strong. They even beat out the Dallas area in the ALDS. Tropicana Field will always be the issue. It's not a great stadium and it's in a bad location relative to the majority of the population. Once the issue is fixed you'll see people come out in droves. Just look around the internet or come to DRaysBay, you'll see the fans are out there.