What’s Next for the Rays?

By Bradley Walker, 1010 Sports
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Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez are Introduced by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays

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St. Petersburg, Fla. (CBS) With a young team heading into the 2011 season, the Tampa Bay Rays weren’t expected to do much.

Matt Garza, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano were headed out of town after helping the Rays win an AL East division title in 2010, but Tampa Bay trucked on and saw the same success with a new team in 2011.

The Yankees went on to win the AL East, but the Rays squeaked into the playoffs with a 91-71 record to edge out the Boston Red Sox on the last day of the regular season. So despite the setbacks, losses to free agency and a flimsy payroll, Joe Maddon and the Rays did the best with what they had.

Now we look to the offseason and 2012, with trade possibilities and low priced free agents on the horizon in Tampa Bay. Andrew Friedman, the Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, deserves a pat on the back for his sufficient use of limited resources to compete with the large market clubs in 2011.

The trades and free agents are nice and all, but what more can you say about the Rays’ farm system. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Rays at number two in the majors behind Kansas City, and players like Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore are living proof of the strength of  farm system.

But for the current roster, we have a lot of players who won’t be in a Rays uniform next season. Kelly Shoppach was denied a contract extension, and there’s no telling where Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon will end up because their 1-year contracts have expired.

A young but strong pitching core could make James Shields expendable, so I’m sure the Rays will need one hell of an offer to trade him for a handful of position players.

No matter what happens this offseason, you can bet it will be a busy one for Friedman and the boys. A team like the Rays can’t go out and spend a fortune on the big names floating around, so their front office always remains aggressive to get the most bang for their buck.

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