Rays in market for closer, catcher
Howell may handle ninth-inning duties if no move is made
CLOSER: Yes, J.P. Howell did save 17 games in 2009, but the Rays would be much more comfortable if they had a veteran option for the ninth inning next year. Finding veteran setup men and keeping Howell in the ninth is the most likely option. There are free-agent closing candidates on the market, but chances are Tampa Bay will not spend big money on a closer.
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman recently said even though the club would like to have that guy, it's more than likely it will leave Spring Training without a definitive closer. If a closer is acquired, he would likely come through a trade and, ideally, would be a player Tampa Bay could control contractually for several years.
CATCHER: The Rays are not satisfied heading into Spring Training with Dioner Navarro as their catcher, as he took a step backward in 2009. They recently traded with the Indians to acquire Kelly Shoppach to add to the mix.
Oft-injured Shawn Riggans is an option. So is a platoon situation at catcher that would see the winner of Shoppach vs. Navarro as the choice against left-handers and another catcher against right-handers. But there is always a chance Tampa Bay could make a blockbuster trade for a young catcher it can build around for the next several years.
Who they can or need to trade:
LF Carl Crawford: The All-Star left fielder enters the final year of his contract and wants to sign a long-term deal. Though the Rays would love to keep Crawford, the club is in a position where it must decide if it can commit a substantial portion of its 2011-13 payrolls toward keeping him.
In addition, even though Crawford has said he wants to remain with Tampa Bay, he must decide if that desire will supersede a chance at testing the open market. If the club does decide to trade Crawford, there is no doubt it could acquire a marquee player or players through the deal -- perhaps even a solid starting catcher.
RHP Andy Sonnanstine: Sonnanstine entered the 2009 season as the team's No. 4 starter and had a disastrous campaign that saw him get sent down to Triple-A Durham. Now the right-hander finds himself facing the prospect of becoming a relief pitcher due to the crowded nature of the starting rotation.
Other teams have interest in the cagey righty, and there are several solid starters coming up from within the organization. Keeping Sonnanstine adds to the team's pitching depth, but the Rays could bite on the right offer.
OF Desmond Jennings, IF Reid Brignac, IF Sean Rodriguez, LHP Jake McGee, RHP Mitch Talbot, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, OF Matt Joyce.
The Rays are always reluctant to deal away their prospects, and that will hold true for this solid group. However, an infielder like Brignac or Rodriguez could be moved given the infield depth.
Big contracts they might unload:
The Rays would love to unload designated hitter Pat Burrell's $9 million contract for 2010, but the only takers would likely be clubs trying to unload players with similar bad deals for the club. The rumor of Burrell going to the Cubs for Milton Bradley won't go away. But for that trade to happen, Chicago will likely have to eat a good portion of Bradley's contract, which calls for it to pay him $21 million over the next two years.
Shoppach; LHP Brian Shouse; Navarro; SS Jason Bartlett; Balfour; RHP Joe Nelson; OF Gabe Gross; RHP Lance Cormier; OF B.J. Upton; Howell; RHP Matt Garza; Riggans.
Gross and Navarro.
The Rays should be in the neighborhood of $64 million, where they began the 2009 season. However, that figure could rise if the right player and contract situation becomes available.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.