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01/28/08 10:00 AM ET

Mailbag: Better off starting or relieving?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers Rays fans' questions

I have a hunch that J.P. Howell and Andy Sonnanstine would do great in the 'pen based on the control they've shown over the first three innings. Do you agree? Howell had a no-hitter in four innings, but was bad after that.
-- Rich B., Tampa

I'm more convinced Howell belongs in the bullpen than I am Sonnanstine. Why? Howell would give the team a competitive lefty out of the 'pen. I like the way he battles and he gives hitters a different look, and, as you noted, they seem to catch on against Howell the second time around the order.

On the other hand, Sonnanstine seems to have a way of keeping hitters off balance longer, whether it's using different arm angles, different pitches, or doing as he did at the end of the season by relying more on his fastball. The bottom line is there are two open spots in the Rays' rotation heading into Spring Training, so there are going to be some interesting candidates for the bullpen among the pitchers who don't win one of the slots.

I don't have to grapple with the grueling Florida sun, but anyone who states that they retain some kind of affinity for Tropicana Field has to be out of their mind. It looks like the team plays half its games within the confines of a crypt. How could one pine away for such a stifling atmosphere?
-- Tom L., San Francisco

Sounds to me like you have never been to Florida or Tropicana Field. Generally, I believe the national perception of Tropicana Field is negative based on the team's poor performance, and over the years this negative publicity built up through a "piling on" mentality. Having said that, the new ownership definitely agrees with you about wanting to take the Rays outdoors. And given the desired location for their new stadium -- which is on the water -- I think this proposed stadium could be a real showplace.

How long do you think it will be before speedster Fernando Perez is the leadoff hitter for the Rays? His on-base percentage in 2007 was .425.
-- Howard, N.J.

Perez is one of the Rays' pleasant problems. The speedster is a real talent who will likely be the center fielder at Triple-A Durham this season. From what I have heard and read about him, he's close to being Major League-ready. Just one problem: B.J. Upton is in center field for the Rays. As with most young players who have potential, the Rays would rather have Perez playing every day, which he should do at Durham, rather than coming off the bench and occasionally starting at the Major League level.

How long until top catching prospect John Jaso makes it to the team? He tore up Double-A Montgomery and showed that he is ready for Durham.
--Steven G., Ballwin, Mo.

I don't look for Jaso to be with the team on Opening Day, but stranger things have happened. Right now Dioner Navarro, Shawn Riggans and Mike DiFelice are blocking Jaso's way. I think the Rays want to see Jaso compete at the Triple-A level before thinking about giving him the call.

Have a question about the Rays?
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Do you think Evan Longoria has a chance to be a star in the years to come? I have met and talked to him about baseball and he has the talent, but most importantly, he has the mental part of the game down. I see him doing very well next year, maybe pushing for Rookie of the Year.
--James B., Claremont, Fla.

I have talked to Longoria as well, and he is an impressive kid. From everything the Rays have said about his abilities, the Rays believe their top prospect is the real deal and should be earmarked for stardom. But there are more players who have looked like stars at Triple-A then washed out at the Major League level than there are success stories. That's because of the quality of baseball played at the Major League level, which is drastically different than Triple-A. So while Longoria has the look of a can't-miss prospect, he still has a challenge in front of him.

What are the Rays' plans for Carl Crawford? They could potentially trade him now while he is still under contract with options, as his value would be extraordinary with his age and skill set. Because realistically, the Rays probably won't be able to keep him around with the salary he will command in future years. Also, the older he gets and the closer he gets to free agency, the lower his value will be.

It would be a Miguel Cabrera-type situation, where the Rays could get three to five players/prospects for Crawford alone, and most likely they would be able to put themselves into a position where they could get some of the best up-and-coming prospects in the game along with some Major League talent as well. Crawford is an awesome player, but he also could potentially net three young pitchers and up to around five players. This is the way small-market teams build for the long haul. Look a little farther south at what the Marlins have been able to do, turning over their roster for prospects in the past. What are your thoughts on the subject?
-- Josh L., Lebanon, Ill.

For starters, I think you are right in your contention that the Rays could land three to five players for Crawford, who is an extraordinary talent. And from what the team management has said, they are always willing to consider any deal that will make the team better. But for now, they have a sparkling Rolls Royce with Crawford and I think they are content to take it out for a spin.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.