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03/19/08 2:31 PM ET

Management undecided on Longoria

Financial aspects might matter in prospect's future in Majors

ST. PETERSBURG -- A decision must be made on Evan Longoria in the near future. And all the Rays' top prospect has done this spring is play like a top prospect.

Will he begin the season as the Rays' starting third baseman or will they send him to down to Triple-A Durham for seasoning?

From a business standpoint, if Longoria begins the season with the team, he'd likely be eligible for free agency following the 2013 season. Meanwhile, delaying his Major League debut until mid-April would delay his free agency until after the 2014 season.

It's a tough call for the Rays, particularly when they are trying to convince the world -- inside and outside of the clubhouse -- that winning is their primary goal.

"I don't know, man, that's just a sensitive topic right now," Rays left fielder Carl Crawford said. "So I don't really know the reaction that guys are going to have [if Longoria doesn't make the team] just yet.

"I know every day, every game he plays, we want him as a team, for sure. As the days go by, and every day we get to see him more, we want him on this team more and more. Certain situations, that's out of our control. We just have to wait and see what happens."

First baseman Carlos Pena conceded that "it's obvious how talented Longoria is" and "we all want him here, every single one of us."

"But we also understand that there is a process to his development, what is planned for him," Pena said. "... There also might be some business advantages that would go perfectly for him and his process. We understand that there are other things that are out of our control and Longoria's control.

"It doesn't necessarily mean we should take it as a negative" if he doesn't make the team, Pena continued. "We know he's going to be in the Major Leagues very soon. And he's going to help out. We think he could be here right now. Every single one of us wants him here. But yes, we are mature and professional enough to understand."

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Rays manager Joe Maddon said that the Rays are just worried about doing what's best for Longoria.

"I'm not necessarily worried about it," Maddon said. "It just comes down to doing what you think is the right thing. Because many times you have to make a decision that people in the clubhouse do not particularly get at this particular time. And that's OK. So I'm not worried about something like that, quite frankly. We just have to do what we feel is the right thing to do at that moment."

Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations, said that he is not operating under orders for what to do with Longoria, and maintains that the decision on whether he makes the team out of Spring Training has not yet been made.

"And as we have demonstrated in the past by signing our good young players to long-term extensions, the way we think of him and what we expect him to do, we think it's inevitable that we're going to talk about a long-term deal which renders [the idea a business decision determining Longoria's fate] virtually irrelevant," Friedman said. "That doesn't factor in for us in this decision, and it's funny how this has become a focal point."

Nevertheless, Crawford hopes that if Longoria does not make the team, it won't affect the team chemistry.

"Because we've been doing so well," Crawford said, "you wouldn't want to think that one player could deflate the whole thing. I hope that we can still have this little swagger we've got. But we'll just have to wait and see.

"We'd rather have Longoria, but we feel like we can still win. We can hold it down until he comes. We know we'll get him at some point. If he doesn't start out with us, we can do what we need to do."

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