10/16/09 3:28 PM ET
Rays to stay busy during the offseason
Key dates, decisions loom for Tampa Bay's front office
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
After a history-making 2008 season, the Rays couldn't recapture that magic to vault them back to the postseason in '09. So while the Yankees, Angels, Phillies and Dodgers duke it out in each league's Championship Series to eventually crown a World Series champion, all Tampa Bay's players can do is witness the events unfold like everybody else -- from the outside.
But that doesn't mean the Rays' operations have currently shut down.
In fact, some key dates loom immediately following the World Series that will keep the front office busy until Spring Training starts up again in late February.
Here's a look at what's ahead.
Free agency, etc.: The day after the end of the World Series is the beginning of a 15-day period when eligible players may elect free agency or demand a trade. This is the only time when that player's previous club retains exclusive negotiating rights.
After that 15-day window closes, it's a free-for-all for players with at least six years of Major League service time.
This year, the Rays basically have two free agents to worry about: outfielder Gabe Kapler and right-hander Chad Bradford.
Kapler, 34, played in 99 games this season, batting .239 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs while making just over $1 million. His return could depend on what the team decides to do with the extremely versatile Ben Zobrist. If Zobrist becomes the everyday second baseman, the Rays could use an extra corner outfielder. But if he assumes the everyday right-field job, Kapler could not be needed.
Bradford, 35, made $3.5 million in the final year of a three-year, $10.5 million deal he signed in '06. The submarine-throwing right-hander was limited to just 20 games because of back and arm problems.
In addition, Dec. 12 is the deadline for clubs to offer '10 contracts to unsigned players.
The Rays also have club options for left fielder Carl Crawford ($10 million), second baseman Akinori Iwamura ($4.25 million), left-hander Brian Shouse ($1.9 million) and catcher Gregg Zaun ($2 million) to decide on.
Two things to keep an eye on is whether Crawford and the Rays will work out an extension -- something the speedy outfielder recently said he was interested in doing -- and if the club will bring Iwamura back -- which seems unlikely at this point.
The Rays are also in need of a new hitting coach after dismissing Steve Henderson.
Rule 5 Draft: Dec. 8 is the deadline for clubs to outright a player off the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft, which gets under way on the 10th. A player is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if he has not been placed on the 40-man roster three or four years after signing his first pro contract.
Last year, the Rays lost right-hander Eduardo Morlan to the Brewers before selecting right-hander Derek Rodriguez from the White Sox organization with the 19th pick. But each player was returned to his previous team after not being placed on the Major League roster.
Winter Meetings: From Dec. 7-10, the Winter Meetings will be held in Indianapolis.
During last year's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the Rays traded right-hander Edwin Jackson to the Tigers for outfield prospect Matt Joyce. They also went in searching for a designated hitter -- meeting face-to-face with Milton Bradley and Jason Giambi, as well as the agent for Bobby Abreu -- and eventually signed Pat Burrell less than a month later.
Is this the venue where the Rays find an affordable closer this year?
Salary arbitration: Midnight ET on Dec. 1 is the last day for clubs to offer salary arbitration to free agents in order to be eligible for compensation if they sign elsewhere. The player has until the 7th to accept the offer.
The arbitration-filing period is Jan. 5-15, 2010. On the 19th, clubs will exchange salary-arbitration figures with their players. The next step is to attend salary-arbitration hearings -- scheduled from Feb. 1-21 -- where a panel will select either the club's offer or the player's for the '10 season.
A player under club control is guaranteed to make at least 80 percent of what he made the previous year in arbitration.
This year, the Rays have 10 salary-arbitration candidates: catchers Dioner Navarro and Shawn Riggans, shortstop Jason Bartlett, right-handers Grant Balfour, Joe Nelson, Lance Cormier and Matt Garza, left-hander J.P. Howell, and outfielders B.J. Upton and Gabe Gross.
Bartlett, who avoided arbitration and made a little less than $2 million in '09, could be in for a hefty raise after having a career year last season, batting .320 with 14 home runs, 66 RBIs and 30 steals.
But that doesn't mean the two sides will actually go before the three-person panel of arbitrators.
Last year, the Rays had five arbitration-eligible players -- infielder Willy Aybar, Balfour, Bartlett, Gross and Navarro -- and four of them agreed to contracts without the need for a hearing. Navarro lost his case, settling for the club's offer of $2.1 million instead of $2.5 million.
Other key dates: The fourth day after the World Series is the last day for clubs to request waivers on players excluded from the First-Year Player Draft until 25 days prior to the opening of the '10 season.
The general managers' meetings will take place Nov. 9-11 in Chicago.
The waiver period ends on Nov. 10 and a new one starts the following day, lasting until Feb. 15.
And Nov. 20 is the deadline for organizations to file reserve lists for their Major League club and Minor League affiliates. It's also the last day to make an offseason outright assignment of an injured player to the Minor Leagues.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.