It's still hard to believe the Rays are out of the playoffs already. Guess it's pointless to rehash the outrage over the righty lineup against righty-killer Cliff Lee. And the forehead slapping over Kelly Shoppach getting into the lineup for Game 5 ... because he contributed so much in Games 1 and 2.
It's over and done and the early exit forces on us the realities we didn't want to face yet. But it's not going to be all bad moving forward.
Carl Crawford is off to roll around in money in a bigger, fancier market. It would have been nice to send him off with a World Series ring to go along with the Gold Glove he darn well better get this season.
Rafael Soriano has ripped his Rays jersey out of his pants for the last time too. Stu Sternberg blew the bank for this season and given the year Soriano had, the fact that he's only 30, and that his agent is Scott Boras, he ain't coming back.
Carlos Pena might not be automatically gone like everyone thinks he is. He's a top tier defensive first baseman, but his atrocious year at the plate certainly has diminished the market for him.
Who's in the market for a first baseman batting .196 and striking out 158 times? Pena made $10 million this season. It's doubtful any team would pay that. The Rays might pay half that to keep him. And the market may not demand any more than that anyway.
The Rays plan to cut payroll from $72 to $50 million and letting Soriano and Crawford go will take care of $17 million of the $22 million they are looking to trim. If Pena takes a 50 percent pay cut, then that gets the Rays pretty close to their cost-cutting goal. They probably also have to account for anyone scheduled to get raises per their contracts.
That could mean some other household Rays could be on their way this offseason via trade. If a place is to be made for Jeremy Hellickson in the rotation, someone has to go. James Shields probably wouldn’t be missed much. He’s likely shown all he’s going to bring to a rotation.
The Rays also have infielders and outfielders to spare so the much-maligned B.J. Upton could be packaged and shipped, and Jason Bartlett might be a possibility too.
The defense would take a hit without guys like Crawford, Pena, Upton and Bartlett but the Rays are starting to resemble the Florida Marlins – minus the World Series Championships - in that they take a step back to reload.
The Rays still have a set of young stars ready to burst including Hellickson, Jake McGee, Desmond Jennings, Reid Brignac, and Matt Joyce.
And J.P. Howell will be back to resume his role as closer next season, though it’s hard to believe he’ll be as much of a comfort as Soriano was.
The most worrisome thing about next season is that the Rays are still going to be in the AL East. The Yankees aren’t going to get worse. The Red Sox aren’t going to be that banged up again. The Blue Jays are still going to be dangerous. And if the Orioles are as feisty next season as they were once Buck Showalter took over as manager late this season, you can’t take them lightly.
The Rays still have a chance to battle for the playoffs, though you have to wonder if this was their best chance to win it all. You hope the window isn’t temporarily closing but with the upcoming payroll slashing, it’s a strong possibility.