The Tampa Bay Rays must soon decide on club options for starting pitcher James Shields, closer Kyle Farnsworth, and catcher Kelly Shoppach. In addition, they have until Wednesday to negotiate exclusively with their pending free agents.
Shields' call is the easiest to make. For $7 million, Tampa Bay can retain the Major Leagues' leader in complete games (11) and shutouts (four). The 30-year-old Shields led the Rays with 16 victories, a 2.82 earned run average, and 249.1 innings pitched.
Keeping Farnsworth also seems to be a no-brainer. Working as a closer for the first time in his career, the 13-year veteran saved 25 games, recorded a 2.18 ERA, and allowed less than one hit per inning. At $3.3 million, he's a bargain, although the Rays could elect to buy him out for $650,000 if they'd rather look elsewhere.
Shoppach has the most tenuous case of the three Rays with options. The 31-year-old hit just .176 in 253 plate appearances, with 11 home runs and 22 runs batted in. Though Shoppach is sound defensively, Tampa Bay has other options (John Jaso, Robinson Chirinos, Jose Lobaton) behind the plate. It might be best for the cash-strapped Rays to buy Shoppach out for $300,000 rather than paying him $3.2 million to stay with the team.
The free agents with whom Tampa Bay has exclusive negotiation rights until Wednesday are reliever Juan Cruz, designated hitter Johnny Damon, first baseman Casey Kotchman, and reliever Joel Peralta. After Wednesday, those players may begin contract discussions with other teams, in addition to the Rays.
Damon hit .261 with 16 homers. Though he'll turn 38 in November, he's proven he's still an everyday player at the Major League level. Just 277 hits away from 3,000 in his career, he will likely want to keep playing as long as he can.
Kotchman doesn't hit for power (just 10 homers and 48 RBI in 500 plate appearances) but he's nonetheless valuable, as he led all Rays regulars in on-base percentage (.378). He showed prowess defensively as well, making only two errors in 1201 chances for a fielding percentage of .998.
Peralta led all Rays pitchers in appearances (71) and compiled a 3-4 record. He saved six games and posted a 2.93 ERA.
In 56 appearances, Cruz threw 48.2 innings out of the Rays' bullpen, with a 3.88 ERA and a 5-0 record.