Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and manager Joe Maddon could add to the Rays 2011 success story. Hellickson is among the top candidates for the AL Rookie of the Year award that will be announced Nov. 14. Maddon is considered the frontrunner for the AL Manager of the Year award that is handed out Nov. 16.
Hellickson figures to be in a close vote. He was selected the top major-league rookie by Baseball America while Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo won two AL honors voted by other players, The Sporting News and Players Choice awards. Right-hander Ivan Nova of the Yankees and first baseman Eric Hosmer of the Royals also figure to get considerable support.
Hellickson went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA, eighth overall in the AL and lowest by a rookie (with a minimum 162 innings) since 1990, when Kevin Appier posted a 2.76 for for the Royals. Hellickson would be the second Ray to win the AL Rookie if the Year award, joining Evan Longoria, who won in 2008.
Maddon is in line for his second Manager of the Year award in four years, having also won in 2008.
Given the quantity and quality of players the Rays lost after the 2010 season, and that they were nine games out of the wildcard on the morning of Sept. 4, he deservedly received a lot of credit for keeping them confident enough about their chances to stay in the race. Maddon has already been selected the top AL manager in the Sporting News poll of his colleagues.
--DH/C Jorge Posada could emerge as an interesting option for the Rays, depending on how they fill their designated hitter spot. Posada said Nov. 9 he didn't expect to return to the Yankees, and indicated that proximity to his family, which recently relocated from Tampa to Miami, would be a key part in his decision on whether to keep playing. Although he hit a career-worst .235 last season, with 14 home runs and 44 RBI, he could be an effective designated hitter against right-handed pitchers if the Rays seek a platoon.
--Bench coach Dave Martinez was expected to be a hot commodity this offseason with a half-dozen teams changing managers, but with the final three teams with openings deep into the interview process, he had yet to get a call. Initial reports pegged him the leading candidate for the White Sox job that was filled, unexpectedly, by Robin Ventura.
--RHP James Shields isn't going to be the recipient of the AL Cy Young Award on Nov. 15, not with the season Detroit's Justin Verlander had, but he could still come out a winner. If Shields finishes in the top five, he receives a $500,000 increase in his 2012 option that the Rays have already picked up, bumping his salary from $7.5-million to $8-million.
--DH Johnny Damon isn't the typical power-hitting designated hitter, but the versatility he provided along with his .261 average, 16 home runs and 75 RBI added considerable value, manager Joe Maddon said. "He filled the role," Maddon said. "Not only that, what he can do on the bases, the things he can do in the speed game that we like to play ... he can go play defense if you need him too, also, which is really valuable. There's a whole bunch of different ways that Johnny was kind of an ideal DH for us this year."
--C Kelly Shoppach became a free agent when the Rays declined his option, but the news wasn't all bad as he was inducted into the Baylor University Hall of Fame. Shoppach played three seasons at Baylor and as a junior in 2001 received the Johnny Bench award as the nation's top catcher.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Consecutive seasons in which the Rays have led the AL in stolen bases, a feat done only one other time in the last 50 years, by the 1987-91 Brewers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Kelly was a significant asset defensively this year and played extremely well down the stretch, but in looking to bolster the catching position this winter, we felt it necessary to assess all of the options available to us." -- Executive vice president Andrew Friedman, on the decision to decline C Kelly Shoppach's $3.2-million option.
FREE AGENTS: RHP Juan Cruz, DH Johnny Damon, 1B Dan Johnson, 1B Casey Kotchman, C Kelly Shoppach.
Cruz served his purpose, giving the Rays a solid season after signing a minor-league deal and positioning himself to move on and make more elsewhere. Damon and Kotchman present interesting decisions as both played well and were key parts of the Rays success, and there is mutual interest in returning, but the Rays also have to consider upgrades at one or both positions to improve their overall offensive production as they combined for only 26 homers and 121 RBIs. Shoppach became a free agent when the Rays declined his $3.2-million, but both he and they say they would consider a return at a lower price. Johnson declined an outright assignment to Triple-A.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LHP J.P. Howell, RHP Jeff Niemann, RHP Joel Peralta, LHP David Price, RHP Andy Sonnanstine, CF B.J. Upton.
Howell will be the most interesting decision as the Rays decide whether to gamble that his second season post-surgery would be better than his first. Peralta and Price are automatics, though the Rays could seek to work out deals. Niemann and Upton are also obvious yes decisions, though both could end up on the trade block. Sonnanstine appears done with the Rays and likely won't be tendered.
IN LIMBO: RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis.
The Rays picked up Shields' $7.5-million option (rather than go to arbitration) but will have to listen if overwhelmed by a trade offer, especially if it includes young low-cost hitters. Davis, along with Upton and Niemann, are among the players most likely to be discussed in major trades.