What is Rocco Baldelli's status? (AP)
The Rays have yet to make any major moves to improve their team, but they are making significant changes off the field that ultimately could have a huge impact on the future success of the franchise. Publicly, the team has already gone ahead and changed its uniforms, color scheme and logos and shortened its name by dropping "Devil," cosmetic alterations that team officials and players hope reflects the start of a new -- and more successful -- era. "I think this is more of a symbolic change for the team where the identity of the team is changing from the team that it was to a team that is going to be a force," said injured outfielder Rocco Baldelli.
But the bigger deal, which the St. Petersburg Times reported and the team confirmed but has not yet provided details of, is a plan to build a new stadium on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.
A formal announcement is expected in December, but the Rays are talking about a $450 million stadium on the site of Al Lang Field, the longtime spring training facility that will be vacant in 2009.
The stadium would be open air but have an iconic sail-like cover to keep out rain and, at times, sun. It would also have the attraction, much like San Francisco's AT&T Park, of having home run balls to right field splash into the water. If the stadium opens as the Rays hope in 2012 -- and it would require approval of St. Petersburg voters -- the Rays likely would go from the low-revenue, low-payroll end of the majors to the middle of the pack.
NOTES, QUOTES--OF Chris Snelling's stay in Tampa Bay never began. The Rays claimed him off waivers from the A's in October, and they traded him to the Phillies for cash on Nov. 20. Snelling hit a combined .246 in 69 at-bats for Washington and Oakland this year.
--OF Rocco Baldelli said extensive medical tests have yet to reveal any reason for his continued injury problems, including a hamstring strain that limited him to 35 games last season, but he remains confident of returning to the field in spring training. "Right now, I just want to play," Baldelli said. "Whatever I have to do to play, I'll do it. I just want to help this team out because I know this team is going in a great direction right now and I want to be a part of it."
Will troubled outfielder Elijah Dukes get dealt? (AP)
--Having an abundance of outfielders usually leads to an overload of trade rumors, and that has already been the case this offseason. Though there are no indications the Rays are close to any deals, there has been speculation about a deal to send OF Carl Crawford to the Cubs (for a package including LHP Rich Hill, RHP Carlos Marmol and INF Ronny Cedeno), OF Rocco Baldelli to the Nationals and/or the Twins, and OF Elijah Dukes to the Nationals.
--RHP Al Reyes was one of the Rays' best success stories last season. He signed a minor league contract and completed his comeback from Tommy John surgery in spectacular fashion, converting 26 of 30 saves. He will try to continue that success with the Rays next year, as they picked up his $2.3 million option. Though the Rays are exploring adding another potential closer, executive VP Andrew Friedman said they were "looking forward to (Reyes) playing a key role for us again in '08."
--INF/OF Greg Norton had a huge impact on the Rays' 2007 season in an inadvertent manner, as his late-spring knee injury allowed Carlos Pena to make the roster. Pena went on to have spectacular year, posting a team-record 46 homers and 121 RBIs. Norton wasn't nearly as successful, hitting .243 with 23 RBIs in 75 games, and the Rays declined a $1 million option, making him a free agent.
--It was hardly a surprise that RF Delmon Young finished second to Boston 2B Dustin Pedroia in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, but the margin was somewhat larger than expected. Young received only three first-place votes (to 24 for Pedroia) and was left off eight of the 28 ballots. Pedroia, at least, said Young was worthy. "I really didn't know about the margin," he said. "All I know is that Delmon Young is an unbelievable player. He's going to be in the middle of that lineup for a long time. He's going to be kicking our butt for a long time."
BY THE NUMBERS: $150 million -- Amount the Rays are expected to contribute to a new $450 million stadium on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our needle is pointing up, and pointing up 90 degrees. I don't know another organization in Major League Baseball that has the optimism and forward progress that we're expecting to have." -- Principal owner Stuart Sternberg.
ROSTER REPORT The Rays went into the offseason believing they have fewer holes to fill than ever before but still knowing that to become contenders they are going to have to get better in several areas -- the bullpen, the rotation and their defense.
BIGGEST NEEDS: Ideally, the Rays would find a way to land a proven young closer who can take over the back end of the bullpen and allow veteran Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler to handle setup duties. In addition, they could use a veteran starter who not only can pitch well but teach their young starters, such as James Shields and Scott Kazmir, a few things. Finally, they are seeking a shortstop who is strong defensively, which they think will also make their pitching staff better. An upgrade at catcher also is a possibility.
FREE AGENTS: C Raul Casanova, C Josh Paul, RHP Jay Witasick, INF/OF Greg Norton. Paul is the most relevant of the group and the only one the Rays are likely to re-sign. The Rays declined their option on Norton.
The Rays are looking at the potential of three significant arbitration cases with Kazmir, who could up to the $3-4 million range; Pena, who could go up $5 million or more; and Wheeler, who seems likely to go up $1 million to around $3 million. Gomes and Glover are likely to get around $1 million; Balfour and Camp might not get to arbitration.
IN LIMBO: OF Rocco Baldelli will have to prove he is healthy before any team would give up anything of consequence for him; LF Carl Crawford will be mentioned in a series of rumors, as usual, but it still seems unlikely he will be traded. More likely, the Rays will look to deal some of their better -- but not best -- prospects in order to get a shortstop and relievers.
OF Rocco Baldelli's overall health remains a mystery, as extensive medical tests failed to determine why he has had chronic hamstring problems.
LF Carl Crawford (strained left groin) missed the final 12 games of the season but should be fine.