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So far this off-season, the Rays have lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate, Chad Qualls and Willy Aybar to free agency.They have also traded their starting shortstop, Jason Bartlett, to the Padres for minor leaguers.
That is quite an overhaul for a team that has won more AL East titles in the last three years (2) than the Red Sox have won in the past 15 years (1). It also means the Rays payroll is going to drop considerably from their 2010 payroll of $71.9 million.
How far? At this point, the Rays have nearly cut their payroll in half as they are only committed to $37.6 million for the 2011 season. This has led some to compare the 2010 Rays to the 1997 Marlins that won the World Series, had a fire sale, and then lost 108 games the following season.
But there are some differences. First of all, the Rays are losing most of their players to free agency. So while the Marlins brought back a number of top prospects, the Rays are only reaping compensation draft picks in the 2011 draft.
Of course, that haul is going to be a big one as the Rays could have as many as 11 of the top 70 draft picks next season.
More importantly, the Rays most important unit, their starting pitchers, returns intact in 2011, and may even be better with the addition of top prospect Jeremy Hellickson. So the Rays should pitch well. But this team will also struggle to score runs without Crawford and Pena.
The Rays front office has a well-earned reputation as being one of the smartest in baseball. And even at $37.6 million, the Rays will still field a competitive team that may be the best bang-for-the-buck in the Major Leagues. But in the AL East, that also means they will be playing golf in October.
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