The Tampa Bay Rays are down 1-0 in their American League Division Series to the Texas Rangers, so obviously that's the organization's primary concern right now. But whether its season ends with an LDS loss or a champagne bath after the World Series, its truly biggest issue is the future of Carl Crawford. Will the Rays bring him back? Can they bring him back?
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg announced going into the season that the payroll would be significantly lower for the 2011 season, hinting that it would drop even below $60 million.
There's a bit of good news. Pat Burrell is already gone (to a fellow playoff team, the San Francisco Giants) and made up $9 million of that Opening Day payroll. Rafael Soriano earned $7.25 million, and nobody really expected to him to be anything more than a one-year pickup in Tampa Bay. Carlos Pena isn't gone yet, but if the Rays bring him back, it'll certainly be at less than his $10 million 2010 salary; he had as good a season as a .196 hitter can have, but a .732 OPS isn't something you pay for at first base.
Once you factor in some raises to players with a few years of service time and the loss of at least $20 million in salary, you might be able to envision a scenario in which the Rays could afford to keep Crawford on a long-term deal.
It might not be that easy, though.