Carl Crawford has been the face of the Tampa Bay Rays for 8 seasons.
Carl Crawford was the cheese that stood alone for a long, long time.
Now, Carl Crawford may be in his last series as a Tampa Bay Ray.
Although the sudden and unexpected Kazmir trade was a definite indication that the Rays are trying to find ways to keep their key guys (namely, Crawford and possibly Aki, and I'm sure they'd like to extend Pena while he's still affordable too), it by no means assures us that Crawford won't be moved.
After last season everyone and their cousin wanted the Rays to move Crawford while he still had value, but a stellar 2009 campaign has snapped everybody back to the other side of the line, and the screams that "the Rays better keep Crawford... or else" can be heard from Tallahassee to Sarasota.
Crawford had what most would call a career year this season; .306 BA, .365 OBP, .453 SLG, .818 OPS, and 60 steals which, in my humble my opinion, has done all but force the organization's hand, but I still don't think that keeping CC is a given at all. In fact, I would say there is still a 40% chance that Crawford is wearing a different uni next season (heaven help us if that uni has colored hosiery or pinstripes!)
The Rays are operating over-budget and need to find creative ways to maintain an entire roster of major-league caliber players. They can't dump large percentages of their payroll into 1 or 2 players, regardless of how great they are, were, or may be. It's simple math.
Moving Kazmir was a start (and a smart move), but there's still a good portion of money-moving that has to be worked-out.
I rarely cross-over from one sport to the next, but as a lifelong Steeler fan I've seen exactly how a "small-market" team makes the most out of a little on a nearly annual basis. They (the Steelers) never, ever, under any circumstances take a flyer on ridiculously over-priced free agents (which the Rays have emulated well), they promote from within and hoard talented depth (much like the Rays have done) and perhaps the most important; they are always willing to let a player go if his potential payroll takes too much of a chunk out of the overall salary (i.e. Alan Faneca). The Steelers live and die by the belief that it's always better to let them go 1 year too early than 1 year too late.
Sadly, I think that if the Rays approach the CC situation with that same mindset they may have to cut ties with the best player in franchise history (for now at least (Longoria's just getting started)).
Crawford is due $10 million next season and Rays ownership has already said they can only operate at around $65-70 million next season. Simple math tells us that CC's salary would take a significant piece of the pie, which would mean that keeping Crawford would potentially mean saying goodbye to some other integral parts of the puzzle.
Another playoff run would've helped generate more revenue and perhaps convinced ownership to loosen the purse-strings a bit next season, but alas, we've already woken from that fever dream.
I would love to see Crawford stay a Ray, and CC himself has stated that he'd like to stay with Tampa if at all possible, but I wouldn't be surprised or angry, or bitter to see him go. Baseball, after all, is a business, so the bottom line counts; and beyond that, the future success of the franchise may be at stake. No one wants to see a Rays team that was ripped to shreds just to accommodate CC's salary. I'd bet real American money that CC wouldn't want that either.
The powers-that-be (Sternberg, Friedman, etc.) have to weigh the value of Crawford and the possible ire of the Tampa faithful against the long-term potential of a host of young players or less expensive alternatives.
For the past four years current ownership has hit home runs on just about every move they've made, so whatever decision they make in regard to Crawford will be fine by me.
I'll consider it the right move. They've earned that respect.
Strictly as a fan, I'll be watching these last few games with one eye constantly focused on Carl Crawford, because there's a fair chance that they're the last he'll play as a Ray.