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Crawford's likely departure will reshape Rays

Crawford's likely departure will reshape Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Not only did the loss sting for the Rays and their fans Tuesday night, the prospect of next season hung inside Tropicana Field like a cloud of doom.


Three Rays favorites likely played their final game with the team in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, as Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano are free agents and it's likely they will head elsewhere as principal owner Stuart Sternberg has said the payroll will be cut prior to the 2011 season.

At different intervals throughout Tuesday night's game, Rays fans chanted Crawford's name.

"It was great out there for the fans to do that for you, they don't have to do that," Crawford said. "For them to do that, I really appreciated that. I just wish I could do more to please them."

Losing Pena and Soriano hurts, but Crawford came up through the organization's farm system and has been the team's biggest star in franchise history -- so the prospect of "C.C." leaving hurt most.

"I don't want to leave, everybody knows that," Crawford said. "I like it here. I've made that known. I wish something was able to be worked out."

Reality says there is little chance of Crawford remaining in a Rays uniform given the fact he's already been anointed the pick of the coming season's free-agent liter. Inside Tampa Bay's clubhouse, there was a sense of loss for what might have been this season.

"A lot of guys aren't going to be here next year," Kelly Shoppach said. "We wanted to do it together. You know, a lot of guys don't know what the future holds. It's going to be interesting this offseason. To go out like this is not a good way."

The Rays are a team built on pitching a defense. They also are an organization built from prospects along with augmentation for certain pieces from the outside. Next year's team will likely battle the rest of the American League with a different look, but despite the expected losses, there is a lot of faith in the organization that they can build another quality team despite the reduction in payroll.

"We've gotten to this point because we've been creative, because we have excellent ownership and a great front office staff," manager Joe Maddon said. "We'll put this down for a couple of weeks, then we'll pick it back up and we'll start seeing where all the pieces are going to fall, then we'll start putting it together for next year. I really believe ... in our system. I believe we're going to contend again next year."

Evan Longoria will remain one of the centerpieces of the Rays, and without Crawford and Pena, he will take more ownership of the clubhouse. Longoria doesn't like the idea of losing three of the team's top players to free agency, but he's hardly ready to wave a white flag for next season.

"Obviously it's going to be a little different look next year coming into Spring Training," Longoria said. "But at the same time, we've got guys, obviously not proven like those three guys, but we have a great farm system and guys that are ready to step in and fill roles.

"So right now I'm just trying to enjoy what we have accomplished and leave here in a positive light, and when it comes time to think about Spring Training next year, we'll think about it then."

Longoria noted that the Rays always start the season "a little bit of an underdog."

"We just have to have the same approach mentally next year going into Spring Training and into the season," Longoria said. "At this point right now, I'm trying to leave here without a bitter taste in my mouth.

"Obviously, nobody's happy about what happened tonight. But to win the American League East and to be able to hang a banner next year on Opening Day -- look back on all the things we've accomplished as a team over the year. That's a lot to hang your hat on."

Sternberg stood inside the Rays' clubhouse and did not hide the fact he was disappointed.

"You win the American League East and you expectations are that you're going to play a lot of baseball," Sternberg said. "I certainly felt that way."

And what does the future hold?

"This is a great group of guys. Seasons end and things change in the offseason," Sternberg said. "We'll probably have half the guys this year that we had in 2008, give or take one or two. The nice thing is, it wasn't a group of 25, it was a group of 30 or more that got this done. So that's the way our organization runs. We do it with a large group of contributors and we're going to continue doing it that way."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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