ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' 2012 squad will begin to take shape Monday, as the team faces a midnight ET deadline to exercise club options on James Shields, Kyle Farnsworth, and Kelly Shoppach.
Shields, 29, is the senior member of Tampa Bay's rotation. He was named to his first All-Star team in 2011 en route to his best season. The right-hander went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and 225 strikeouts, had 11 complete games and four shutouts. The Rays hold a $7 million option on him for 2012, or they could elect to pay a $2 million buyout.
Farnsworth, 35, stepped up to become a dominating closer in his first real opportunity to do so in his big league career. The veteran right-hander tallied 25 saves in 31 opportunities, while posting a 5-1 record with a 2.18 ERA. The Rays hold a $3.3 million option, with a $650,000 buyout.
Shoppach, 31, had a strong finish to the 2011 season. The veteran backstop was told by manager Joe Maddon in early September that he would be out of the catching mix for the remainder of the season, but he remained patient, much to the Rays' benefit. John Jaso and Jose Lobaton struggled, so Shoppach was reinserted into the lineup and he became a positive during Tampa Bay's stretch run. The Rays hold a $3.2 million 2012 option, or they could elect to buy Shoppach out for $300,000.
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman does not offer comments on contractual matters, which leaves the fates of the trio up for speculation. And based on that speculation, Shields and Farnsworth appear as locks to have their options exercised. Meanwhile, the decision on Shoppach isn't as clear.
The lack of solid catching candidates in the organization is a part of the problem. Jaso took a step back offensively defensively in 2011, and Lobaton, who did well at Triple-A Durham, didn't enjoy the same success in the Major Leagues. In fairness to Lobaton, it should be pointed out he did suffer a left knee injury that could have contributed to his performance. After those two, the Rays have Robinson Chirinos and Nevin Ashley waiting in the wings, but neither is polished enough to make the jump to Tropicana Field just yet.
Facing the reality of their catching situation, the front office must make its decision on Shoppach. Should the team not exercise Shoppach's option, there is still a chance the Rays could re-sign him as a free agent. Either way, Shoppach has expressed a desire to return to the team.
In addition to the decisions that must be made on the above mentioned trio, the team has until Wednesday to exclusively negotiate with its free agents -- Casey Kotchman, Johnny Damon, Joel Peralta and Jose Cruz. Each of the four has said they would like to return to the Rays in 2012.
After Wednesday, each of the four players can negotiate with other teams interested in signing them as a free agent.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.