Is Andy Sonnanstine a permanent fixture in the Rays' starting rotation, or do you think Jeremy Hellickson will replace him later in 2010?
-- Matt S., Sarasota, Fla.
Based on the way this past season ended, I would say that Sonnanstine is headed to Spring Training outside the starting rotation. If the season began today, the rotation would be as follows: James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis. However, the Rays have had a lot of luck with the health of their rotation, and the one true thing about baseball is that pitchers get injured.
If one of Tampa Bay's starters goes down, Sonnanstine could easily step in to fill the gap. He is a guy who thrives on being the underdog, so I would not count him out. As for Hellickson, I don't think he can make the team out of Spring Training. The club would like for him to season a bit longer in the Minor Leagues before making the jump to Tropicana Field. The strategy appears to have worked with Davis, and there is no reason to rush Hellickson unless a bunch of injuries occur.
Do you think it's fair for Rays management to expect attendance in Tropicana Field to reach the average set by other American League parks when the capacity of the Trop -- as configured for baseball in 2009 -- was substantially less than the average capacity of all AL parks? While I would love to see more fans at Rays games, the goal should be reasonable.
-- Andy C., Sun City Center, Fla.
I think the attendance at Tropicana Field has been tough to quantify. First, the fan base drew a lot of criticism in 2008 for not always filling the park during a successful season. And yes, you would think an exciting young team in the playoff hunt would be selling out on a nightly basis. On the other hand, the Rays did not have a large season-ticket base in '08, so it's hard to sell out every night based on walk-up sales.
Next, the Rays' attendance should have been better in 2009 based on the success of the '08 team. Unfortunately, you have to temper those expectations with the effects of a bad economy, which hurt corporate season-ticket sales, among other things. The current ownership group seems to go above and beyond trying to improve its product, so fans can hope that will pay off this season.
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The club brass needs to find a way to keep Carl Crawford in a Rays uniform for many years to come. He has stated that he wants to stay with the Rays, and the fans also want to see the left fielder and All-Star Game Most Valuable Player remain in St. Petersburg. There should be no deal that entices them to trade C.C. at any time.
Owner Stuart Sternberg and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman have to spend money to compete in the AL East -- not Yankees money, but some money -- and you have to be able to score runs to compete in this division.
-- Pat W., Tulsa, Okla.
First off, Pat, I can't find much wrong with the current ownership group. They have complained little and done a lot, so even if they don't manage to re-sign Crawford, I've got to believe they have a plan.
As for the logistics of re-signing Crawford, there are a lot of different variables. Perhaps the biggest of these is whether the two parties feel like they want to remain together -- a lot can be done if Crawford and the Rays agree on that mutual desire.
Next, the club will have to decide if it wants to dedicate the percentage of its payroll that will be required to keep Crawford. On Crawford's side, he needs to decide whether he wants to test the waters of free agency, and he also needs to determine if he wants to spend the rest of his career playing on an artificial surface -- a tough prospect, considering that Crawford makes his living with his legs and the toll taken on the legs of players who play on the hard surface.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.