PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - Leave it to the resourceful Tampa Bay Rays to slash payroll by more than 40 percent and still present a compelling argument for why they can remain competitive in baseball's toughest division.
The cost-conscious AL East champions opened spring training without 10 players who were on last season's playoff roster. Still, manager Joe Maddon is confident he'll break camp with a club capable of holding its own against the big spending Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
A strong pitching rotation, plus a batting order featuring Evan Longoria and recent additions Johnny Damon and Many Ramirez are the main reasons the Rays expect to survive the exodus of Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza and seven of the team's top eight relievers.
"It's easy to speak of our demise at this particular moment," Maddon said, lamenting an offseason that saw Crawford sign a $142 million, seven-year contract with Boston and All-Star closer Rafael Soriano land $35 million over three years with the Yankees.
Garza and Bartlett were traded in deals that landed mostly prospects. Pena and almost the entire bullpen fled via free agency.
The Rays think they're still good enough to get back to the playoffs.
"I want our players to understand we're going to have to do this in another way," Maddon said. "We're missing some guys, but also it's your turn to be that guy that everyone's going to miss four or five years from now ... when all of a sudden he's gone and he was such a big part of of 2011, 2012, 2013, etc."
That was the message Wednesday, the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers.
There are 20 new faces on the 40-man roster from the end of last season, including free agent pitchers Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta, who were brought in to begin rebuilding the bullpen.
Damon and Ramirez, who made a brief stop at camp but did not work out Wednesday, will be counted on to bolster the offense. The first full-squad workout is Feb. 21.
"For us it's not a tally sheet of three or four months in the winter," Rays executive vice president of baseball operation Andrew Friedman said.
"The makings of this 2011 team didn't just start this offseason. It goes back numerous years. We've always had an eye toward future years. ... What happened this winter wasn't a surprise to us. We knew there would be turnover. ... We anticpated it was going to be a year of retooling. We feel like we're in good position right now."
Despite losing a four-time All-Star in Crawford, a front-of-the-rotation caliber pitcher in Garza and slick-fielding former All-Stars in Pena and Bartlett, Friedman and Maddon feel enough good young talent remains to have reasonable expectations of competing with the Red Sox and Yankees.
Tampa Bay's payroll is projected to be about $41 million, down from $73 million last season.
"One of the most important things we have to do is identify the unique challenges that we face and operate within them, not try to be someone that we're not. ... We have to go about things differently than the teams that we compete against in our division. We can't operate the same way they do or we would absolutely finish behind them," Friedman said.
"We have to do things differently. We've won two out of the last three American League Easts and we've never won a winter in that time period. It's not about that for us because we can't. For us, it puts more emphasis on roster construction. ... It's finding those complimentary pieces, finding guys who compliment one another, and when you look at the sum of the parts, it equals a 90-plus win team. That's what we're shooting for. And to get there, we have to do it a different way."
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