The Rays had a storybook season, going from last place to first place in the American League East and winning the AL pennant. To find this sort of dramatic turnaround from one season to the next, one has to go back to the Atlanta Braves in 1991.
Tampa Bay finished ahead of far richer rivals. The Rays' roster is mostly homegrown, the result of some shrewd drafting and smart player development. Fan support was slow in coming, but by the time the Rays beat the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series and moved on to the World Series, the region was squarely behind the franchise, which, until this season, had never won more than 70 games in a season.
Troy Percival is under contract for another year, but at age 39 and after three stints on the disabled list this season, he can't be counted on. The Rays could pursue a free-agent closer such as Francisco Rodriguez or Brian Fuentes, but it's more likely they will find a more affordable option.
Baldelli's future is uncertain because of some physical issues, but the Rays would welcome him back on a more affordable deal. Floyd brought leadership and experience and also could return, although likely in a reduced role.
Edwin Jackson won 14 games for the Rays in 2008, but given the depth of the rotation and the emergence of some prospects, he might not have a guaranteed spot in the rotation next season. Jackson is still under control for several seasons and has value.
Former No. 1 pick David Price will claim a spot in the rotation next season and could make an immediate impact. Shortstop Reid Brignac, a second-round pick in 2004, could be ready to contribute, but after Jason Bartlett brought some stability to the position this season, the Rays can allow Brignac to develop on his own timetable.
"Bright" seems to be an understatement. Management smartly has locked up a number of core players (Longoria, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Carl Crawford), so free-agent defections are a long way off. The biggest challenge is securing a new ballpark, which soon will be necessary for steep arbitration increases and retaining young stars.
Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald covers baseball for ESPN.com.