NEW YORK -- Speculation has been rampant since the beginning of Spring Training that Carl Crawford will end up with the Yankees in 2011.

Crawford is in the final year of his contract with the Rays. If he does not negotiate an extension during the season, he will be a free agent at the end of it. All along, Crawford has maintained that he will address his pending free agency once the season is over, but Wednesday was the Tampa Bay's first game in New York this season, so the Rays' left fielder was fair game for questions about his future.

Crawford handled all the attention well, smiling throughout the approximately five-minute session.

After reporters danced around the obvious, Crawford was asked how much time he spends thinking about free agency.

"I don't think about it at all with this team," Crawford answered. "Everybody knows when you're winning, it just lets you be carefree all the time where you don't have to think about stuff too much. When you're in a situation like this, it's just easy to get on with your day."

The more direct follow-up asked him how much time he spends thinking about the possibility he could be wearing pinstripes in 2011.

"I don't really think about it at all," Crawford said. "It's something I don't have to think about it right now. I'll have plenty of time to think about that [later]."

Replacing Howell won't be easy on Rays

NEW YORK -- Now that J.P. Howell is officially lost for the season, the Rays on Wednesday spoke about not having the popular left-hander and how they will go forward.

During Spring Training, the rest of the relief corps maintained they would try and step up to fill the huge gap left by the absence of their veteran teammate. To date, the bullpen members have done a pretty nice job of following through on their intentions. So what happens now that they know he won't be back this year?

"I think you just go on doing what you've been doing so far this year," said Randy Choate, the lone left-hander in the Rays' bullpen. "It's really unfortunate -- you can't replace a guy like J.P. I know it's a cliche and that's what everybody's going to say, but obviously, he's probably been the best reliever here the last two years. Losing him is a major loss for us. But we can't sit around and cry about that or worry."

Choate's thoughts turned to well wishes for Howell.

"I hope [the surgery] was successful, which I heard it was," Choate said. "I hope it's a speedy recovery for him. And we just kind of have to move on without him pitching this season. He's still going to be in the clubhouse. He's still going to be around. He's still going to keep everybody loose. He's going to keep that good J.P. attitude that he has. It's just really unfortunate and something you kind of have to deal with and move on."

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman spoke about what Howell means to the team.

"He's very much an integral part of the team on and off the field," Friedman said. "He'll still be around. It's not something where he's going to be in Siberia on his rehab. He's going to be with us. And he's still very much a part of this team and the fabric of what we're about. We'll just have to wait until next year for him to contribute on the field."

Friedman said Howell's surgery wasn't a big surprise, so the front office acted accordingly in its approach to putting together this year's bullpen.

"In our minds, we were approaching it like he wouldn't be back," Friedman said. "If he was, obviously, it would be a huge boost. We approached it from that vantage point. We've got a lot of guys who are doing really well in the bullpen. But our mentality is to always look for ways to possibly improve. But we have a lot of confidence in the seven guys we have right now."

Rays manager Joe Maddon complimented the job the bullpen has done to this point in the season.

"A lot of times I believe that when you're missing a key component, other folks are going to step up and exceed your expectations," Maddon said. "You look at what our bullpen's done so far, and there are no complaints.

"And furthermore, more recently, Andy Sonnanstine is throwing the ball well. And Joaquin Benoit has come up here and thrown the ball well, too. You add those two into the mix on a more consistent basis, that's going to help the rest of the group. So we don't have J.P., but the other guys have been doing a fabulous job."

Burrell clears waivers, becomes free agent

NEW YORK -- Pat Burrell has cleared waivers and is now a free agent, meaning he can sign with any team that wants him.

The Rays designated Burrell for assignment prior to Friday's game against the Mariners and Hank Blalock was selected from Triple-A Durham.

Burrell struggled at the plate both seasons with the Rays, and his average fell to .202 following an 0-for-4 performance at the plate Friday night against Seattle. The 34-year-old served primarily as the designated hitter against right-handed pitchers while working in a platoon with Willy Aybar, and he had not been particularly effective in that role, striking out 28 times in 84 at-bats while getting just 17 hits.