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12/05/07 9:28 PM ET

Notes: If you build it, they will come

Rays know assembling strong farm system helps in the future

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Marlins' trade that sent marquee players Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers was a deal the Rays could relate to since they, too, are a small-market team, and one day they could be faced with moving their own star players due to payroll constraints.

"It is always a sad day when you see something that you've built up and you have to tear it down because you can't retain them," said Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Gerry Hunsicker. "But that to me is a small-market club. You have to look at that as a motivator. You have to look at it as a challenge. Nobody feels sorry for anybody. You need to use that to drive you to be more productive within your own operation."

According to Hunsicker, to be successful, the Rays need to get more out of their resources than their competition.

"And that's got to revolve around scouting and player development," Hunsicker said. "Unless we can produce a consistent stream of players that are constantly ready to compete at the Major League level, this model doesn't work, and that's our challenge."

Hunsicker believes the key to the consistency part comes by building enough depth in the organization's farm system.

"You use your system not only to feed your own Major League team, but to acquire Major League players that you'll have to fill your needs," said Hunsicker, citing the Rays' six-player trade with the Twins on Nov. 28 as an example. "And that's where the combination of uses of your farm system come in, especially in the pitching area.

"If you can stockpile pitching, which we've tried to do, everybody is always looking for pitching. So, theoretically, if you can develop most of your pitching from within, you can use the excess to fill the other holes via trade and, of course, a free agent here or there, which we certainly can't be too competitive very often on free agents to fill our needs."

Rule 5 Draft: The Rays will pick first in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, and many have speculated that they will pluck outfielder Brian Barton from the Indians organization.

Those eligible to be selected in the Draft are players who are not on a team's Major League 40-man roster, were 18 years or younger when they first signed a pro contract and are now in their fourth Rule 5 Draft since they signed. Also eligible are players who are not on a club's 40-man roster when they were 19 or older after they first signed a pro contract and if this is their third Rule 5 Draft.

Winter Meetings

Clubs pay $50,000 for the player drafted, and if the player does not remain on the team's 25-man active roster for the entire season, the drafting club must attempt to return him to his original team for $25,000.

Barton, 25, hit .315 with nine home runs, 59 RBIs and 20 stolen bases at Double-A Akron before finishing the season at Triple-A Buffalo, where he hit .264 with one home run, seven RBIs and a stolen base in 25 games.

The Rays aren't saying what they will do with the pick. Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations, said the Rays will draft the best available player who they believe can contribute at the Major League level and would not be a drain on their 25-man roster. Friedman also suggested that the Rays might sell the pick.

Tops by Topps: The Rays were named the Topps Organization of the Year in an announcement made on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings in Nashville. The award dates back to 1966, and this is the first time the Rays have won it. The Topps Organization of the Year Award is presented each year to a Major League organization based on the number of players in their system who have received Topps awards during the past season.

Points are awarded in four Minor League categories, including All-Star players, Players of the Month, the Trautman -- Minor League Player of the Year -- and Taylor Spink -- Topps Minor League Player of the Year -- award recipients and for Major League rookies who've made Topps' Rookie All-Star team.

"We are honored to be named the Topps Organization of the Year," Friedman said. "It speaks volumes to the organizational improvement and scouting and player development. This award really goes to our scouting and player development staffs."

Rumor mill: According to the Tampa Tribune, the Rays are rumored to be in the hunt for 36-year-old left-handed reliever Ron Mahay, who is also said to be coveted by the Braves, Yankees, Royals, Giants and Astros.

The Rays are still looking for a left-handed bat who can play right field and fill it at designated hitter. Andre Ethier made the rumor mill on Wednesday, but a Dodgers official shot that one down, saying nothing was in the works.

Friedman said the chances are 50-50 that something could happen before the Winter Meetings conclude on Thursday.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.