In 2013, the Tampa Bay Rays had the third-lowest payroll in baseball, topping only the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros. Next season, we have no reason to expect any different. The Rays find a way to win, but they are never going to do so by spending much. It is an accepted fact, not the ideal, but something Rays fans have certainly learned to deal with. However, while the Rays’ payroll remains small for right now, looking at their salary obligations beyond 2014, as done by MLB Trade Rumors’ Jeff Todd, paints an entirely different picture.
When you see this graph, you look for the Rays on the extreme right side among the lowest payrolls and they simply are not there. Then you finally find them, right there in the middle of the graph. The Rays are set to pay out $139.80 million beyond 2014, the 15th-highest number in baseball. That is an extremely respectable number. Most of that money is going to Evan Longoria after his huge extension, but that number includes salary owed to Matt Moore and David DeJesus as well. It doesn’t even include the options for both Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, and Joel Peralta for 2015 that are extremely likely to be picked up, nor does it include the options for Moore in 2018 and 2019 or Peralta in 2016 and 2017. The coolest part, though, is that despite the money the Rays have committed, there is no reason to think that they will stop going for team-friendly extensions. They will do what they can to lock up Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Wil Myers, and they are likely to do everything in their power to keep Zobrist as well even if it costs more.
The Tampa Bay Rays are taking some risk, with their future payroll obligations being 2.20 times their 2013 payroll, seventh-highest in baseball according to Todd. But at the end of the day, they understand that the risks they have been taking are a major reason why they have achieved so much success in recent years. They may be putting a large part of their resources on the line, but in return they get players at bargain prices, especially when adjusting for salary inflation in baseball. The lower salaries they are paying to players Longoria and Moore now in exchange for additional years of commitment are worthwhile trade-offs. They are paying Longoria and Moore far less than what they are currently worth, and even as their salaries escalate, they will not go up nearly as fast as salaries will go up across baseball as a whole. The Rays maintain a low payroll, but they have shown no hesitation putting future salary obligations on the line to make their team as efficient and successful as possible n the long-term.