It went down to the wire, and fans had be concerned. At the end of the day, however, the Tampa Bay Rays agreed to terms with all their arbitration-eligible players. David Price netted $14 million on Thursday, Matt Joyce received $3.7 million, and Jeremy Hellickson was just behind at $3.625 million. Then there were Sean Rodriguez and Jake McGee, who were neck-and-neck at $1.475 million and $1.45 million respectively, and Jose Lobaton and Cesar Ramos round out the group with salaries of $950,000 and $749,750. The Rays’ priority was to avoid a hearing, and they managed to do exactly that. The cost of that, though, was a little money in almost every case. Matt Swartz’s projections at MLB Trade Rumors represent a solid baseline with which to evaluate whether a deal favored the player or the team, and the Rays went above the projection for 5 of 7 players. Just one player, Lobaton, received less than his projection amount, and by just $50,000. The Rays had the opposite result the last two years as they got their players to agree to a contract less than the projection 9 of 13 times. What happened this year that the Rays consistently paid more?
The Rays are set for a record payroll in 2014. With that in mind, skimping for every penny they could would almost be a form of hypocrisy. If the Rays had signed all seven players for their projection amounts, it would have cost $24.3 million. Instead, they ended up at right around $26 million. That $1.7 million is nothing to scoff at. However, it is nothing compared to the satisfaction it created for all the players involved. Joyce and Hellickson both described themselves as “excited” to agree to terms. Contrast that to when Jeff Niemann lost his arbitration case in 2012 and said he was “glad it’s done and over.” The Rays are entering an irregular year by their standards. They are going for it. They may not have the payroll of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, but they made a few additions to the strong core they had last season and are primed to push even harder and contend for championship. They are changing the culture of their team, and it didn’t make any sense to slam on the gas pedal to save a little money in arbitration. Now the arbitration-eligible players are taken care of and everyone can focus on a 2014 season that looks as promising as ever.