This offseason, we heard all about the New York Yankees’ quest to remain under the $189 million threshold. We heard on several occasions that if they were going to surpass it, it was going to be by a significant amount. Instead, the Yankees abruptly stopped making high-profile signings after agreeing to terms with Masahiro Tanaka. Why would they do that? Why wouldn’t they be more interested in a player like Stephen Drew who could shore up their unimpressive infield? One major reason is that once a team surpasses a $189 million payroll, every dollar they spend is taxed. Signing Drew for say one year and $12 million would cost the Yankees $24 million. The Yankees did not think that Drew was worth that much money.
What does this have to do with the Tampa Bay Rays? As it turns out, they were in a micro version of the same situation with their 2012 international free agent class. They had an allotted spending amount of $2.9 million, but instead they expended $3.7 million as they signed top prospects like right-hander Jose Mujica, lefty Jose Castillo, and catcher David Rodriguez. The penalty for going over their allotted money by more than 15% was a 100% tax on the overage–just like the Yankees above–and the inability to sign any player for more than $250,000 in their 2013 international free agent class. With that in mind, the Rays had every reason to stop spending and regroup the following year. Why would paying double for a prospect ever by worth it? The Rays have a reputation for being a cheap franchise, and they had already made their statement by exceeding their international spending cap. Now it was time for them to revert back to their stingy ways and stop signing players. But the Rays had other ideas.
In April of 2013, the Tampa Bay Rays signed outfielder Manny Sanchez for $132,500, and that summer in the Dominican Summer League, he showed off everything he can do. Sanchez hit to a .247/.334/.466 line with 14 doubles, 13 home runs, and 52 RBI in 293 plate appearances. The home runs led the league while the RBIs ranked third. Just as notable, though, was that his strikeout to walk ratio was a solid 47-36. Sanchez, 6’2″ and 217 pounds, stands out for his well-above average power potential. He generates his power from a nice combination of bat speed and strength, giving him a chance to keep that type of power output up at higher levels. Sanchez profiles perfectly as right fielder when factoring in his solid speed and strong arm. Of course, like any 18 year old, he has plenty of work to do to get there. His game is too oriented around power at this point, and he has to be less aggressive at the plate. But the Rays found themselves an outfield prospect with excellent power and solid tools across the board, and even $266,000 was worth it to see what he can become.
Then in June, the Rays inked third baseman Juan Carlos Arias for $200,000. Already filled out at 6’3″, 225, power is also Arias’ calling card as he can put showcases on in batting practice. The question is whether he can get that power into games, but he shows flashes of a quick bat and will hope to maintain more consistent bat speed moving forward. Defensively, Arias has a very good arm and soft hands, but the question is going to be whether he has the range for third base or left field. As a big guy, you have to wonder whether Arias will end up at first base moving forward. Nevertheless, the Rays added another power hitter into their organizational ranks and are excited to see who he will develop in the coming years.
The Tampa Bay Rays will never be known for spending, but when the right opportunity arises, they are not afraid to leave their comfort zone. They showed that this offseason with their signings of Grant Balfour and James Loney, but it was actually foreshadowed by their signings of Manny Sanchez and Juan Carlos Arias. The Rays saw two prospects that interested them available at reasonable prices, and they were not going to let a few hundred thousand dollars stand in their way as they signed them. The Rays have flexibility in their budget–all they need is the right players to spend it on.