The Rays will never have a payroll that doesn’t rank among the lowest few in baseball. But this past offseason, the Rays showed a willingness to raise payroll to sign the bats that they thought would give them the type of offense they needed to make a deep playoff run. With salaries like Carlos Pena and Luke Scott coming off the books and a trade of James Shields a real possibility, the Rays have some flexibility within their payroll. But there is a future salary issue that is insidiously approaching the Rays and that they will have to address, almost assuredly in a way that Rays fans will not like.
ESPN’s Rumor Central provides a lot of interesting stories on all four major sports. Parts of the entry below were far from that, but at the same time it brings up a good point that’s worth definitely discussing. Here’s the Rays-related part of a Rumor Central entry discussing high-profile arbitration cases.
"The biggest name here is Rays lefty David Price, who is eligible for arbitration for the second time. The club could try to lock him up for the long haul the way they did Evan Longoria and James Shields, but it has to be a two-way street and the Cy Young candidate will not come cheap.ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney wrote recently that Price’s trade value will never be higher, suggesting the Rays could shop their ace and see what kind of package they could get in return. He’d likely make more than $7 million in arbitration, a number that could rise to the $10 million range.The Rays, who don’t figure to raise their payroll significantly. are not expected to bring back free agent B.J. Upton and maybe not even Joel Peralta, Fernando Rodney or Carlos Pena. Trading James Shields, who is set to earn $9 million in 2013, could free up some cash to sign Price and possible keep one of the relievers."
There are so many things wrong with that last paragraph. Fine, the Rays aren’t going to raise payroll against and B.J. Upton is not coming back. But they have an option for just 2.5 million dollars. They are absolutely picking that up- that’s a guarantee. Joel Peralta may leave, but after he managed just a 3.63 ERA this past season (albeit with a 3.14 FIP) and saw how the Rays supported him through the whole Glove Check situation, it’s not that crazy at all that he returns. Carlos Pena? No one is going to guarantee him very much and if the Rays part ways with him, it will be because they want to move forward without him, not because they’re unwilling to pay him 1 or 2 million dollars. And Shields could very well be traded, but that has nothing to do with signing Peralta and Pena- and Rodney is already under contract.
Unfortunately, the rest of this Rumor Central entry makes a lot more sense and is a serious issue that the Rays have to consider. The situation between Price and the Rays is much more dire. It seems inevitable that Price will leave Tampa Bay someday, and it’s too late for an extension that would keep Price in Tampa Bay for the foreseeable future at this point. B.J. Upton was in a similar situation- even as a significantly worse player- and the Rays failed to extend him. Price will make a lot of money by Rays standards this season as he’s arbitration-eligible player for the first time, and it’s only going up.
One similar situation where the Rays did sign the player to an extension was Scott Kazmir, and they did that with Kazmir before he was arbitration-eligible for the first time just like Price. The issue is that Price has already been making multi-million dollars the past three years, including $4,350,000 in 2012, per the major league contract that the Rays signed him to after drafting him first overall in 2007. Kazmir received 4 years and $29,785,000 in his extension (where did that number come from?). Price would have to be more like 4 years and 50 million for him to seriously start negotiating.
The Rays could backload the contract if they would like, maybe having Price make 8 million dollars in 2013, 10 million in 2014, 12 million in 2015, and 20 million in 2016, but how in the world would the Rays afford to pay even 12 million to Price in 2015 when Evan Longoria is making 11 million that same season? Would they really use somewhere from a half to a third of their payroll on two players? All they would be doing doing is delaying for maybe one additional season the unavoidable fact that they Rays have to trade Davis Price someday. Considering there’s no chance the Rays would pay Price 20 million dollars in a season, they would really just be saving themselves some arbitration money before they are undeniably forced to trade Price. Maybe that makes sense, but it just makes the whole situation more depressing. Even a Price extension would only make the end result of the Rays trading him even more apparent.
The Rays are not as cash-strapped as Jason A. Churchill of Rumor Central seems to think in the short-term. But unfortunately, where David Price fits in as part of the Rays’ future payroll is definitely an issue that the Rays will have to address, and there may be no other possible solution for the Rays other than to trade him. The Rays will find a way to continue to succeed. But the way they will do that will be by continuing to develop cheap yet formidable young pitching and unfortunately Price doesn’t fit that profile anymore. The Rays future is bright, but David Price is unlikely to be a part of it much longer.