Last offseason the Tampa Bay Rays surprised everyone by taking on a numerous payroll commitments. As such their around $80 million payroll this season is a clear record; in fact they’ve only topped the $70 million mark once before this season. This high of a payroll was not expected to be sustainable, and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg confirmed to Marc Topkin that the 2015 payroll is “clearly going to be lower” than this year’s. So how far will the payroll drop in 2015?
The last time the Rays went “all-in” with their payroll was in 2010, when their salary was around $73 million. The following season the team dropped their payroll to around $42 million, good for a $31 million decrease. There might not be that drastic of a drop in payroll next season, but we could very well see a decrease of $20-$25 million, which would put them around the $55-$60 million mark. Even if the Rays try to stretch a bit and go for the playoffs again next year, it seems likely they will hover at the $65-$70 million mark, at the absolute most. How will they accommodate for this mark? First, let’s take a look at the Rays’ current commitments for 2015.
Guaranteed Contracts for 2015 (9 players at $47.819 million)
Evan Longoria ($11 million)
Grant Balfour ($7.5 million)
James Loney ($8.677 million)
David DeJesus ($5.125 million)
Yunel Escobar ($5 million)
Ryan Hanigan ($3.5 million)
Jose Molina ($2.750 million)
Matt Moore ($3.1 Million)
Chris Archer ($1.167 million)
Options (2 players at $10.0 million with $500k in buyouts)
Arbitration Eligible (9 players projected at $28.15 million)
*Note, projected salaries are generally based on the notion that a player makes 40% of his market value in his 1st year of arbitration, 60% in his 2nd, and 80% in his 3rd. In a case where a player that has already gone through arbitration greatly increased his performance performance in 2014 (i.e. Jake McGee going from 4.02 ERA to 1.34 ERA), the salary will be higher than a 20% increase. All projections are rough estimates and are based off of my opinion.
Matt Joyce (3rd time, projected salary of $4.5 million)
Sean Rodriguez (3rd time, projected $1.8o million)
Jeremy Hellickson (2nd time, projected $4.35 million)
Jake McGee (2nd time, projected $3.0 million)
Cesar Ramos (2nd time, projected $1.2 million)
Drew Smyly (1st time, projected $3.8 million)
Desmond Jennings (1st time, projected $4.0 million)
Alex Cobb (1st time, projected $4.5 million)
Logan Forsythe (1st time, projected $1 million)
Pre-arbitration (5 players at $2.5 million)
Assuming there are no non-tenders and both Peralta and Zobrist both have their options exercised, the roster would be rounded out with 5 players making that would be pre-arbitration. The Rays generally pay their pre-arbitration players right around $500k.
Total- $88.469 million
Despite trading David Price and losing the salary of Heath Bell, the Rays’ 2015 payroll is set to exceed this year’s. That number is clearly not going to happen given Sternberg’s remarks. Basically, it appears that the Rays will be making some trades this offseason to lower their payroll for next year. A majority of the roster would be more or less trade candidates, but guys like Jennings, Joyce, DeJesus Hellickson, Zobrist and Balfour are clear candidates.
So let’s say the Rays were shooting for around the $65-$68 million mark with their payroll; here’s a scenario in which they could accomplish that. First, they trade Grant Balfour and his $7.5 million salary, which would also cost them a good prospect so that they wouldn’t have to take on another bad contract in return. Second, they deal both Joyce and Jennings, who combined are projected to make $8.5 million. Then they deal Hellickson and his projected $4.35 million salary, and they decide not pick up Peralta’s $2.5 million option. Lastly they deal Rodriguez and his $1.8 projection. Then to make up for the departure of those players, they have to pay an additional 6 players the minimum salary, which would add on an extra $3 million. Doing all of that would put their payroll at $66.819 million.
With the departure of Joyce, Jennings, Hellickson, Balfour, and Peralta, the Rays would be relying on more unproven players such as Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer (who would take more important roles in the outfield), Nate Karns or Matt Andriese (one of whom would likely take over a rotation spot until Matt Moore returned in May or June), and guys like Steve Geltz, C.J. Riefenhauser, or Brandon Gomes (who would take Peralta and Balfour’s bullpen spots). That wouldn’t destroy their team by any means, and the Rays have relied on unproven players to win in the past.
All-in-all it appears the Rays are going to have to do some maneuvering this offseason to trim their payroll down. That is the cost of doing business for the Rays, but the good news is that they likely won’t decimate their team even if they do have a significant payroll decrease.
Hat tip to Cot’s Baseball Contracts for salary information.