Tampa Bay Rays: Payroll Will Determine the Team’s Makeup

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has made it clear that payroll for the 2018 season will be cut. How much is yet to be determined and because of this, there is likely to be many roster changes this off-season.

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg was in town last week and he was not happy. He was not happy that he invested an addition $10 million in team salary only to see the team play poorly after the All-Star break and not make the playoffs. Of course, he was not happy being last in major league attendance.

He was, as usual, not happy with the progress towards a new stadium. This time around he added his feeling that the decline in cable viewership would lead to less than hoped for television contract. Finally, Sternberg made it clear that he was going to cut payroll for 2018.

None of this should make Tampa Bay Rays fans feel good. The Rays opening day team payroll was $70 million. This was next to the last in baseball. Only seven teams in baseball had a payroll of less than $100 million and only one of them, the Arizona Diamondback, made the playoffs. Every team in the American League East had a payroll of over $160 million.

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Given this scenario, how do the Tampa Bay Rays compete in the AL East and in major league baseball in general? The answer is to develop your own talent and pay them to stay with the team.

The Rays have been pretty good at the first part and not so good at the second part. The basic 25 man roster that went into September of this season contained eight players that had been signed and developed by the Rays.

Several other players had spent time in the Rays minor league system but had been obtained in trades at the cost of other talented Rays’ players such as James Shields and Ben Zobrist.

On top of all of this, we really don’t know what Sternberg means by cutting payroll. Less than $80 million? Less than $70 million? What we do know is that that if the number is less than $80 million the Rays will have little roster flexibility and will have to trade one or two key players.

Currently the Rays have thirteen players eligible for salary arbitration and keeping everyone except Brad Miller, Chase Whitley and Shawn Tolleson, will cost them in the neighborhood of $30 million. They also have four players under contract for 2018 at cost of $35 million.

That puts the team payroll at $65 million for fourteen players that are key to the success of the team. They include arbitration eligible player such as Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson, Matt Duffy, Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno, Jesus Sucre and Brad Jennings.

The players with guaranteed salaries include Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier and Wilson Ramos. It’s hard to see the Ray’s being competitive without this group of players and at $65 million, they are a bargain.

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The team will not resign most if not all of its free agents. It would be nice to at least resign Sergio Romo and Peter Bourjos and pick up the option of Nathan Eovaldi.

That would cost about $5 million and put them at the $70 million mark. That leaves eight spots to fill including three starting pitchers, a first baseman and a left fielder.

The Rays have plenty of pitching candidates making the league salary minimum including Blake Snell, Matt Andriese and Jacob Faria. Mallex Smith would make a nice left field platoon with Peter Bourjos. Jake Bauers may be ready for a regular first base job. Add in a couple of minimum wage bench players and a relief pitcher and you have a nice team. However, that team costs roughly $80 million.

I may be a bit off on the final arbitration numbers but the fact remains that to spend any less than $80 million would mean parting with a big salary players like Longoria or Ramos or a couple of well paid arbitration players like Hechavarria or Odorizzi. Either would be seen as a step backward and not a move Sternberg should be making as he asks for the support of the fans and tax payers to build a new stadium.

Next: Rays Begin Off-season with Overhaul of Coaching Staff

Let’s hope Sternberg sees the glass as half full and goes for the $80 team.