Tampa Bay Rays: Salary Restraints Hurt Growth of the Rays

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colome (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colome (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

The way to build a fan base is to build a team of talented and marketable athletes and keep it together. However, the Tampa Bay Rays are going in the opposite direction as they are burdened with salary restraints.

The Tampa Bay Rays management is at the Winter Meetings ready to conduct their annual fire sale of players. This year it could be especially ugly as the team seems to be burdened with salary restraints that will put the team’s payroll under $70 million.

That means that anyone with a fixed or potential salary of $3 million or more could be on the market. That includes Evan Longoria and five of the team’s best young players.

Longoria and catcher Wilson Ramos combined will make $24 million this coming year. Even if the payroll were $70, their combined salaries would equal 34% of the team’s payroll. On top of that, Longoria becomes a 5 and 10 player this year, which means the Rays cannot trade him without his approval.

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He is guaranteed $86 million for the remainder of his contract. Ramos will make $10.5 million next year and then be a free agent. As much as the Rays are desperate for a catcher, it makes little sense to pay him that kind of money for one season and then lose him.

Quality young players like Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson, and Alex Colome will, through arbitration, earn $5 million or more in salary next season. Trading Odorizzi and Dickerson could make some sense, as there are talented young players in the Rays’ farm system who could replace Odorizzi’s arm and Dickerson’ bat.

However, trading Colome makes absolutely no sense. He has contributed 84 saves over the past two years and will probably make a reasonable $5.5 million next year. Colome is under team control through 2020.

In comparison, the much heralded Aroldis Chapman had 22 saves for the Yankees last year and made $17 million. Most any team would die to have Colome under those conditions.

Unfortunately, when it comes to closers, the Rays live in the fantasy world of Fernando Rodney. For those of you who don’t remember, the Tampa Bay Rays plucked Rodney off the scrape heap of relief pitchers in 2012 and he went on to record 85 saves over two seasons.

His total salary over those two years was $4.25 million. Can it happen again? We don’t know but you can bet that the Rays have Sergio Romo’s number on speed dial.

Also on the trading block are shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and utility man Brad Miller. Hechavarria is scheduled to make $5.0 million in 2018 and Miller $4.0 million. Hechavarria was a steal from the Marlins and would anchor an infield that will certainly be in flux.

Miller is an erratic player with left handed power who could fill in at any number of positions. Both may start the season with the team but be mid-season trade bait.

So you get the picture here. Get rid on players making $4.0 million or more and bring in a bunch of players who are making the league minimum or low rent major league free agents or minor league signees. This game plan has no logic. It all depends on the magic of the front office turning lemons into lemonade.

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All of this is tied to a much larger Stuart Sternberg plan to force Hillsborough County into building him a new stadium on the taxpayer’s dollar. His subtle treat is that he is forced to keep cutting payroll until the magic of a new stadium is unveiled.

This, of course, is all folly. The best way to get a new stadium is to put a team on the field that the fans are hoping to see. How can Sternberg possibly rationalize not spending the money to field a solid team when he is asking the local citizens to contribute an estimated $500 million or more to build a new stadium?

The truth is that Sternberg’s outlook towards the game has changed drastically over the 13 years that he has owned the team. He has gone from an enthusiastic baseball fan introducing the new look Rays to the fans in South Straub Park to a perceived New York carpetbagger and seems to be more visible at Rays’ games at Yankee Stadium than Tropicana Field.

The way to build a fan base is to build a team of talented and marketable athletes and keep it together. The Tampa Bay Rays did it in the days of Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Melvin Upton (B.J.) and James Shields.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: No Stone Unturned at Winter Meetings

The Houston Astros are doing it today with Jose Altuve and company. Let’s hope the Rays wake up and take the same approach even if it costs Stuart Sternberg a few million of his hard earned dollars.