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Just How Cheap are the Tampa Bay Rays?

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 1: Manager Kevin Cash of the Tampa Bay Rays watches the action during the first inning of the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field on October 1, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 1: Manager Kevin Cash of the Tampa Bay Rays watches the action during the first inning of the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field on October 1, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images)
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HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 10: (L-R) Joey Wendle #18, Willy Adames #1, Eric Sogard #9 and Ji-Man Choi #26 react against the Houston Astros during the eighth inningin game five of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on October 10, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 10: (L-R) Joey Wendle #18, Willy Adames #1, Eric Sogard #9 and Ji-Man Choi #26 react against the Houston Astros during the eighth inningin game five of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on October 10, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

After finishing last season with the third-lowest payroll (which included 12% going to Evan Longoria and Edwin Encarnacion) the Rays evidently have room to spend, but how much?

Despite having such a low payroll, the Rays have spent around 50% of their revenue on player salaries. Some of the numbers look a little low, but that is attributed to the low amount of revenue and the shared $14.5 million every team pays for player benefits.

The MLB and the MLBPA have a target of a 50% payroll/revenue ratio for each team. That is why this 2017 tweet caused some Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson worthy eyebrow-raising.

Playing with Percentages

The low amount of revenue leads to misleading percentages such as this one from 2017:

As you can see, the Rays’ ratio registered at 35%, meaning their 25-man roster made up 35% of their revenue. This is misleading for a few reasons. First, the payroll number they used is not the true payroll number. Second, because of the low-revenue figure of $205 million in 2017, the discrepancies caused by the incorrect payroll information are magnified. It isn’t that the numbers in the post are wrong, they are just misleading due to the wide range of revenues. Minor League salaries and player benefits take up a much larger percentage of a low-revenue team’s budget than they do teams like the Yankees.

The Rays 2017 payroll was unfavorably compared to the Marlins. They both brought in around the same amount in revenue and yet the Marlins were spending $115MM on payroll. How could that be? It sure made the Rays look bad. However, that was the season Jeter’s Group took control and it was reported in August of 2017 that the Marlins were on pace to lose $60MM that year…Yikes.

The Marlins have since slashed their payroll down to $76.1MM in 2019. That 35% payroll in 2017 came out at $71.75MM but did not include mid-season additions, IL replacements, minor league pay, and player benefits. The Rays actually ended up spending 56% of their revenue on payroll in 2017, despite the narrative derived from the tweet. That number would put them right at league average. Remember, the MLBPA only asks that teams spend about 50% of their revenue on player payroll.

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