Tampa Bay Rays: Discussing Sternberg’s comments on 2020 payroll

Tampa Bay Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

Local media members sat down for a lengthy and revealing interview with the Rays owner, Stu Sternberg. They discussed payroll, spending habits, and Montreal. We are going to touch on his comments regarding his willingness to spend this offseason:

“We anticipate this year spending more money than we did last year. We anticipated that, we expect that.” , said Sternberg when asked by local media about the Rays’ plans this offseason. What he didn’t say was how much they were willing to spend.

After reading what turned out to be a quite a revealing interview that touched on the decision making process of the front office along with the increasingly toxic Montreal topic, I was left rather excited for what the rest of the offseason holds.

According to Marc Topkin’s article, Sternberg explained that the Tampa Bay Rays have a rolling budget that fluctuates between 40-80M for any given year. Currently, if Opening Day was tomorrow, the  Rays payroll would sit around 57M. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Under Contract: 38M
    • Morton, Kiermaier, Snell, Zunino, Lowe
  • Arbitration Estimates: ~9.7M (10M)
    • Drake, Robertson, Roe, Renfroe, Glasnow
  • Remaining 15 players making near league minimum: ~9M
  • Combined: 57M

So, to this point they have less than the 62M they spent in 2019 committed to 2020.

When discussing the Tommy Pham trade, the money saved, and whether or not the Rays would reallocate those funds elsewhere, Sternberg suggested that it was more about positioning the team for the future rather than saving 5M. He also mentioned that the money would be spent, but likely in other areas. While the Tommy Pham trade was a difficult one to stomach for fans and even the front office, Sternberg suggested that it was part of a plan:

"“Trading Tommy Pham is a very difficult decision. But now we have plans in place and things will try to do. And we’ll try to execute them.”"

So, what could those plans entail? Well, the options are rather endless short of signing Anthony Rendon… unless of course the Rays could get him for 25M according to Sternberg who said he wouldn’t mind spending an additional 50M if it would net Cole and Rendon.

Of the entire interview, that quote was the most intriguing and telling. The Rays, who have employed a “money is tight” narrative for the entirety of the franchise’s existence, do actually possess the ability to spend more than they do and have largely chosen not to. But, can you blame them with the success they have found while spending so little?

Sternberg said this regarding the filling of potential needs ahead of 2020:

"“Whether we save the money with one guy or not, if it’s going to make us better, and it’s a need for us, and it’s somewhat in a sense of what we can afford, we’re going to do it.”"

But… what can they truly afford? If the rolling budget is 40-80M, then the Rays have roughly 23M left to spend this offseason. But, in a hypothetical world in which the Rays could have signed Rendon and Cole for a combined 50M, then the 80M budget is simply a formality.

So, what is the Rays budget? Let’s stick with the 80M ceiling and play with the possibilities… As Sternberg said, “Its all a question of who’s available and at what price.”

The Rays’ most pressing needs still remain behind the plate and in the outfield. The catching market has thinned substantially, but there is one intriguing player the Rays may make a move for. If the Rays can swing a deal for Cubs catcher, Wilson Contreras, who is projected to make 4.5M in 2020, they will have roughly 19M left for free agent signings.

If they then look to address the need for an additional right handed hitting outfielder then they could turn their attention to Yasiel Puig, who I wrote about previously, or Avisail Garcia who was a pivotal contributor in 2019.

Both Puig and Garcia are projected to net anywhere from 6-8M in free agency on shorter-term deals. If they can sign on of them, that leaves them with roughly 10M left to solidify the backend of their bullpen.

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To do that they can look at Dellin Betances, Blake Treinen, or any number of other free agents along with the trade market. The possibilities are endless now that we know the Rays are planning to spending money.