Lean Times Ahead?

Stu Sternberg made a radio appearance on 620 WDAE today to talk to Dave Wills and Andy Freed about the current and future situation of the team. The big note that came out of the conversation is the payroll is not going to get any higher this year and it is going to take a significant cut as soon as next season.  From the St. Pete Times:

“We did out-spend ourselves last year (at $63-million) and completely have out-spent ourselves this year,’’ Sternberg told Andy Freed and Dave Wills. “And unfortunately we’re going to feel the effect of that the next couple years for certain. … There’s no $60-million payroll next year either, let alone a $70-million payroll. It’s going to be a tough transition, but it’s something that given the economics of the game and specifically the economics of what we are in Tampa Bay and in St. Petersburg, it makes it impossible to do it for more than a couple of years.’’

Before everyone freaks out, put that number into perspective. Cot’s shows the Rays payroll currently sitting at a hair under $73m. Here is how the salaries break down:

  • Carlos Pena – $10.125m
  • Carl Crawford – $10m
  • Pat Burrell – $9m
  • Rafael Soriano – $7.5m
  • Jason Bartlett – $4m
  • Dan Wheeler – $3.5m
  • Matt Garza – $3.35m
  • B.J. Upton – $3m
  • James Shields – $2.5m
  • Kelly Shoppach – $2.25m
  • Dioner Navarro – $2.1m
  • Grant Balfour – $2.05m
  • J.P. Howell – $1.8m
  • Willy Aybar – $1.35m
  • Lance Cormier – $1.2m
  • Gabe Kapler – $1.05m
  • David Price – $1m
  • Evan Longoria – $0.95m
  • Randy Choate – $0.7m
  • Dan Johnson – $0.5m
  • Andy Sonnanstine – $0.45m
  • Ben Zobrist – $0.45m
  • Matt Joyce – $0.42m
  • Sean Rodriguez – $0.405m
  • Justin Ruggiano – $0.405m
  • Fernando Perez – $0.42m
  • Elliott Johnson – $0.41m
  • John Jaso – $0.41m
  • Reid Brignac – $0.42m
  • Wade Davis – $0.42m

Total = $72,885,000

Notice how top heavy that list is. Pena, Crawford, Burrell, and Soriano represent just over 50% of the club’s 2010 payroll – $36, 625,000 of it to be exact. If the Rays do nothing but clear that group off the roster, the enter the 2010 off-season with a payroll of a tad over $36m.  Let’s say the club also decides not to offer Jason Bartlett arbitration after this season deciding a shortstop of his age cannot possibly earn more than six million – a figure he would like get in arbitration. Taking the big four plus Barlett off the books knocks the club payroll down to $32.3m. The other more realistic move is the club buys out the final year of Dan Wheeler’s contract at $1m rather than pay him $4m in 2011. If they do that, the club enters the 2010 off-season with a payroll of $29.8m.

When Sternberg says the club’s payroll will be under $60m starting in the 2011 season, just those six moves still gives Andrew Friedman up to $30m to use in arbitration, trades, and off-season signings. At this point, we could all safely say anyone could DH and the club will not spend big money at that  position anytime soon, Soriano’s role could once again be filled by Howell, or even someone like Jake McGee or the recently inked Joaquin Benoit. Crawford will be missed, but Desmond Jennings is much cheaper and the same type of player. That leaves Carlos Pena – a well-liked player at a position the organization is rather thin at and there is no immediate replacement plan in the minors for him. Dan Johnson? Doubtful. One roster solution could be to move Zobrist to first and clear a spot for Sean Rodriguez full time at second base. That would also save the club money because the free agents for first base after the 2010 season are either way out of the Rays’ price range or in the twilight of their careers.

Simply put, there is no reason to press the panic button and think the Rays are going back to the early part of last decade and heading back to the bottom of the AL East. The core talent of this team is still young and quite cheap and even with a reduced payroll, the club still has a lot of financial flexibility to add talent via free agency or trade. Then again, this could all be posturing to keep agents from asking for the moon and to encourage us fans to show up en masse which we should be doing anyhow.


About Jason Collette

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