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No matter what Rays do in playoffs, payroll to be reduced in '11

Sep 22, 2010, 2:36 AM EDT

Despite dropping their last two games to the New York Yankees this week, the Tampa Bay Rays have been among the best teams in baseball all season long.

Entering Wednesday’s action, only the Yankees, Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies have better records. They have a young, exciting nucleus of players, and the experience of having been to the World Series in 2008.

But despite all of this the Rays average only 23,000 fans per game, ranking 23rd among the 30 teams. The Mariners, Nationals, Brewers and Astros are all among those who draw more fans per game than Tampa Bay.

Because of this, Rays principle owner Stuart Sternberg has some bad news for Rays fans, telling Marc Topkin that payroll will be reduced – potentially significantly – in 2011.

“No question. Nothing can change that,” Sternberg said before Tuesday’s game. “Unfortunately there’s nothing that can happen between now and April that can change that unless Joe Maddon hits the lottery and wants to donate it, or I hit the lottery.”

Sternberg wouldn’t say how low the payroll may go, though he said in spring training it wouldn’t reach even the $60-million range. “I don’t have a plan in mind what the lower (end) is,” he said. “I just know it’s going down.”

The Rays had a franchise record payroll of more than $70 million this season, so a reduction below $60 million is significant. When you consider that Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano will be among those hitting free agency after this season, and Matt Garza and B.J. Upton are arbitration eligible, something will have to give.

It’s a shame, but it’s also tough to blame Sternberg when you have a great team that “can’t come close” to turning a profit because it doesn’t draw flies. Why should he expect to sell more tickets next year? Clearly he doesn’t, and thus Rays fans face the prospect of a dramatically different team next season, no matter what they do this fall.

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  1. quint - Sep 22, 2010 at 4:00 AM

    Personally, I think the Rays operation exactly how I think small market teams should.
    They put money into scouting, the draft and player development, and they appear from the 70million payroll this year to save up money over the years (such as revenue sharing) to spend when they are competitive, and we saw that this year with Crawfords option and bringing in Soriano.
    The front office and ownership have used their resources wisely, but they cannot continue to spend at these levels and they have to scale back and hopefully save up some money over the next few years to spend in 3-4 years with they have to pay big dollars for Price, Longoria, Zobrist at the likes.
    And it doesn’t have to be that bad for the Rays as Crawford, Pena, Soriano and Burrell account for almost 40million, Qualls another 4million.
    Even with a 50million dollar payroll, the Rays will field a really good team.

  2. Mr. Furious - Sep 22, 2010 at 6:48 AM

    The whole thing is especially unfortunate considering all the whining and moaning that went on in Tampa/St. Pete in the ’80s and ’90s insisting that they “deserved” a Major League team while attempting to lure teams (the Giants and Mariners, I think?) there.
    Good for Sternberg for continuing to operate his franchise with a focus on winning, rather than lining his pockets like Loria and Glass.

  3. wvugrad00 - Sep 22, 2010 at 7:19 AM

    I was just down in the Tampa area last week, and ran into maybe two Ray’s fans who would give me crap about being a yankees fan. I would love the Rays to stay compeditive, but people just do not show up to their home games, but nor would they want to given the dump they play in.
    It is a double edged sword, the team deserves a new stadium, but at the same time there is no guarentee anyone shows up to the games.

  4. imabigdog - Sep 22, 2010 at 8:07 AM

    Sounds like the owner of the Rays when to the owner of the Marlins to ask how to run a team.
    “Well… what you do is:
    1. But together some great young talent
    2. Pay them dick.
    3. Ride them for a great season
    4. Cut them loose when they want to get paid”.
    Both those team should move out of FL. FL is a state where people from other states move to. That is why Spring training games are there. People from PA, NY can see their teams play for a month.

  5. SouthofHeaven - Sep 22, 2010 at 8:12 AM

    What a damn shame, and I say that as a die-hard Yankees fan. The Rays blossoming into a quality team is just what the AL East needed to breathe some life into the Yankees/Red Sox duopoly. Come on Tampa Bay, you actually have a quality sports team, get behind them already!!!!

  6. SouthofHeaven - Sep 22, 2010 at 8:16 AM

    I hate to say it, but that is pretty much the problem. Old people from New York & Philly make up a ton of Tampa’s population, and they’d just as soon lose an arm as stop rooting for their old home teams. The Yankees always seem to get a very warm reception in Tampa, which is kind of a shame, given their burgeoning rivalry.

  7. Ditto65 - Sep 22, 2010 at 8:24 AM

    So, less than 1% of Tampa/St. Pete (population – 2.7 million) support their team? Pitiful.

  8. Mark - Sep 22, 2010 at 8:43 AM

    Maybe it’s me but I don’t see what the issue is here. If you look at the salaries and players for next year it might not matter that the payroll is under 60M.

    Crawford makes 10M this year and Pena makes 10M this year. So payrolls down to 50M. Those guys can be replaced by Desmond Jennings (400K) and Dan Johnson (under 3M for arbitration if he’s eligible otherwise 400K like Jennings). Keep in Mind Pena’s been awful, and that Jennings could theoretically play any OF position.

    They lose Soriano (7M), Benoit and Qualls (4M) but add Jacob McGee, and Howell should be healthy. Obviously the loss of Soriano and Benoit is rough, but given the pitching depth on this team they should find a decent reliever to set up and close.

    Bartlett is going through arb, so they can non-tender him and use Brignac at SS (to save money to spend on a RP), or let Bartlett play out the year. Non-tendering Bartlett probably saves 4-5M, and lets them use Brignac/Rodriguez fulltime up the middle. Small sample size, but Brignac/Rodriguez have been excellent defenders at SS/2B respectively.

    Navarro can get non-tendered saving 2M. I doubt Garza gets much more than 5-6 M, so the money saved on Navarro goes to him. Upton doesn’t have great stats either, so I doubt he gets much of a raise either.

    While it sounds bad to hear that the payroll isn’t going to be higher than 60M, they may not need more than that given how the team is built for next year. Hellickson, McGee, Howell will be able to replace guys in the rotation or the BP, and the guys leaving the lineup (LF/DH/1B) get replaced by Jennings, Joyce, and Johnson. They’re still a very scary team for next year, even with a payroll drop.

  9. BC - Sep 22, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    Burrell is gone. Pena is hitting like .202 and gets hurt a lot, no big loss there. Crawford is as good as gone. Qualls is useless and will be gone. They’ll scale back their payroll quite a bit without really doing anything, and then be able to sign a couple decent players, and probably still come in at like 55 to 60 million.
    If I’m not mistaken, Longoria is signed for quite a while.

  10. DiamondDuq - Sep 22, 2010 at 8:46 AM

    It’s not a bad formula for the Rays. It’s worked for the Marlins twice and now they’re getting a new stadium. Perhaps if the Rays are able to scale back their payroll, make another run (with or without increasing payroll again), and put together a quality plan, like realizing they’ll draw more attendance by catering to fans of visiting teams by building a hotel/resort in addition to a new stadium and offering packages to stay and watch an entire series than to wait for the youths in the area to grow up and hopefully embrace the Rays rather than their parents/grandparents favorite team they’ll be able to have prolonged success. There’s no way they should have a home series against the Yankees in September while battling them to win the AL East and draw less than 30,000 fans! They were only at 80% of capacity for the series finale!!!

  11. Trevor B - Sep 22, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano won’t be around next year. I assume they’ll hold onto Benoit and he’ll be closer. Pena is no good anymore. Crawford is replacable and he’ll be on the Yankees, sadly.

  12. andrewlw - Sep 22, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    You would think for each round they advance in the playoffs they could add at least a couple million dollars to the payroll. Even if they aren’t selling out postseason games with the ticket prices being much higher they should gross a lot plus everything else that makes money by being in the postseason.
    I know they have that brutal lease at tropicana field, but if they are going to continue to not make a profit (lose money?) even when they field one of the best teams in baseball how can this team EVER make money? If they’re never going to make money why not break the lease and move? Unless Sternberg really loves Tampa and The Rays and doesn’t care about making money and just wants to keep above water. I don’t really know anything about him but I doubt this is the case.

  13. geoknows - Sep 22, 2010 at 10:12 AM

    Maybe I’m just dense, and I know I’m not economically savvy enough to understand the Rays books even if I saw them, but how is it that some of the teams below them in attendance who have similar (if not higher in some instances) payrolls are able to turn a profit when they can’t?

  14. YANKEES1996 - Sep 22, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    Stinks for all Rays fans which doesn’t seem to be that many, move the team to a better more loyal location?

  15. Nats Apologist - Sep 22, 2010 at 11:18 AM

    Raysindex covered this today. They really shouldn’t be much different. They figured out the lineup of existing players (less non-tenders, free agent losses, etc.) with a salary of $42 million and 2 open roster spots. It certainly helps when Price, Niemann, and Davis account for about $2 million of the team salary. They still have 1 starter too many. Trading Shields or Garza to free up a spot for Hellickson frees $5 million in salary.
    Is this lineup bad?
    CF-Upton
    LF- Jennings
    RF – Joyce
    1B – Free Agent/Trade or Leslie Anderson
    2B – Rodriguez
    SS – Zobrist
    3B – Longoria
    C – Jaso/shoppach
    DH/Bench – free agent/Aybar/Brignac
    Bullpen – McGee, Benoit, Howell, Wheeler, Sonnanstine, Cormier
    Rotation – Price, Garza, Hellickson, Niemann, Davis, Shields
    Add $18 million in available salary for the 1B/DH and maybe a closer spot to get to $60 million. I’d take that…

  16. Nats Apologist - Sep 22, 2010 at 11:23 AM

    One correction – Benoit doesn’t count in the $42 million commitment for next year.

  17. APBA Guy - Sep 22, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    If they are averaging 23,000 that means 13,000 are getting to the stadium without finding a parking spot. Quite a tribute, I’d say, since that stadium is worse, by far, than the Mausoleum, and the Mausoleum has nearly unlimited parking plus BART (subway) access. Shows what a contending team can do.

  18. Ick McWang - Sep 22, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    New York has waaaay more people, and if you do the math only draw 0.3% of their population.

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