Sternberg: No flexibility to add payroll
Prinicpal owner Stuart Sternberg did about 20 minutes with area media after getting a look at the new spring facility, touching on a number of subjects.
The biggest news was the he confirmed what executive VP Andrew Friedman suggested during the off-season, that with their payroll creeping above $60-million (from $43-million last opening day), they have lost any flexibility to made in-season acquisitions - though he did leave the caveat that "you never say never" and his answer could be "a little different" come June or July.
"In past talks I've had in spring training, I've responded and said we'll have that flexibility. We don't have that flexibility now,'' he said. "At some point, you put your back to the wall, and I think that's where we are right now. We, quite frankly, can't really afford what we've got on the field this year. At least we were able to spend the money on a lot of value, we think, and pieces that will give us the opportunity to grow the franchise over the long haul, that gives us the best opportunity for success this year. This was where somewhat of my competitiveness came out in this. I think we have a real opportunity to win. It doesn't leave us any flexibility, but if you come around to June or July, the answer might be a little different.''
Also, Sternberg termed the new spring facility "awesome" and "spectacular'' and "it really says what we are;'' said season ticket sales thus far are "right at expectations,'' that he expects baseball to adopt a broader financial structure to increase competitive balance (but said he doesn't believe in a salary cap), said they did "everything" they set out to and "batted 1.000" in accomplishing all off-season goals and took advantage of the tough economy to sign players they typically couldn't have.
The economy continues to be a concern for the Rays and all teams, and Sternberg said they had a "taste" of that last year as the bay area was "ahead of the curve" in having economic woes, but he still wants to team to operate as it has. He said about last season: "It wasn't the best year to win, let's put it that way.''
The Rays increased their payroll nearly 50 percent at a time when many other teams are cutting or holding the line, and some are suggesting they may have to dump salaries in-season if ticket sales and sponsorships lag. "We don't operate in a vacuum,'' Sternberg said. "Clearly, we were able to do some things in the off-season that if it was a year ago or six months before, there is no possible way we'd see some of the players here that are here right now. With (signing) Pat Burrell and augmenting the bullpen, we were able to do things that just weren't able to be done. So, as you know about me, I like to ying when people are yanging a little bit. I think while it's going to be a difficult time throughout baseball, and we have our challenges, I'm very excited in bringing a lot of value and having fans realize that and support us.''
Attendance will have some impact on the how the Rays do financially, but that is relative to what revenues the other teams have. Sternberg said they did research that showed since 1985, the only team that didn't go above the league average in attendance the year after appearing in the World Series were the Marlins - after the 1997 and 2003 Series. He accepts that the Rays are likely to become another exception.
(Pictured: Stuart Sternberg, left, and Rays senior VP Michael Kalt, right, in front of an image of Carlos Pena. Times photo -- Dirk Shadd. Click to enlarge.)