BALTIMORE — The Rays won more games than anyone last year — 105, including the postseason — though it wasn't enough.
Now they're first in something else.
At a time when 16 of 30 teams reduced their opening day payroll from last year, the Rays had the largest increase — in terms of actual dollars, nearly $19 million, and in percentage, more than 42 percent, to $62.5 million.
From two seasons ago, they've gone up nearly 160 percent.
There are a few reasons they were able to do so:
It's relative: With a major-league low payroll of $24.1 million in 2007 and a roster of young players with rising salaries, they had to go up. And even with the hefty increases and teams such as the Padres cutting $30 million, the Rays still rank among the bottom six in the majors.
They're smart: The Rays are cautious in their commitments, knowing their margin for error is small. They lock up young players early to have cost certainty and stability, stay away from long-term deals for older players so as to not pay them beyond their contributions and are very selective in adding major free agents.
There's a plan: Not that they knew where the economy was headed, but the Rays looked at revenues and expenses over a multiyear period, allowing more flexibility and less need to be reactionary. Some of what they're spending now is money they didn't spend a couple of years ago, some what they won't spend a couple of years from now.
"We budget and forecast over a several-year period," team president Matt Silverman said, "so we're not as beholden to specific numbers in specific years."
They want to win: They realize there is a window to make another championship run, however unexpected, and they're willing to try, hoping the investment pays off in several ways.
"It is important for us to take advantage of the opportunity before us and try to put the best team on the field," Silverman said. "There's great excitement within Tampa Bay, and we're looking forward to seeing big crowds all year long."