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If Tampa Bay Rays stay in contention, payroll won't be cut

ST. PETERSBURG — Even if attendance remains below expectations, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said, the Rays won't move to cut payroll this season as long as they are "in the hunt" for a postseason berth.

But that might not be the case next year or the year after.

"As long as we're in the hunt, I don't see us, because of financial reasons, pulling back from that," Sternberg said Friday on a conference call.

"Clearly, though, it's a multiyear process, and the money doesn't come out of thin air. And money spent this year and budgetary shortfalls from our end from a revenue standpoint lead toward future years being a little bit leaner. I won't say a lot leaner but certainly a little bit leaner, for starters."

Some teams have indicated they might seek to get rid of higher-paid players to make up for lost revenues. The Rays hoped to reach the major-league average in attendance this season, but — though up from last season — they are well short, averaging 22,699 compared with the average of 31,300. The Rays are 26th overall.

In a later e-mail, Sternberg said no set number of games back defines being in the hunt; that it would be more a matter of "feel." But even if they were to struggle, Sternberg said he "wouldn't expect it to be clear" by the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline and there would be no order to cut payroll, just a case of being "opportunistic."

The Rays raised the payroll to $63 million, Sternberg said, as a commitment after last season's success to "try to put the absolute best product we can on the field and then some" because they wanted to give the players, organization and fans "the best chance we can to succeed again."

He said he wouldn't do anything about the offseason differently in the moves they made, and "we still feel great about the team."

They're No. 1: Sternberg was incredibly proud about ESPN ranking the Rays' fan experience as the "most affordable" in all of major sports. And Sternberg said the plan is now to be even more affordable. The Rays will celebrate the ranking with "Even More Affordable Night" on Aug. 19 against the Orioles, including 50 cent hot dogs.

"To get recognized … was something I know we inside the Rays organization celebrated dramatically," Sternberg said on the conference call, "and something as an owner I couldn't ask for any more."

Medical matters: LHP Brian Shouse, who has missed more than seven weeks with a left elbow strain, appears closer to returning after Friday's 32-pitch simulated game.

"He felt very comfortable with all his pitches, his typical strike-throwing self," manager Joe Maddon said. "His slider was very sharp. He looked good, really good."

Shouse is scheduled to throw a simulated game Monday in Port Charlotte and could start a minor-league rehab stint soon after. He said he believes he needs 2-4 more mound appearances with Maddon saying the key will be when Shouse can throw on consecutive nights.

Send-off: The Rays' All-Stars will be presented their jerseys by Majestic on the field before today's game. The uniform company started the program last year, saying the concept is "just like a high school pep rally."

The Rays have 12 heading to St. Louis: players Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist; Maddon; coaches Tom Foley, Steve Henderson, George Hendrick, Jim Hickey, Dave Martinez and Bobby Ramos and bullpen catcher Scott Cursi.

There will be a "limited supply" of the jerseys available at the Trop gift shop.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith @sptimes.com. Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

If Tampa Bay Rays stay in contention, payroll won't be cut 07/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 6:18am]
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