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Money for improvements may not be easy to come by for Rays

With potentially five open spots in the lineup and an abundance of starting pitching, the Rays certainly have a lot to do this winter. Creativity, as usual, will be part of the plan. But at some point money matters, too.

Since the Rays don't share, or even establish, a set payroll number — maintaining it's flexible with an impact on future seasons — it's always a bit of a guess how much they'll have to work with.

But it seems unlikely it would be more than 2012 — when they admittedly opened at a higher- than-planned $64 million, had to make several additions due to injuries and were last in the majors in attendance and didn't get any playoff revenue.

After increasing from $44 million in 2008 to $63 million in 2009 and $73 million in 2010, they scaled back to $42 million in 2011 then back up in 2012.

What helps? Shedding free agents Carlos Peña, B.J. Upton, Luke Scott and Kyle Farnsworth chops off more than $22.5 million.

What hurts? With built-in and projected arbitration increases, it will cost them around $50 million to keep the rest of the core, and that's for about 17 players.

So that wouldn't seem to leave room for many impactful additions without any meaningful subtractions.

Four players are already signed for $15.3 million: Evan Longoria ($6 million, up from $4.5 million), Ben Zobrist ($5.5 million, up from $4.5 million), Wade Davis ($2.8 million, up from $1.5 million) and Matt Moore ($1 million, same).

Two of the four options are automatic to be picked up, James Shields ($10.25 million) and Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million), and another likely, Jose Molina ($1.8 million), so that's another $14.55 million. (Scott, at $6 million, not so much.)

Six of the eight arbitration-eligible players would seem likely to be retained — David Price, Jeff Niemann, Burke Badenhop, Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld and Elliot Johnson — though that's another $18 million or so, and maybe $2 million more if Price wins the AL Cy Young Award. That's assuming in-season acquisitions Ryan Roberts and Ben Francisco are non-tenders.

Add in the pre-arbitration players, such as Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson, Jake McGee and Reid Brignac, at just above the $490,000 MLB minimum.

That gets the Rays to around $50 million, with another eight spots to fill. And there are a few of their own free agents they'd like to bring back, though all are going to want more than they made this season: Joel Peralta ($2.175 million), Jeff Keppinger ($1.525 million) and J.P. Howell ($1.325 million).

A most interesting offseason is ahead, indeed.

HOME BOY: How badly does Peralta want to return? "I wish I wasn't a free agent. Definitely I want to be back. I'm wishing, I'm hoping, I'm praying that I can come back here. This feels like home," he said.

Though Peralta, who will be 37 in March, would prefer a two-year deal, he is open to discussion: "I want what I deserve — I don't want more, I don't want less. So it's up to them. I'm cheap. They can afford me."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: The full coaching staff — all of whom are under contract for 2013 anyway — is set to return, though there is still the possibility of bench coach Dave Martinez getting a managerial job. The Rockies, now run by former Rays/Expos exec Bill Geivett, could be an option. … Zobrist, on Upton: "If he does leave, it's going to be sad for me." … National scouting cross-checker Tim Huff left to join the Angels as a special assistant to the GM. … Among Rays prospects playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League are INFs Hak-Ju Lee, Tim Beckham and 2012 top pick Richie Shaffer. … INF Brooks Conrad became a minor-league free agent.

Money for improvements may not be easy to come by for Rays 10/13/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 13, 2012 9:37pm]
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