PORT CHARLOTTE — Standing in the sun on the field in front of the dugout on his first day in camp Sunday, wearing a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, khaki shorts and sandals, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg couldn't help but see things optimistically.
Stadium stalemate. Offseason moves. Majors-worst attendance. 2013 prospects.
Even the possibility of keeping ace David Price with the team.
"Absolutely," he said.
For the short term, Sternberg said they have had no "thoughts at all" of trading the American League Cy Young Award winner in a broadly speculated strategy to maximize their return.
And for the long term, he said it was definitely possible they could work out a deal to keep Price beyond his 2016 eligibility for free agency, noting the $100 million extension they gave third baseman Evan Longoria that ties him to the team through 2023.
"Look at what Evan Longoria just got," Sternberg said. "Once we get up to a number, they are gargantuan for us. They are extraordinary. Numbers like that are a huge commitment for any team, and for us, they're as close to being as off the table as possible. Yet we did one this past offseason."
But that doesn't mean it would be easy given their usual financial constraints, such as a low $60 million payroll this season that Sternberg said was "well higher than it ought to be" based on last season's attendance.
"There is no question that we could handle a contract like David's," Sternberg said, "but what are you able to put around him?"
Price said, like he usually does, that "in a perfect world" he'd love to stay with the Rays his whole career. He also left open the possibility of working something out, even with the constantly rising bar for elite pitchers, set most recently by Felix Hernandez's new $175 million, seven-year contract with Seattle.
"I do know what the going price for starting pitching is these days," Price said. "I don't want to sell myself short. There is a fine point between getting X amount of dollars and being happy, and if you can meet that point in the middle and just take it from there, I think you can definitely work something out."
Price, who will make $10.1125 million this season, also seemed pleased to hear Sternberg say there was no talk of shipping him out this season, though "I didn't think I was going to be traded at the All-Star break or anytime soon anyway," and it wouldn't be a distraction.
Here are excerpts of what Sternberg said on other topics:
• On the stalemate stadium situation:
"The mayor (Bill Foster) and I had a meeting, it was a nice, cordial conversation, and we'll see. I'm optimistic. Nobody wants to hear me talking about stadium things, so we'll let the mayor and I try to handle that and everybody else can focus on what's important, which is baseball."
• On the payroll remaining in the low $60 million range after finishing last in attendance in 2012:
"It's static, but it's well higher than it ought to be. The attendance, everyone knows the number. Last is last. So we're anticipating an improvement on that. We really don't have any goals, we don't try to set any goals. We wanted to be average in attendance and well above average in on-field performance, and we're right now settling for well-above average in on-field performance, and that's the most important thing."
• On what the payroll should be then:
"It ought to be commensurate with what our business can handle. But we've had a couple years since we started back in '06 … when it was lower than it could be and we've had a number of years when it was higher than it should be, and this is one of those years."
• On how he feels about the upcoming season:
"Really good. Unfortunately last year we felt incredible about the team and the last time we felt that was coming into '09, and those are the only two years we haven't made the playoffs. However, winning the number of games we won last year is nothing to sneeze at, so it worked out fine."
• On their accomplishments going into his eighth season of ownership:
"Certainly better than I could have thought, or anybody. Part of it is the expectation of our fans and people who follow baseball around the country and around the world have come to believe in our way of doing things. We've been extraordinarily fortunate, and it's shown itself on the field."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]