PORT CHARLOTTE — With their opening day payroll over $60 million, the Rays are pretty much maxed out.
For this season and, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said, for next.
At a time when most teams are cutting back, the Rays raised their payroll — thanks, as odd as it sounds, to the Red Sox — more than 40 percent from last season. But Sternberg said it's unlikely to go any further, which makes this season that much more interesting.
"I don't see it going up next year," Sternberg said. "If anything, this year we borrowed from the next couple years, it's money saved from previous years, and money that was earned last year.
"So it's really not sustainable. Having said that, if we're in a position again that we'd be able to maintain a $60 million payroll next year, I would believe we'd be able to do it, but I don't see it. It's not in the budget to go up next year."
With more than $35 million committed for next season, another $15 million in options for Carl Crawford and Akinori Iwamura and at least a half-dozen players arbitration eligible, including B.J. Upton, the Rays could be facing some tough 2010 decisions.
"I think at best we'd be stretched if we get to this point again next year," Sternberg said. "There's a long way to go, but truthfully there's not a lot that affects it. Last year it got affected because of the way everything worked in the postseason."
That included what turned out to be their best worst loss ever: the bullpen meltdown against the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS.
That allowed the Rays to play Game 6, then Game 7, at Tropicana Field. That allowed them to make millions of dollars in additional revenue from their share of gate receipts (which is much larger than in Games 1-4, which go mostly to the players). That allowed them to push the opening day payroll past $60 million for just the second time in franchise history. And that allowed them to sign upper-shelf free agents such as RHP Joe Nelson, LHP Brian Shouse and DH Pat Burrell.
"The Red Sox beating us in Game 5 actually allowed us to put more money into the team this year," Sternberg explained. "So there's probably a middle reliever or two that wouldn't be here, or we'd have a different bat."
Ball game: Iwamura still has the ball from the final out of ALCS Game 7, which he had wanted to bring to Japan for sentimental value involving his late mother, at his St. Petersburg home and said, "If the team wants it, I'll return it back."
Rays rumblings: Topping 2 million in attendance would be nice, but Sternberg's goal is to reach the MLB average, which last season was around 2.6 million: "If you get to the World Series, you should at least be average in league attendance the next year." … ESPN The Magazine predicts the Rays to beat the Cubs in the Series. … Internet betting site bodog.com has the Yankees favored and the Rays the eighth choice at 18-1. … Among the bands in the Rays' soon-to-be-announced concert series are the B-52s. … Barring rainouts, the Rays will miss new Yankees ace CC Sabathia (and his 7-1 record, 2.44 ERA against them) on the first homestand, facing Chien-Ming Wang, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. … Twins officials toured the Charlotte Sports Park seeking ideas for renovation to their Fort Myers facility.