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Rays owner says payroll has room to grow

Gov. Charlie Crist, rear center, hosts the Governor’s Baseball Dinner at Tropicana Field, which actor Bill Murray said he was honored to visit “just before they tear it down and build a new place.”

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times Gov. Charlie Crist, rear center, hosts the Governor’s Baseball Dinner at Tropicana Field, which actor Bill Murray said he was honored to visit “just before they tear it down and build a new place.”

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have already increased their opening day payroll more than 70 percent from last year to around $42-million. But there is apparently more where that came from as principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Tuesday he'd be open to making midseason acquisitions that fortify the team.

"Obviously our payroll has been at or near the bottom. But it's a big business, and with a business like that you need to have some flexibility," Sternberg said during his first appearance of the spring at training camp.

"So we will always be in a position to add. The question is, at what cost and not just at the cost, but how does that affect us 2009, 2010? The money isn't endless. It will just have to come from another year."

Other topics in a nearly half-hour chat with area reporters:

• Sternberg declined to say how many wins he expected but shared the optimism of some of his players by saying a playoff run was possible. "I would think if everybody produces to the best of their abilities, we could be — could be — talking about October," Sternberg said. "If guys don't really get it done and get hurt or what not, we're not going to be doing so well."

• Asked about potentially signing Barry Bonds, Sternberg cited team policy to not discuss individual players but certainly sounded as if he were open to it. He said "payroll wouldn't be an issue" and in discussing how the Rays have dealt with controversial players in the past, said: "When there's opportunity, nothing frightens me, and you deal with it as it comes around."

• Sternberg said the new stadium project was in "a holding pattern" awaiting proposals from developers that would be a framework for the financing.

And he said he didn't equate the team's wins on the field with votes for the project. "We can help control the wins a little bit, but quite frankly is there a lot we can do to help this team win a ton more games?" he said. "If you win three or five more games, is that going to make a difference at the voting booth? I doubt it. I would hope and I think that people see past that a little bit."

GUZMAN JUMPS IN: INF Joel Guzman made his much anticipated arrival at camp Tuesday, more than a month later than he expected because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic.

Guzman and INF Willy Aybar are two of the club's options at third base if touted prospect Evan Longoria doesn't start the season in the big leagues. Guzman said the wait was "frustrating," considering he applied for a visa around Jan.  20 with hopes of reporting early on Feb.  14 but didn't get into town until 11 p.m. Monday.

"I was dying to be over here," Guzman said. "Just waiting and waiting, just for a call. Just waiting for something."

Guzman said he has been working on several different positions over the winter, and manager Joe Maddon put him right to work, inserting Guzman into rightfield during Tuesday's intrasquad game.

Aybar, acquired in January from Atlanta, is expected to report today, but Maddon said he still has no idea when they'll see RHP Juan Salas, whose failed drug test last year appears to be a factor in his delay. Guzman said he heard Salas may be awaiting results of a urine test.

WEB GEM: The best play was arguably the first one in Tuesday's intrasquad game, when RF Jonny Gomes made a running, diving catch to rob Fernando Perez of extra bases. Said Perez: "The fans liked it."

PRO-STADIUM: Gov. Charlie Crist and MLB president Bob DuPuy made a pitch for the Rays' planned new stadium during the Governor's Baseball Dinner at the stadium they hope to leave, Tropicana Field. "We'll get it done,'' DuPuy said. Most of the 18 teams that train in Florida were represented, with guests including Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, actor Bill Murray and managers Dusty Baker, Jim Leyland, Maddon and John Russell.

MISCELLANY: Maddon said 2B Akinori Iwamura looked "comfortable" and was gaining confidence in the move from third base to second (he also went 2-for-2 at the plate). … Maddon singled out OF Chris Richard's performance — "good at-bats, hustled, good baserunner" — as well as 2B Elliot Johnson (2-for-3 with a double). … C Shawn Riggans, P Andy Sonnanstine and Aybar agreed to one-year deals, leaving three players unsigned with a deadline of noon Friday: Scott Dohmann, Jae-Kuk Ryu and B.J, Upton. … In today's intrasquad game, LF Carl Crawford, RF Rocco Baldelli, DH Cliff Floyd, SS Jason Bartlett, Iwamura and C Dioner Navarro will start.

Rays owner says payroll has room to grow 02/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2008 11:40pm]
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