Saturday, September 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays Tales: Likely payroll cuts mean usual tough offseason decisions

Take a good look around the field today, because it's the last time you'll see a bunch of these players in Rays uniforms.

That's the case in all 15 stadiums where there will be games this afternoon. But typically, it's on a larger scale with the Rays as remaking the roster, replacing some — but not all — higher-paid players with cheaper and usually younger alternatives, is a key part of their process as they seek to compete with their freer-spending foes.

Even at the franchise-high $80 million of payroll they are carrying now (up from around $70 million on opening day), they are at less than half any of the other AL East teams and once again near the bottom of the majors overall.

And from what principal owner Stuart Sternberg said last week in New York, after another season at the bottom of the attendance totals, that's not going to change anytime soon, with plans to "absolutely" reduce the payroll for 2018.

"Being we're so far above what we've spent ever before and way outside of what we can spend and should spend, the first move is down," he said.

How much, of course, is the major question and one that won't be answered until deeper into the offseason as they, as usual, weigh all options, from trading franchise faces such as 3B Evan Longoria and/or RHP Chris Archer on down.

It doesn't sound, however, like there will be a major reduction. Rays officials have said previously that to offset years when they've hiked the payroll, there eventually may be a season of reckoning when they slash extensively, such as to the $30 million or so the Padres paid current players this year. Sternberg said he doesn't "anticipate it happening" in 2018.

Part of their reduction will come organically, with eight players — most prominently veteran RHP Alex Cobb — heading to free agency and coming off the books. They made a collective $31 million, though the Rays weren't paying all of that as four were acquired midseason at a discounted rate.

There are also some built-in increases to the players signed to long-terms deals, primarily C Wilson Ramos ($6.5 million raise) and CF Kevin Kiermaier (up $2.5 million), that will add around $11 million.

So that will leave the Rays, as usual, facing some tough decisions, especially with the 12 players who are eligible for arbitration and the automatic raises that come with it, even for players who had bad years, such as 2B Brad Miller.

That group made around $22.35 million season, and that will go up considerably, especially with RH closer Alex Colome, who leads the majors in saves, jumping from $547,900 to more than $4 million, and OF Steven Souza Jr., the team MVP, being eligible for the first time, similarly to $3 million plus. And assuming they keep SS Adeiny Hechavarria, a great addition, he'll bump up $2 million or so to $6 million plus.

As a result, figure RHP Jake Odorizzi ($6 million plus?), OF/DH Corey Dickerson ($5 million plus?), Miller ($4.75 million?) and even Colome among players they will at least listen on, working the calculus on how the value of their projected performance compares to their salary. And there will be re-evaluation of the bullpen, with RHP Brad Boxberger and LHPs Xavier Cedeno and Dan Jennings due to make more.

There's also the potential for the Rays to fill some holes with some of their young players, though based on future impact on free agent and arbitration eligibility, it is more likely to see the likes of INF Willy Adames, 1B Jake Bauers, RHP Diego Castillo and RHP Brent Honeywell later in the season than right away.

"There's some natural turnover," Sternberg said. "A bunch of the other guys, they're here next year. They're still here this year because they're good players. I'd like them to be here. A lot will be determined on what's available to us, and why. Both adding and potentially subtracting. We've dealt from strength in the past. We like to deal from strength. We'd like to continue to do that. But you never know if that's an opportunity.

"We do have some younger guys knocking on the door a little bit, which hasn't really been the case much. You'd like to see that natural fill come in from the minor leagues. That's been the way on the pitching side; we'd like to think that will be in the bullpen as well because we've got some good arms. … But you'd like to see some of the position players show up, and there's a couple."

Get ready for a busy winter.

A look to 2018

Free agents to be

(In order of expected free agent salary; with 2017 salaries)

RHP Alex Cobb ($4.2M)

1B/DH Logan Morrison ($2.5M+)

1B/DH Lucas Duda ($7.25M*)

RHP Steve Cishek ($6M*)

RHP Tommy Hunter ($1.4M+)

RHP Sergio Romo ($3M*)

OF Peter Bourjos ($1.35M)

INF Trevor Plouffe ($5.25M*)

* Rays only paid part after acquiring; + plus incentives

Arbitration eligible

(with 2017 salaries)

RHP Brad Boxberger ($1.6M)

LHP Xavier Cedeno ($1.3M)

RHP Alex Colome ($547,900)

LF Corey Dickerson ($3.025M)

INF Matt Duffy ($545,300)

SS Adeiny Hechavarria ($4.35M)

LHP Dan Jennings ($1.4M)

2B Brad Miller ($3.575M)

RHP Jake Odorizzi ($4.1M)

OF Steven Souza Jr. ($546,700)

C Jesus Sucre ($630,000)

RHP Chase Whitley ($535,000)

Signed for 2018

(with raise from 2017)

3B Evan Longoria, $13.5M, up $500,000

C Wilson Ramos, $10.5M, up $6.5M

RHP Chris Archer, $6.25M, up $1.5M

CF Kevin Kiermaier, $5.5M, up $2.5M

RHP Nate Eovaldi, $2M*, no increase

* Team option, expected to be picked up

Not half bad

Today concludes the 20th season in Rays history; here is where this season (in italics) ranks based on wins and finish, with playoff teams in bold:

YearW-LPct.Place-GBManager
200897-65.5991Maddon
201096-66.5961Maddon
201392-71.5642-51/2Maddon
201191-71.5622-6Maddon
201290-72.5563-5Maddon
200984-78.5193-19Maddon
201580-82.4944-13Cash
201779-82.4913-14Cash
201477-85.4754-19Maddon
200470-91.4354-301/2Piniella
200069-92.4295-18Rothschild
199969-93.4265-29Rothschild
201668-94.4205-25Cash
200567-95.4005-28Piniella
200766-96.4145-30Piniella
200363-99.3895-28Piniella
199863-99.3895-31Rothschild
200162-100.3765-34Rothschild/McRae
200661-101.4025-36Maddon
200255-106.3625-48McRae

Rays rumblings

Interest in Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Otani is sincere, the Rays hoping his criteria go beyond a big market and the most bucks and more to development and their commitment to let him pitch and hit, as with top pick Brendan McKay. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said an option to negotiating a new TV deal is to form their own network. If they do another cable deal, he said given cord-cutting and overall value decline, "I don't expect it or anticipate it to be nirvana." … Given RHP Chris Archer's pointed comments about NFL players kneeling for the anthem, it would be cool if Bucs DeSean Jackson and/or Mike Evans invited him over for a chat. … 3B coach Charlie Montoyo's name has been mentioned for the Mets manager job, and will be for others; expect the Rays to do the right thing and let him interview. … Curious to see what the full Fox Sports Sun TV crew looks like in '18. … In Scott Miller's well-done bleachereport.com catchup piece, retired ex-Rays All-Star OF Carl Crawford said he has "gotta think it was the (Trop) turf" that led to injuries that shortened his career, and he'd be open to getting back in the game, chuckling: "If Rocco (Baldelli) can coach first base, I know I can do that." … Most likely of the Rays' eight pending free agents to return? How about RHP Sergio Romo? … The Rays are again offering a two-year season ticket renewal with gifts such as a beach party or dinner cruise with players.

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