ST. PETERSBURG — The losses have piled up for the Rays this offseason, with another Saturday as reliever Dan Wheeler signed with the Red Sox. While principal owner Stuart Sternberg is optimistic his team can remain competitive, he also is realistic about the difficulties given the soaring cost of free agents.
"It's discouraging," Sternberg said from the Sanderlin Family Center in St. Petersburg, where the Rays staff helped build a playground Saturday. "If guys were available who were really in our price range, we would have a lot more selection."
The choices are even more limited because Sternberg is cutting payroll — "a bunch" — from the franchise-record $75 million at the end of last season.
How much is unclear, Sternberg said, a product of what moves they consider worthy of making and, to a lesser degree, what moves their competitors make. As of now, they have close to $40 million committed.
"It's clearly going to be down a bunch from … last year. It's going to be up from … when we started (about $30 million by the end of 2006), and there's a wide gap in there," he said, noting they went to the World Series in 2008 with a $43 million payroll. "So I really don't know. It's a question of what's available."
The Rays knew retaining All-Star leftfielder Carl Crawford, whom Sternberg said "was special to me," wasn't a possibility. Sternberg hasn't heard from Crawford, but on seeing him get a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox, Sternberg said: "God bless him. Good luck to him, and I'm thrilled we and he were able to put him in a position to take care of his family for generations to come."
Wheeler, 33, who lives in Seminole, said there was mutual interest in staying with the Rays, whom he rejoined in July 2007. But Boston offered what the righty politely termed a better situation — a $3 million salary for 2011 and another $3 million in a vesting option for 2012.
"I wouldn't trade any of my time in Tampa Bay for anything," said Wheeler, who went 2-4 with a 3.35 ERA and three saves in 64 games last season. "It's unfortunately part of the game, the business side of it, and you move on. … Obviously, I'm from Rhode Island, and (the Red Sox) were my team growing up. So I'm definitely excited about it."
The Rays didn't offer Wheeler arbitration, so they don't get any draft pick compensation.
Obituary: Phil Cavarretta, who in 1945 won the National League MVP while leading the Cubs to their last World Series berth, died Friday in Lubbock, Texas. He was 94. The first baseman played 20 years with the Cubs before playing 77 games for the White Sox in 1954-55.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.