The price of last season's success for the Rays is fast approaching $500-million.
That's the $435-million the Yankees have handed out to their big three free agents, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett; the $30-million or so the Red Sox are willing to gamble on John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Josh Bard, Takashi Saito and, yes, Rocco Baldelli; and a little more set aside as both teams seek a few final pieces.
As much as the Rays, and their fans, may be steamed at such spending sprees (only 'cause they can't come anywhere close to keeping up), they really only have themselves to blame.
At least that's the way Yankees GM Brian Cashman explained it last week at Teixeira's introductory news conference.
"This is a huge compliment to the Rays and the Red Sox, two teams that we're looking up at," Cashman said. "We made these significant upgrades to try and compete and keep up with what they've done. Our division has exceptionally talented teams, and they're getting better. We know we have our work cut out for ourselves."
And GM Theo Epstein said the Sox still have "unfinished business," as they seek a catcher and possible upgrade at shortstop: "In our division, if you're not getting better, someone is probably passing you by."
Talks coming: With the Jan. 19 arbitration filing deadline approaching and the Rays sticking to their policy of breaking off negotiations once figures are exchanged, there should be lots of talks with the five remaining eligible players: RHP Grant Balfour, SS Jason Bartlett and C Dioner Navarro (who could get around $2-million each), plus INF Willy Aybar and OF Gabe Gross.
Rays Rumblings: While the Rays could have afforded the $500,000 guaranteed salary Baldelli got from Boston, it was the millions in potential playing-time incentives that were the issue. … In going "home," Baldelli turned down more guaranteed money from at least the Pirates. … With Baldelli gone, new DH Pat Burrell will get to keep his No. 5. RHP Joe Nelson will wear 46 and OF Matt Joyce 20. … Baldelli, meanwhile, will wear Nomar Garciaparra's No. 5, the first to do so since Garciaparra left Boston in mid 2004. … A dark blue Rays "alternative" jersey will be unveiled this week. … Though the Rays said they "sold out" spring games with the Red Sox and Yankees, they — conveniently — held some back to sell as part of a limited number of season-ticket packages. … Manager Joe Maddon said last week's dinner at the White House, which included a tour of the Oval Office, went well, with President Bush raving about the Rays' athleticism: "He likes our team." … Surprise guest sitting next to Baldelli at Thursday's Boston baseball writers dinner? Rays RHP Dan Wheeler, who was honored as New England player of the year. … Maddon took the coaches to Port Charlotte on Thursday for a walk-through of the new spring facility and liked what he saw: "They did a great job planning and laying it out." … Former Ray and current Oriole Aubrey Huff, a friend and college teammate of Burrell at Miami, said the Rays made a good move: "He's a great fit to pop into the middle of that lineup." … Before having those Dewon Brazelton flashbacks, know that waiver claim Dewon Day's real first name is Amos.