Big-bucks spending by the Rays is not typically a topic of conversation.
But it was last week as they committed more than $16.5 million to their five arbitration eligibles then further pushed their payroll into the mid $60 million range by signing free agent 1B Carlos Peña ($7.25 million).
The deals — and upcoming hearing with RHP Jeff Niemann — raised a few questions.
• Why pay CF B.J. Upton $7 million, compared to $4.35 million for LHP David Price?
Because they had to. Arbitration, as much as anything, is based on service time in the majors, specifically comparisons with other players in the same class.
Upton was a third-time eligible, having made $3 million in 2010 and $4.825 million in 2011. Comparables include Detroit's Delmon Young (who got $6.75 million) and the Los Angeles Dodgers' James Loney ($6.38 million). Upton's combo of speed and power is rare. And valuable, executive VP Andrew Friedman said: "We expect him to be a big part of our success this season."
Price was eligible for the first of what, as a Super Two qualifier, will be four years, and his $4.35 million was the largest one-year deal for a first-time eligible starter. But if he were in his final year, like Upton? Consider that Philadelphia's Cole Hamels, in his fourth year, just got $15 million.
• Why pay Peña rather than bring back Casey Kotchman for several million less?
Because they could. Both are excellent defenders with the ability to get on base. Peña hits for a lower average and strikes out more, but his power potential was the obvious difference: an average of 34 homers the past five seasons, compared to Kotchman's 10.
Implied in the decision is an expected regression by Kotchman, who hit .306 with a .378 on-base and .422 slugging percentage last season. Several sabermetric forecast models have it that way, such as Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system, .254/.323/.370, and Bill James, .268/.344/.402.
• Why go to a hearing with Niemann over a difference of $425,000?
Because that's how it works. The Rays policy is to cut off negotiations when figures are filed, preventing settling at artificial midpoints. So the decision essentially was made before their $2.75 million offer and his $3.2 million request were shared.
POST PEÑA: With Peña aboard, the Rays are probably done shopping. There's some talk of adding a right-handed hitter to the bench, but it's not likely to be a big deal. That implies they'll stick with what they have at shortstop (Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez) and at catcher, where Jose Molina is the only experienced option. But a trade is still possible, as they have more starting pitchers than room, with either Niemann or Wade Davis (who makes $1.5 million) available. … The Rays don't lose a draft pick for signing Peña, though the Cubs get one, and will have to make room on the 40-man roster.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Talks continue on completing a multiyear extension for manager Joe Maddon, who returns from his European vacation at the end of the month. … Deepening spring ties, principal owner Stuart Sternberg and partners have become part owners of Punta Gorda's Wyvern Hotel. … There's talk of adding full pregame shows for road telecasts as Fox Sports Florida/Sun Sports open a new studio, albeit in South Florida. … Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci puts a "red flag" on RHP Jeremy Hellickson based on his increase of 371/3 innings from 2010-11. … Matt Joyce, Price and James Shields are the grand marshals for Saturday's Gasparilla parade in Tampa. … Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame inductees Tino Martinez and Cecil Fielder have confirmed for the Feb. 3 Dinner with David & Friends at the Trop, benefitting Price's Project 14 charity and the museum. … Trop press box supervisor Dukes Knutson is leaving to join his home-state Twins. … ESPN's David Schoenfield's ranking of the top rotations didn't include the Rays: D'backs, Yankees, Rangers, Angels and Phillies.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow his coverage on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.