PORT CHARLOTTE — Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said the Rays couldn't have done a better job retooling their team over the winter but likely will have to make do with what they have for the entire season.
With payroll creeping toward, or above, $61 million (up nearly 50 percent from $43 million last opening day), Sternberg confirmed what executive VP Andrew Friedman had suggested: that they've lost the ability to make in-season acquisitions.
"In past talks I've had in spring training, I've responded and said we'll have that flexibility. We don't have that flexibility now," Sternberg said.
"At some point, you put your back to the wall, and I think that's where we are right now. We, quite frankly, can't really afford what we've got on the field this year. At least we were able to spend the money on a lot of value, we think, and pieces that will give us the opportunity to grow the franchise over the long haul, that gives us the best opportunity for success this year. This was one where somewhat of my competitiveness came out in this. I think we have a real opportunity to win.
"It doesn't leave us any flexibility, but if you come around to June or July, the answer might be a little different."
• Sternberg raved about the new spring facility, calling it "awesome" and "spectacular" and "it really says what we are," and joked that on his extensive tour with senior VP Michael Kalt he couldn't find much to complain about.
• He acknowledged the economy will be an ongoing challenge for the Rays.
• He said season-ticket sales have increased and are "right at expectations," though they are still likely to be next to last in the majors (after the Marlins). And they are "girding" themselves to join the Marlins as the only teams since 1985 to appear in the World Series and not be above the league average in attendance the next season.
• He expects baseball to adopt a broader salary structure (though he does not believe in a salary cap) to allow for "more true competitive balance." He also said that if MLB hadn't adopted increased revenue sharing, "this franchise wouldn't be here today — or certainly it wouldn't be in this part of Florida."
GAME BOYS: The Rays are eager to start playing games, even though they begin a week earlier due to the World Baseball Classic. They were a franchise-best 18-8-2 last spring, and several players said that record was a key to their success. "That was big," LF Carl Crawford said. "It seemed like we rode that momentum into the season."
THE BAT HITS CLEARWATER: Manager Joe Maddon gave Pat Burrell the choice, and Burrell chose to make Saturday's trip to Clearwater to face his former Phillies teammates (in a game with the DH).
"I'm looking forward to it," Burrell said. "Who knows what kind of reception (I'll get) and all that other stuff. I've seen a lot up there."
AYBAR IN CLASSIC: Tuesday's release of the final WBC rosters included one surprise for the Rays: INF Willy Aybar was named to the Dominican Republic team and is likely to play first base despite not being on the provisional roster. Rays officials were made aware of the possibility Monday night but didn't know for sure until the rosters were released. Otherwise, 2B Akinori Iwamura (Japan) and LHP J.P. Howell (Team USA) were named, 3B Evan Longoria (USA) was not.
MISCELLANY: Individual-game ticket sales start today for season-ticket holders, Thursday for Rays Insiders, Friday at 9 a.m. online for the general public at raysbaseball.com and Saturday at all outlets. … Ex-Rays OF Jonny Gomes is on the Reds' travel squad for today's game. … Rays players meet this morning with players union boss Don Fehr.