ST. PETERSBURG — Closer Rafael Soriano is a valuable and expensive addition, the $7.25 million salary he agreed to after the trade from Atlanta making him the fourth-highest paid among the current Rays.
But the real cost may come in future seasons.
Team officials indicated Friday that pushing the payroll to, and possibly beyond, a franchise-record $70 million — a total team president Matt Silverman described as not sustainable and "well above our comfort level" — to make a run at the playoffs this season could lead to potentially significant reductions in 2011 and beyond.
"We extended last year, we're overextended heading into this year," Silverman said. "We'll see the effect of this in the future. But for now we're focused on what Rafael can add to us in 2010."
Their hope is that by adding Soriano to what they consider their best-ever team, they can make a run to the postseason. And they hope enough fans ride along to cover the costs.
"Last season we were shooting for league average in attendance and fell well short," Silverman said. "This season we will be gunning again for that league-average attendance. There is that connection between the revenues that we generate and the investment we can make throughout our organization."
Adding Soriano won't require any corresponding payroll reductions this season, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. (Nor should it impact a potential Pat Burrell-for-Milton Bradley trade since both make $9 million in 2010.) Though Silverman said they "probably" wouldn't have the flexibility to make a significant pennant-race addition, he acknowledged "you never rule anything out."
That's because under principal owner Stuart Sternberg, the Rays don't operate with set payroll limits for each season but what amounts to a flex spending plan over rolling three-year periods. So just as they increased from $43 million in 2008 to $63 million last year and now to $70 million, they could cut back in 2011. Especially since their four highest-paid players — Carlos Peña, Carl Crawford, Burrell and Soriano — will be free agents, taking more than $36 million off the books.
But first, they are determined to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox in 2010, and they expect Soriano to be a key player. Friedman called him a "significant" addition who transforms the bullpen into a strength.
"When we get through this season we'll address what we'll do thereafter, but right now we're focused on trying to get back to the playoffs," Friedman said.
Soriano said in quotes provided by the Rays that he welcomed the challenge of closing in baseball's toughest division.
"I know the AL East is made up of strong teams, but because of the type of pitcher I am, I think I can handle it," he said.
There is more work to do. The deadline to tender contracts to players is midnight tonight, and the Rays are deciding what to do with arbitration-eligible catchers Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach, with the possibility they'll negotiate with both, keep one and nontender or trade the other. Outfielder Gabe Gross appears to be a nontender candidate.