ST. PETERSBURG — There still would have to be the right match, more likely for a big bat than another arm. A proper deal that didn't require the Rays to give up key young players. And the confidence it was worth the future cost.
But in talking Tuesday about the possibility of a significant stretch-drive addition, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg delivered the money quote that is sure to raise hopes among fans and ignite the trade rumors.
"Money," he said, "won't be an object."
That doesn't mean the Rays are necessarily going to become massive buyers during the 3½ weeks until the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline. And Sternberg clouded his own statement a bit by saying that adding to the franchise-record $72 million payroll would still be "a large impediment."
But he made it abundantly clear they were extremely open to the possibility.
"By any means necessary," Sternberg said. "We'll do whatever; money won't be an object. Players are always an object for us. And the money will be an impediment, but we'll figure it out if it makes all the sense in the world for this team."
The news seemed groundbreaking — certainly no other owner of the Rays ever said money won't be an object — but Sternberg said it was merely an extension of the commitment they made during the offseason "to completely obliterate our budget" to do what they can to win, evidenced then by the unexpected $7.25 million addition of closer Rafael Soriano.
"We're well beyond stretched (payroll-wise), but for me, personally, this is a very special year, it's a special team, can be a special team, and we're going to do whatever we can, whatever's necessary, to try to give us the best opportunity to win this year," Sternberg said.
He wouldn't, of course, say how much more they would spend, instead joking: "I normally say, in for a penny, in for a pound. In this case, in for $20-$25 million, in for some more."
His comments came a few hours after the first significant Rays-related trade rumor of the season: a Twitter post from Peter Gammons, of the MLB Network and Boston's NESN, speculating on a deal involving centerfielder B.J. Upton and Seattle lefty Cliff Lee.
That kind of deal doesn't make sense for a lot of reasons and was shot down quickly by Rays manager Joe Maddon, who said "there's nothing from our end regarding that being true."
It's much more likely the Rays would seek to improve the inconsistent offense, perhaps from a pool of supposedly available sluggers such as Houston's Lance Berkman, Washington's Adam Dunn, Milwaukee's Corey Hart and Chicago's Derrek Lee.
Sternberg said he has talked extensively with executive vice president Andrew Friedman about the situation. They have an understanding that any additional expenses this year are considered "borrowing" from what's available to spend in future seasons and that they want to protect their assets, such as their pool of prospects.
"We're all very competitive and want to give ourselves the best chance to play as deep as we can this year," Sternberg said. "But, and it's a big but, it costs a lot of money to do that, as it has, and we have resources with players that we have to be cognizant of … what it means to our future."
There are sure to be other issues, too, given the stadium debate (which he declined to talk about Tuesday) and claims that overall the team is losing money.
But standing on the turf near the Rays dugout 90 minutes before Tuesday's game with the Red Sox, it sure sounded like the present — at nearly any cost — is what matters most.
"Our eye," Sternberg said, "is really about making the postseason."