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Owner Stuart Sternberg expects Rays payroll to drop

CAPTION: (03/24/2006 St. Petersburg) Stuart Sternberg DURING INTERVIEW Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball special section at Tropicana field in St. Petersburg Friday morning (3/24/06).  (Times photo by Dirk Shadd).
CAPTION: (03/24/2006 St. Petersburg) Stuart Sternberg DURING INTERVIEW Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball special section at Tropicana field in St. Petersburg Friday morning (3/24/06). (Times photo by Dirk Shadd).
Published Sept. 11, 2014

NEW YORK — The disappointment of the Rays not playing meaningful games this September will naturally lead to lessons for next season.

And one, from what principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Wednesday, is that less may be more.

Sternberg said the 2015 payroll is "clearly going to be lower" than this year's franchise-record $80 million, and he pointed out — albeit a small sample size — that they have had the most success when they have spent least.

"We've run payroll into the ($40 million range) and gotten into the World Series and well into the playoffs, and our two highest payrolls … the years we stepped it up (percentage-wise) were 2009 and 2014, and those are the only two years we haven't played significant September baseball," Sternberg said. "That doesn't mean you're not going to go at it again if you can, but we spent some money on a couple of big signings, for us at least. It still comes down to performance for all 30-35 guys at least."

How much they reduce payroll will be interesting given the commitments:

They have nine players signed for $45.25 million (3B Evan Longoria $11 million, RHP Grant Balfour $7M, 1B James Loney $7M, OF David DeJesus $5M, SS Yunel Escobar $5M, C Ryan Hanigan $3.5M, LHP Matt Moore $3M, C Jose Molina $2.75M, RHP Chris Archer $1M).

They have options on two players: INF/OF Ben Zobrist, $7.5M; RHP Joel Peralta, $2.5M.

They have nine players eligible for arbitration and significant raises: five returnees who made nearly $10 million combined (OF Matt Joyce, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, INF Sean Rodriguez, LHP Jake McGee, LHP Cesar Ramos) and four first-timers (RHP Alex Cobb, in line for around $3.5M; LHP Drew Smyly, $2.5M; OF Desmond Jennings, INF Logan Forsythe).

Among other topics, Sternberg said:

• Nothing is imminent on the stadium situation with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, but "I'd like to think once the season is over we can have more substantive conversations."

• The team's stretch of improved play actually made the disappointment of the early months worse: "Playing the kind of baseball we did for a couple months after that probably adds to it a little, because we know with this team not just what they were capable of but what they had the ability to do."

• He was pleased with how the team stayed together through the early season struggles and is still playing hard: "I have nothing to be ashamed about."

• Their majors-low attendance, on pace for 1.43 million, seems to be "in a steady state" with little change based on how the team does: "I don't know what'll dramatically push the attendance up. And I do believe that a number of years of really losing baseball, we're in jeopardy.''

CATCHING ON: Hanigan said in retrospect, he probably could have positioned himself slightly to the inside of home rather than right in front during a key, and controversial, play Tuesday. But he still felt he did the right thing given the location of the throw, would have had no problem had Yankees INF Stephen Drew crashed into him and was glad the out call was upheld.

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"When the ball beats the runner by that much, it's really a common sense thing," Hanigan said. "You call him safe right there, I mean, what are we doing?"

MINOR MATTERS: Triple-A Durham beat Pawtucket (Red Sox) 4-3 in 11 to even the best-of-five International League championship series 1-1. Mike Fontenot had the decisive RBI.

MISCELLANY: The Rays have homered in 12 straight games at new Yankee Stadium, most by a visiting team. … RHP Nathan Karns will join the team today from Durham in advance of his first start Friday in Toronto.