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Rays' offseason challenge: improve without increasing payroll

The Rays have $23.5 million committed to star third baseman Evan Longoria next season, a hefty amount for a team whose payroll isn’t likely to top $70 million.
The Rays have $23.5 million committed to star third baseman Evan Longoria next season, a hefty amount for a team whose payroll isn’t likely to top $70 million.
Published Oct. 9, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays officials head into the offseason facing the dually difficult challenge of trying to improve their team against increasingly tough competition without increasing their $68 million or so payroll.

"In terms of competition, it's fierce," baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "Not only are all clubs getter smarter, but resources are heading to the large market teams, and it makes it more challenging for us to put a competitive club on the field.

"It's not an excuse, it's actually a motivation for us. But it's the reality of the game right now."

A reality of that reality is the need to make some difficult decisions, given that the current squad will cost around $65 million to $70 million.

Consider they have $23.5 million committed to 3B Evan Longoria ($13M), 2B Logan Forsythe ($5.75M) and RHP Chris Archer ($4.75). They have up to 12 players eligible for arbitration, depending on the still-pending Super 2 eligibility cutoff, that, on a rough estimate, could cost in the $35 million to $40 million range. And they need at least 10 other players, which even at or near whatever the new minimum salary is projects to at least $6 million.

So where is there room for improvement, especially in adding some proven bullpen arms?

Trading away some salary is necessary. Barring an unexpected major roster overhaul, they would seem best served by dealing LHP Drew Smyly, who could get around $7 million via arbitration, and RHP Erasmo Ramirez, around $4 million. Even though they need bullpen help, RHP Brad Boxberger, who could make $3 million, might be another trade candidate.

The other arbitration eligibles include pitchers Xavier Cedeno, Alex Cobb, Danny Farquhar and Jake Odorizzi; OF Corey Dickerson; INF Brad Miller; C Bobby Wilson; and, potentially, INF Tim Beckham and CF Kevin Kiermaier.

Expect to hear plenty of talk, from Archer and Odorizzi down, but somebody has to go.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Archer, after a great 2015 debut, has interest in doing more postseason TV work, but as of now nothing is finalized. … Hard-working former Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton could be a good fit with the Don Mattingly-managed Marlins, who last week fired Barry Bonds. … Longoria is, logically, the Rays' nominee for the Hank Aaron Award, given to the top offensive player in each league; voting on mlb.com and Twitter with hashtag #VoteLongo. … In answering a question about expansion to Montreal, commissioner Rob Manfred reiterated that the "Tampa and Oakland" stadium situations need to be resolved first and "hopefully, we're going to make good progress on both … in the relatively short term." … With Triple-A Durham's Jared Sandberg managing, seven Rays prospects start play this week for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League: C Nick Ciuffo; OF Justin Williams; INF Kean Wong; and pitchers Kyle Bird, Diego Castillo, Greg Harris and Brent Honeywell.

DIAMOND DUST: Roy Halladay, Travis Hafner, Ryan Howard and Joe Mauer are among inductees to the Florida State League Hall of Fame, Nov. 15 at Sheraton Sand Key Resort on Clearwater Beach. Tickets are $75; call (727) 724-6146 or email office@floridastateleague.com. … Manfred said it's his "hope" to get the new collective bargaining agreement in place before the usual post-World Series start of free agency.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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