Rays pretty much strike out in MLB's new labor deal

Tampa Bay Rays president of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman talks with reporters during a pre-Winter Meetings luncheon held at Tropicana Field on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.
Tampa Bay Rays president of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman talks with reporters during a pre-Winter Meetings luncheon held at Tropicana Field on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.
Published Dec. 2, 2016

It's just early December, and the Rays have taken their first big loss of the season. Actually for the next five seasons.

Sure, there are changes in the new collective bargaining agreement that could help the Rays in their never-ending uphill battle to compete with baseball's big-boy clubs.

For example, hard limits on the total amount of money teams can spend to sign international players to keep the heavy spenders from stocking up, while even giving small-market clubs such as the Rays a slightly higher pool to work with.

But there wasn't, as far as they know anyway, the kind of seismic change to help the Rays compete, or at least be more competitive, have more of a chance, with a payroll that at best — at best — is going to be less than half as much as their main competitors, most likely even less.

"Disappointed in what we've seen so far," Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "I'm not optimistic about the CBA in terms of helping us as a lower-revenue club."

The Rays had hopes, as they did in the last CBA negotiations and the one before that, for some assistance.

Specifically, they have been seeking draft reform, a change in the system that would give them more picks, or higher picks, or, even better, more higher picks based on their market size and revenue totals, rather than just on win-loss record. Simpler: They don't feel the Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees should get their pick of better talent just because one had a bad year on the field.

"Lower revenue clubs face a lot of obstacles, especially when it comes to talent acquisition," Silverman said. "We can't go out and spend like other clubs, so we need to find other avenues to be able to acquire that talent. We've looked for additional access on the amateur side, on the international side, and there haven't been any major changes in the last 10 years. And, in fact, the revenue disparity between clubs has grown by an immense amount."

That growing gap can be obvious, sometimes less so. When the Rays, in the next year or two, get a rich new TV deal, it won't be as rich as the larger market teams — still a net loss. Barring unexpected changes in the revenue sharing system, they Rays will get their usual $40 million to $45 million donation, but it still won't provide much drag on what the payers can spend elsewhere.

Now, it's perfectly fair to make two loud points you wish Silverman could hear.

One, they could just stop whining, suck it up despite major-league-low attendance and on-and-on-and-ongoing stadium issues, and spend more money.

And, two, they could do a better job with the picks they have had, evidenced by a lack of homegrown position player talent.

But, back to reality. The Rays are looking at spending around $70 million, so even if they were to "go for it," they might push $90 million or $100 million for a year, still around half their top foes. That's not going to solve the problem.

Other changes to the CBA don't seem to provide much assistance.

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Only slightly raised luxury tax thresholds and increased penalties would seem to limit most big clubs to around $200 million, keeping the gap somewhat in check. But in a perverse way that could hurt the Rays as the big clubs will focus more on developing their own young, cheaper prospects and making fewer free agent gambles and thus costly mistakes.

And reducing draft pick compensation for free agents actually could make it more enticing for big market teams to shop freely at whatever the market prices are. And the Rays — when they do have a top level free agent, such as maybe Alex Cobb this season — might be forced to make a July trade rather than wait and get lesser picks.

The Rays, in part of their own doing, have it tough. The new deal, again, didn't do much of anything to help.

NOTES: The Rays are expected to tender contracts to the MLB-most group of 11 arbitration-eligible players, which includes Super 2 qualifier Kevin Kiermaier, by tonight's 8 p.m. deadline. … Among other provisions of the new CBA: homefield advantage in the World Series will be decided by best regular-season record rather than the winner of the All-Star Game; minimum disabled list stays will be reduced to 10 days from 15; and new big-leaguers are prohibited from using smokeless tobacco.