September 22, 2010
No matter what happens the rest of this season, the realities facing the Tampa Bay Rays will not change all that much.
They'll still play in a small market with small television revenue. They'll still rank near the bottom in attendance. They'll still be playing in an antiquated ballpark that's devoid of extra revenue streams. They still won't be any closer to getting a new home from area voters.
Considering those factors, Rays owner Stu Sternberg didn't hesitate to point out on Tuesday that nothing can stop the inevitable salary purge that's coming to Tropicana Field after this season.
Not even winning the World Series.
"No question. Nothing can change that,'' Sternberg said before Tuesday's game. "Unfortunately there's nothing that can happen between now and April that can change that unless Joe Maddon hits the lottery and wants to donate it, or I hit the lottery.''
Sternberg wouldn't say how low the payroll may go, though he said in spring training it wouldn't reach even the $60-million range. "I don't have a plan in mind what the lower (end) is,'' he said. "I just know it's going down.''
Sternberg is just being honest, but our pal Cork Gaines over on Rays Index doesn't like the timing of his team's owner decision to down some truth serum. Gaines thinks that Sternberg just fed the national media a ready-made storyline for the postseason. He's convinced that once the "this year's Rays are the new 1997 Florida Marlins!" meme takes hold that it's going to grow into an uncontrollable Frankenstein that's mentioned every half-inning.
Now maybe I consume too much specialized baseball media via blogs and dedicated reporters instead of monitoring more mainstream outlets, but I just don't see it Gaines' way (though I do appreciate his concern for the well being of his team's public image).
I think it's been a well-known storyline that the Rays will have to lop off around $15-20 million from their current payroll of $72 million. But I also think that story has been repeated with the assurances that GM Andrew Friedman knows what he's doing and has a plan. Franchise cornerstones like Evan Longoria(notes) and David Price(notes) are locked up. Young Desmond Jennings(notes) will fill Carl Crawford's(notes) spot in the outfield. Carlos Pena and his $10.25 million salary will move on from first base, but it was about time for that anyway.
Now, will these elements (and others) be specifically mentioned when the media paratroopers drop in on the story? Maybe. Maybe not.
But I do think the pre-established storyline of "Rays are frugal baseball geniuses who plan well" will carry enough weight to douse the fire sale theme before it gets out of control.