The Rays opened the season with a $72 million payroll. Back in March, Stuart Sternberg announced that the 2011 payroll would be less than $60 million. And now, two weeks prior to the playoffs, Sternberg said the payroll is going down no matter what the Rays do in the playoffs

“No question. Nothing can change that,” Sternberg said before Tuesday’s game. “Unfotunately 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.”

The problem with this statement is the timing. Instead of being the great story that they are, cutting the payroll will now be the running theme surrounding the Rays as long as they are alive in the playoffs. And even if the Rays win the World Series, the topic will be “sure, but now they are just going to gut the team.”

The pundits won’t look at the roster. Instead, they will just see this quote and assume that the 2010 Rays are going to be the 2007 1997 Marlins reincarnated. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

We have no problem with the payroll going down. We have shown that the Rays can still field a competitive team in 2011 with a payroll in the $50-60 million range. The Rays will return at least five starting pitchers, as well as much of the core position players (Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, Ben Zobrist), and they will still have some money to spend in free agency. But understanding that will require more effort than most of the talking heads are willing to exert.

Besides, the stereotypes and cheap jokes are much better for ratings. And now, Sternberg has just teed up the ball for all the “experts” to take a swing at.

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25 Comments

  1. nate says:

    I assume you meant the 1997 Marlins and not 2007 Marlins. (or maybe you meant the 2003 Marlins).

    Either way, any comparison to the Marlins shouldn't happen. The 97 incident was a case of quick buying and quick purging. That Marlin team came and went so quickly. This Rays group came together over many years of drafting, trading, and signing. Totally different. The 2003 Marlins weren't purged. In fact, aside from the Derek Lee for Hee Sop Choi trade, the championship team was kept in tact for 2004 AND 2005. Then they started moving pieces. In many cases the moves made sense. Letting AJ Burnett go was wise. If anything they were loyal to WIllis to a fault.

    Yes, the Rays have salary limitations, but lets not jump to any Marlins comparisons, or even suggest that it is necessary.

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  2. Steve says:

    This is what bothers me the most about the stadium debate, because implicit in these comments is the idea that the Rays simply can't be competitive under the current structure - - and that notion is simply accepted without one bit of scrutiny. Financial statements on the teams somehow find the light of day but they don't spark any kind of investigative reporting - - because to do so would put the writer at odds with the team and thus jeopardize almighty access. I love sports, but the level of ignorance which surrounds the mainstream media which services it is beyond comprehension. Sternberg is doing what he knows how to do - - make more money - - this is PR it is not fact and the mainstream media will treat it as fact. Oh yeah, our recent pitching has taken 10 years off my life.

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  3. Not that it pertains to the Rays at all, but what those people who bash the Marlins don't understand is they built the '03 team from the ashes of the 1997 team. And still won as many titles as the Red Sox have in the last 90 years.

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    • nate says:

      This is not entirely true. It's a common misconception. Those trades yielded next to nothing for Florida.

      Rodriguez was a free agent signing
      Castillo came up through the system (and was actually on the 97 team too)
      Lowell was a trade from NYY for three minor leaguers
      Penny was acquired for Matt Mantei
      Willis came for Alfonseca and Clement
      Beckett was famously drafted #2 behind J-Ham

      The only "big" contributor that was acquired directly for a 97 piece was Derek Lee, whom they got by trading Kevin Brown.

      The famous dumps were
      1. Sheffield, Bonilla, Eisenreich, and CJ to LA for Zeile and Piazza (which was parlayed into Geof Goetz and Ed Yarnell).
      2. Moises Alou to Houston for Manuel Barrios and Oscar Henriquez
      3. Livan Hernandez for Nate Bump.

      Again, very little in return for teh 97 dumps. The 2003 team was largely done from scratch.

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      • Ummm ... you forgot the Marlins also got Preston Wilson in the Piazza trade who was turned into Juan Pierre. Also Al Leiter was traded for AJ Burnett, who although hurt for most '03 was there in the spring when the team was built.

        Not exactly "next to nothing". Somewhere in the middle.

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        • nate says:

          Fair enough, but my point was that a giant portion of their return on those players yielded nothing. Not a knock. That is how baseball trades go. Look at their recent history. Beckett/Lowell got them Hanley/Sanchez. But Cabrera/Willis got them Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. Now those two players may very well turn out to be very good MLB players. But when you trade a player the magnitude of Cabrera you should get a bonafide star in return.

          Whatever. What's important is the Rays. I think the thing I would emphasize from our discussion on the Marlins is that if the Rays determine that it is prudent to trade a valuable player, it shouldn't be expected that everything we get in return will turn to gold. Unfortuantely many of our pieces may walk away with nothing in return.

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  4. jpfdeuce says:

    What I disagree with the most (and you said it in a round-about way) is the timing of these comments. Personally I thought the team would b ebroken up sooner. I thought the Kazmir trade was evidence of this.

    But back to my point -- Stu made a distraction by making these comments. Either the team can go "Major League" and vow to win the whole f'n thing, or they wallow in the uncertainty of the future.

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    • Matt says:

      I do not find the the "truth" as a distraction. Stu and company went all in for the 2010 season with hopes of a Championship. In 07, the payroll was 22 - 24 million to start the season and this year it was 72 million and we still rank 23rd in overall attendance. Ownership put up the resources for a winner and the St. Pete and Tampa Communities turned their backs on them. I feel bad for the season ticket holders because they get lumped into the attendance equation and those folks are the ones who made the financial commitment and are the devoted supporters of the Rays. Not those single game buyers who watch the Red Sox and Yankees play.

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  5. Love it! Go "Major league"... See some anger from CC.

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  6. Gus says:

    Really, you are only talking about shedding CC, Pena and Burrell. That is $29M right there and gets you to in the area of $44M for 2011. We've all already built that in. Still a very good team right there. You can solve lots of arbitration and salary raises if your baseline is $44M.

    Stu is a tool. He doesn't want them to win it all because he knows that would increase pressure on him to pay the fellas. Although the way the Rays spend money, I'm not sure I want them to have a free agent budget again. It actually makes them worse, not better (imagine a 2009 without Burrell and Percy and Izzy).

    And the "nothing between now and April" comment is a bold faced lie when we know the post-season dates can mean $10M-$20M-$30M in revenue, it just depends on how the games go.

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    • Matt says:

      Stu is a tool???? Really...the only owner to build a winner pal...2 out of 3 years in the playoffs. A farm system which ranks in the top 3 since he took over in 2006 and you call him a tool. You must of been looking in the mirror when you wrote your comment because the real tool was looking back at you.

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  7. Thad says:

    My biggest problem is the way Stu always presents the state of payroll with this foreboding sense of inevitability and what it MUST do and MUST NOT do. You're the freaking owner Stu. The payroll only HAS to do whatever you WANT it to do.

    1) If you WANT payroll to conform to some sort of budget parameters over a 3 or 5 year period then that's your prerogative. You're the owner.

    2) But if you CHOOSE to spend money out of your own pocket, albeit at a net budget deficit, on a brief window of competitive opportunity in the AL East then you can CHOOSE to do that also. You're the owner.

    Look, I don't doubt the Rays will lose money this year, and prob not an insignificant sum. And prob lost money last year. The Deadspin documents proved that. So, I don't begrudge Stu for WANTING to reduce payroll. But the payroll isn't a homo sapein with free will to do whatever it wants. The payroll does what Stu WANTS it to do. Not what it HAS to do.

    You make the choice Stu. There are a LOT of owners over the years that have spent money out of their pocket to take a run at a championship or two. Not limited by the contraints of a budget or the manic desire to force the club to pay for itself. You've brought the team a long way and I'm grateful for that, but don't act like the decision is out of your hands.

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    • Gus says:

      Amen.

      I have this same thought when it comes to attendance -- as if the Rays management is a passive actor in the whole attendance drama when they are driving the ship. If you want more people in the seats, then figure out a way to get them in there. Go back to supply and demand principles. Adjust prices. Reward season ticket loyalty. Lower concessions. Put fewer games on TV. Whatever. Shut your trap complaining about a stadium that people who actually live here think is basically fine.

      Ironic that a guy who watches 95% of his team's home games on TV complains when people a lot poorer than him do the same thing and don't come to the ballpark. He acts like spending $71M makes him Steinbrenner. People here know he's a cheap dude wanting to make a buck on the rubes. We get it. It will always be a "Show Me" market until the trust becomes a 2-way street.

      Can we get a Gag Order for Stu until the playoffs are over? He gets us down.

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  8. Don says:

    The Rays have a built in payroll cut for 2011 already!
    Burrell gone $9mil, Pena gone $10 mil...payroll =$50mil
    Get rid of Wheeler $3.5 mil, Bartlett $5mil,can't sign Sorreno $7 mil, Garza $4/5mil payroll=$30mil
    Plenty for CC.... plus those with increases coming....
    Easy $50mil payroll and a better (younger) team!

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  9. Thad says:

    I also don't disagree with the basic argument that payroll can come down by by quite a bit and the Rays can be just as competitive in 2011. Moves that I think will be made:

    A) Pena, CC, Wheeler, Bartlett and Soriano are all gone
    B) Re-sign Balfour, Choate, Qualls, Benoit (as closer)
    C) JP Howell comes back from injury
    D) DJ finally gets a shot at 1B full-time (w/maybe Zoby as insurance)
    E) Don't pay for Garza's next leg up in Arb
    F) Insert Hellickson in rotation
    G) Add McGee to bullpen
    H) Brignac get full-time SS
    I) SRod, Joyce, Zoby all rotate around 2B/RF w/Zoby playing everyday
    J) Jennings gets LF everyday

    With all the younger players except Jennings already getting major playing time this year, you would hope they could take another step next year (Brignac, SRod, Joyce). That's a younger, riskier sub $50mil team at the beginning of the year that has a little upside. And maybe a better pitching staff than 2010, with the exception of closer possibly.

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  10. Beth says:

    I agree with all of you -- it's the timing. I just can't imagine what would motivate him to stand there in Yankee stadium before a game in which his team is fighting for first place to announce, grim-faced, that he'll be cutting payroll. Even if he's asked that question directly, the answer should be "at this moment we are completely focused on winning a championship. Ask me about the 2011 season in November." How difficult is that?

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  11. Jay says:

    Stu may have a great eye for investments, but it's time the Rays PR and Marketing department muzzle this loser.

    How do you build and grow a fanbase when you constantly insult them with attendance talk, belittle them with stadium talk, and then punch them in the gut with payroll talk. This whole organization continues to tell the world they have no desire to win championships, just make the playoffs to bank some extra dollars.

    I long for the day we see a local owner who wants to be a part of this community...

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  12. jpfdeuce says:

    HA! He's owned the team for five years and teh stadium talk that Stu has been vocally involved with has popped up within the last year. He wasn't even that vocal when the St. Pete stadium came up...

    And yet he is CONSTANTLY doing all this stuff? That's a joke, right? And of course you invoke "local ownership"... I guess Stu has done a real crappy job and we should bring back Vincent J. Naimoli, right? Cuz Vince was local!...

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    • Beth says:

      Well put. I'm not wild about Stu's comments at this moment, but anyone who is longing for the good old days of "local ownership" has a very short memory.

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  13. Amanda says:

    The Rays (and 27 other teams in the league) will never be able to compete every year like the Red Sox or Yankees, so I'm fine with the team having to be cyclical with winning seasons. I get it, I'm down with it. The Rays are my team, and players will come and go. (Like a friend of mine always said, if players were never traded or never left, we'd have a bunch of 70-year-old players out there.)

    Even if/when this team build a new stadium, draws more than 2.5 million fans, and even wins a chamiponship or two, they'll still have to be cyclical with their teams because they won't be able to spend like Yankees on a consistant basis. I'd just like to see it more like the Twins (winning every few years) than the Marlins (winning every decade).

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  14. Sean says:

    I gotta get my two cents in here.

    I've been an attendance/payroll apologist for a long time now but I gotta say the number that Stu threw out there today ($30 million) kind of took me by surprise. That's Crawford, Pena, Soriano, and Bartlett and/or Garza. I could accept those three, because of Jennings, McGee/return of JP, and/or the kid Leslie and DJ. Losing Bartlett or Garza or both isn't a deathknell either because of S-Rod/Zo/Briggy and Tim Beckham (eventually), as well as Hellickson (and some talented arms far down the pipe, like Aneury). But to slash payroll by $30 million speaks, man. That says, "We've had it, we've done what we can."

    To those who've said Stu shouldn't talk about attendance or whatnot when he doesn't even come to the games, well, I gotta completely disagree with you there. This ownership group has without a doubt busted their ass to get people to come out to the games. Everything from free parking period, to free parking when carpooling, lowering concession prices, affordable ticket packages or single game tickets, concert series', giveaway nights, not to mention orchestrating a championship contender from a garbage dump out of nowhere.

    In 2007, when the payroll was in the high 40's (I think), the Deadspin docs showed the net revenue was $200,000. That's it. Now, we've had a steady increase of attendance, playoff baseball, increased television revenues and ad revenues, and all that good stuff, but I'm not sure money made from those things erased the incremental cost. It wouldn't surprise me to hear the ownership is running the team at a (substantial) loss and has been since 2009. These guys are basically putting money from other investments into this team in a desperate attempt to get a return on investment, and it's failing, failing badly.

    Me and my dad had a long conversation on the phone about what Stu's comments signaled tonight during the delay, and we both arrived at the same conclusion: Stu HAS to at least be thinking about selling the team. He just has to be thinking about it. After 5 years, he's lost money (probably a lot of it) after a heroic attempt to get this town into this team. The team got to the WS in 08, and nothing really changed. He dumped money into payroll and nothing changed. He dumped money into fan interests and nothing changed. He renovated the stadium and nothing changed. The FO has absolutely busted it trying to make this work, and as a diehard Rays fan since day one, it makes me sad to say that this might be the beginning of the end of MLB here in Tampa Bay.

    The one saving grace, and I mean the ONE saving grace, will be if Stu gets his stadium. If Stu can get his stadium and get it where he wants it, I think he sticks around a little bit longer. And you and I better pray to whatever god we have that he gets that stadium, because ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you owners like Stuart Sternberg just don't come around. If he doesn't get the stadium, expect a resurgence of 1998-2007 as some idiot owner takes over and milks our pockets while putting a $20 million team out there (if he doesn't move the franchise). Expect the stadium to be full of the other team's fans once again, and expect to be hated in your own park.

    And to all you Yankmee and Red Sux fans, you can kiss your bandwagon seats goodbye if the Rays go. And you have no one to blame but yourselves because of your stubborness and idiocy in refusing to root for your home team. You didn't buy tickets but to 18 games a year. You didn't buy our gear. You rooted for the house even when the house got beat. And because of that, you may have ended up causing us to lose the sport we love here in Tampa Bay -- including your crap teams.

    Rant over. Hope we win it all this year, don't know when we'll get the opportunity again.

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    • Sean says:

      By the way, I didn't even mention their just pitiful attempt at making money by making the Trop available as an event exhibitor. When I say pitiful, I mean that in the sorrowful way -- as in it makes me sad because they really did try everything to counterbalance the losses. Sunburst Entertainment LLC. That's Stu's entertainment investment group that tried using the Trop to host various events like concerts and Bowl games and whatnot. In three years they had one client -- the Florida Tuskers of the UFL -- and made no money off of that. Matter of fact, they lost $600,000 on the deposit the Tuskers made and are actively litigating to get that back. And don't say they must be bad salesmen or something because these guys are rich for a reason. You can't sell cows to vegans, and I guess you can't make people come to baseball games if they don't want it bad enough.

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