tampabay.com

Rays think gap in talent smaller than in payroll

By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 17, 2006


TORONTO - The Blue Jays did their research, came to the conclusion it is impossible to win the American League East or even make the playoffs with a $70-million payroll and are going to spend more, perhaps as much as $100-million.

The Red Sox, who opened the season with a $120.1-million payroll (and will be the most expensive team to miss the postseason), already are planning to spend freely in the offseason to get back. "I think there will be less attention paid to the payroll number than there has been in the past," pitcher/front office adviser Curt Schilling told the Boston Globe. "I think they'll be very aggressive in trying to fill the roles they see need to be filled."

The chances of the Yankees making a significant reduction to a payroll that was $198.6-million on opening day (and added Bobby Abreu) are about the same, to quote Jon Gruden, as the number of points the Bucs scored last weekend: "Z-E-R-O." And the Orioles - well, at least until Peter Angelos sells the team to Cal Ripken - continue to stumble along in the $70-million to $75-million range.

And then there are your Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who opened this season with a payroll around $36-million, cut it under $30-million by trading four of their highest-paid players (Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson), and even in the best-case scenario don't seem likely to get anywhere near $50-million in the next couple of years.

As principal owner Stuart Sternberg told the Times, they will only increase the payroll significantly if they can make the team significantly better. And though there already are whispers of targeting one $10-million-plus player, there is also a chance the Rays will return essentially the same team and open next season with a payroll of around $28-million.

The Rays, though, don't consider the gap to be as huge as it looks, which is one of the reasons they aren't going to spend more.

Because so many of their top players are young and shy of free agency, they don't make huge salaries, which means the Rays are in the rare position of actually getting more - in some cases a lot more - for their money. Carl Crawford's numbers this season for $2.5-million? Less than one-fifth of what the Yankees are paying centerfielder Johnny Damon. Scott Kazmir for $371,700? Pitcher Jaret Wright makes 20 times more.

"In our continued effort to build a competitive roster, payroll is obviously part of the equation," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "But in our minds, it goes much deeper than actual dollars out the door. We look at the amount of production we can expect to get from a certain player irrespective of what their salary is.

"As we've maintained, we will not be a farm system for the other 29 teams. And as our players continue to develop and mature, we expect to have to pay them more and more each year to retain them. In the meantime, a lot of our players make less than I think their performance would indicate."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: The key to the deal to move spring training to Port Charlotte is making sure to be one of the five teams awarded state grants. You would think the Rays would have home-legislature advantage. ... True, Travis Lee was released because he wasn't going to play much, but his last-to-the-ballpark, first-to-leave routine wasn't a good thing in a locker room of young, impressionable players. ... Too bad the Rays aren't in Toronto next weekend: They could see how Juan Guzman, who will be the featured Jays alum, is spending the $13-million they just about finished paying him for a Tampa Bay career that consisted of 12/3 innings pitched. ... Jonny Gomes, according to Beyond the Box Score's Bill Arnold, leads the majors in a unique stat - taking six bases by defensive indifference (when a team doesn't try to stop a steal). ... The Rays are planning a big advertising push into the Orlando market. ... Tropicana Field was 25th in SI.com's Fan Value Index, which purports to rank the 30 stadiums by best experience for the money. ... Jared Sandberg, who played 102 games for the Rays in 2002 (and 196 total from 2001-03), just finished a second straight season at Double A and at age 28 may retire. ... The Padres are so pleased with ex-Ray Russell Branyan they are talking about picking his $1-million option.