Payroll hike still just a promise

The Devil Rays are projected to open the season with a 25-man payroll of about $24-million that could be the lowest in the majors.

Published January 21, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays are projected to open the season with a 25-man payroll of about $24-million that could be the lowest in the majors.

Technically, that figure is a significant reduction - about 30 percent - from last opening day's $35-million. But team officials maintain it is actually about the same as at the end of last season, factoring out the salaries of traded veterans such as Aubrey Huff and Julio Lugo and figuring in the $4.55-million posting fee for Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura to a working number of about $28.5-million.

Either way, it certainly is not the increase fans were expecting, or at least hoping for.

When principal owner Stuart Sternberg took over last year, he initially indicated the payroll would increase 10 to 15 percent a year. Team officials have since said it would be an average increase over several seasons.

But - barring any significant acquisitions - they are headed toward what could be the third-lowest payroll in their 10-season history.

The $24-million includes about $16-million guaranteed to 11 players. Most of the other 14 players will make only about $400,000 each because they have less than three years of service time and are not eligible for arbitration.

Team president Matt Silverman reiterated Saturday they would spend now for the right player and the payroll will increase in the future, though at least some will go toward retaining young players as their salaries escalate with experience from hundreds of thousands to millions.

"Right now, our payroll looks to be flat to last season," Silverman said. "It goes without question that player expenditures need to and will rise. As our young players mature, we continue to preserve the ability to keep our roster intact and to pursue opportunities that may arise."

ARBITRARY CONCERN: The Rays would prefer not to go to an arbitration hearing, but they have adopted a policy to break off negotiations if there is no deal by the exchange of figures.

The reason, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, is so they can negotiate toward what they consider a fair settlement rather than negotiating, as usually happens, toward the midpoint of the filings. "We want to avoid an arbitrary number that is established once both sides file ... and is not necessarily relevant to the player and the comparables."

They'll see how it works next month, when an arbitrator picks between the $625,000 they offered backup catcher Josh Paul and the $940,000 he seeks.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Iwamura doesn't just wear No. 1, he is obsessed with it, starting his preseason workouts in Japan on 1/11 at 11:11:11. "I like No. 1 and wanted to start at all ones," he told the 30 or so reporters watching. And he said he may use a glove made in part out of alligator skin. ... Jose Tavarez, director of Hispanic outreach and military affairs, is leaving. ... Outfielder Dave Martinez is expected back as a spring training instructor. ... If injured reliever Shinji Mori clears waivers Monday, he could be re-signed to a minor-league deal, giving the Rays more time to get something for their $2-million plus investment. ... Special assistant Rick Williams left to be a major-league scout with the Yankees. ... New special adviser Fred McGriff will be in uniform at times but insists he will have a limited role: "I don't want to be the hitting coach. Steve Henderson does an outstanding job." ... Former Giants third-base coach Gene Glynn is among new scouts hired. ... The Minor League News named Carmen Molina the major-league media director of the year for "her exceptional work" in promoting minor-league players.

MISCELLANY: Clearwater High/USF product Mike Eylward is an Angels nonroster invitee to spring training. ... RHP Jesse Litsch, a former Rays clubhouse attendant and product of the St. Petersburg RBI program and Dixie Hollins High, is ranked Toronto's eighth-best prospect by Baseball America. ... Pinellas Park's Nick Masset, traded from the Rangers to the White Sox, had a strong winter showing in Mexico, converting 15 of 17 saves.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com and 727 893-8801.

Fast Facts:

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The Rays have only five players making more than $1-million in 2007:

Carl Crawford $4.0

Ty Wigginton 2.7

Casey Fossum 2.7

Akinori Iwamura 1.8

Jae Seo 1.2