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Payroll will rise; question is, how much?
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 9, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - Top Rays officials, starting with principal owner Stuart Sternberg, promise the payroll is going to increase next season.
That's because it has to. Just to keep the bulk of the team they now have, it's going to cost at least an additional $10-million. So the more important question is how much is it going to increase?
The Rays started this season at about $25-million, but without Ty Wigginton, Casey Fossum, Jae Seo and Rocco Baldelli, they've been playing with about an $18-million squad. Early buzz is they'll be in the mid 30s next year, though, of course, $40-million sounds better.
Thanks to arbitration eligibility, Carlos Pena alone could make $5-million more, which he certainly deserves after playing for just $800,000 this year. Scott Kazmir, a first-time eligible, is looking at a $3-million raise. Dan Wheeler could get another $1-million. Jonny Gomes could get his first million. Gary Glover and Grant Balfour will get more, too.
Plus there are built-in raises for signed players such as Carl Crawford, up $1.25-million to $5.25-million; Akinori Iwamura, up $600,000 to $2.4-million; and Baldelli, up $1.5-million to $2.25-million. Al Reyes likely will make another $1-million when his option is picked up. And Josh Paul is a free agent.
"I fully expect our payroll to increase considerably," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "But as Stuart has maintained time and time again, it's hard to put a specific number on that because it's so dependent on the guys that we can spend it on - whether that comes from signing a player we currently have, or in trade for a player making money, or in free agency.
"We do have some flexibility and we're going to be aggressive to explore different avenues that will greatly improve our team."
The Rays showed last winter they won't spend money just to spend it. But they also showed an impressive ability to find value - adding Pena, Brendan Harris and Reyes for less than $2-million, getting a decent deal on Iwamura, and later claiming Josh Wilson on waivers.
Given the progress the team has shown, and the commitment to bring back manager Joe Maddon, what it does this winter is even more important. Primary needs are a solid starter (or two), a shortstop, a proven late-inning reliever and possibly a DH (though Baldelli or Gomes could be that guy).
"I don't think anybody had a better offseason than we did last year," Sternberg said. "If we can do that again, and it does cost us more money, that's fine."
CUBS COMING!, CUBS COMING!: The initial draft of the 2008 schedule has big news: the first-ever Trop trip by the Cubs (and the return of Lou Piniella) in June. Tentatively, the Rays open at Baltimore, host Seattle in their home opener and make their first visit to St. Louis.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: The devilrays.com poster claiming the new team colors are navy, Columbia blue and a touch of gold may be on to something. ... Oakland manager Bob Geren told the San Francisco Chronicle Pena is a good guy and all, but Shannon Stewart deserves the AL comeback player of the year award because it "should go to someone who is coming back from an injury." ... ESPN.com's Rob Neyer wrote: "The Rays' mismanagement of the organizational talent borders on the criminal" because they should have traded an outfielder (Crawford) for pitching a year or two ago. ... For those who don't like free parking, there's now valet service at the Trop - for $20. ... 3B Evan Longoria got USA Today's Rays minor-leaguer of the year award, and heaping praise from Montgomery manager Billy Gardner Jr., who told the Advertiser he'll be a big-league "impact player, an All-Star" and likely a Gold Glover.