tampabay.com

Payroll blows past promise

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 13, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG - Three interesting things to come out of last week's spring-training-is-closer-than-you-think media session:

- The payroll most likely will exceed $40-million, a significant increase nearly 70 percent from last season's opening day $24-million.

The Rays have more than $20-million committed to seven players (Carl Crawford, $5.25-million; Troy Percival, $4-million; Cliff Floyd, $2.75-million; Akinori Iwamura, $2.4-million; Al Reyes, $2.3-million; Rocco Baldelli, $2.25-million; Gary Glover $1.075-million); four players remaining in arbitration (Carlos Pena, Scott Kazmir, Dan Wheeler and Jonny Gomes) who could make $13-million to $14-million; 12 or 13 players who will get the $390,000 minimum or slightly more; and openings for a backup catcher, super-utility type and left-handed reliever. Plus millions in incentives.

The increase is considerably larger than the 20 percent promised by principal owner Stuart Sternberg but won't be a problem or force other cuts, executive VP Andrew Friedman said.

"From the original thoughts that all of us had, we're a good bit above that number and it's just the way things worked out," Friedman said. "It's the opportunistic approach that we had this offseason."

Friedman is confident all four arbitration cases will be settled by Friday's filing of figures - his deadline to cease talks and proceed to a hearing.

- It would seem an unusual way to do things, but Friedman said the Rays might decide before 3B prospect Evan Longoria gets to spring training whether or not he's on the team.

The thinking is that the Rays already know enough about him, that talent evaluations during the spring are often skewed by circumstance and level of competition, and that deciding beforehand would reduce scrutiny (and pressure) on his day-to-day play.

But doing so would seem to make sense only if they decide Longoria, 22, isn't going to make the team. That way, it eliminates the question from being a daily issue, as well as a potential controversy if Longoria were to put up huge spring numbers.

- No matter what else the Rays have done, a huge key remains Baldelli's health.

The official plan is for the oft-injured Baldelli to DH while Gomes and Floyd share rightfield, but manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he'd prefer to use Floyd, 35, as the DH as much as possible with Baldelli in the field. Plus, in some roster configurations, Baldelli is needed as the backup centerfielder.

Baldelli said he has been working out and running three days a week with no problems from his previously troubling hamstrings and plans to "turn it up a notch" after returning to Florida at the end of the month. "If I can hit and kind of take it easy running, I think everything will fall right into place after that," he said.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: C Dioner Navarro joined the La Guaira team for the Venezuelan league playoffs. ... The preferred profile for the wanted "super-utility" player is a left-handed hitter who can play first and third and fill in at the corner outfield spots, and likely would be acquired via trade. ... Ex-Rays OF Damon Hollins returned from Japan and signed a minor-league deal with Kansas City. RHP Lance Carter did the same with Toronto. LHP Jon Switzer signed with Boston. ... Fred Repke, whose signees include P James Shields, Longoria and P Jake McGee, was named scout of the year and roving hitting instructor Steve Livesey the top player development man. ... And for those who keep asking, the Trop can't be "converted" to an outdoor stadium by removing the roof and some walls because it was built with no drainage or weatherproofing (and would be very costly to do). ... Triple-A Durham also has started a fund (accessible through durhambulls.com or by calling (919) 687-6555) for manager Charlie Montoyo, whose son Alex was born with a heart defect.

MISCELLANY: The Orioles are exploring moving their spring base from Fort Lauderdale to Vero Beach as a replacement for the Dodgers. ... Tampa's Luis Gonzalez, a free agent, is talking to the Marlins about a reserve OF/1B job, and maybe the Mariners. ... Ex-Ray Aubrey Huff had sports hernia surgery but is due back when the O's start full-squad workouts Feb. 19. ... The Mets seem the front-runners for Johan Santana.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

How they're looking/33 days till spring training

An occasional guess at the Rays' projected opening day lineup (vs. Baltimore lefty Erik Bedard) and roster based on their current composition. Players in bold are set, in light type are likely and in italics are current top choices with more moves expected:

1. Akinori Iwamura, 2B

2. Carl Crawford, LF

3. Carlos Pena, 1B

4. B.J. Upton, CF

5. Rocco Baldelli, DH

6. Jonny Gomes, RF

7. Joel Guzman, 3B

8. Dioner Navarro, C

9. Jason Bartlett, SS

Reserves

Cliff Floyd, OF

Mike Difelice, C

Ben Zobrist, INF

Justin Ruggiano, OF

Starters

Scott Kazmir, LHP

James Shields

Matt Garza

Edwin Jackson

Andy Sonnanstine

Relievers

Troy Percival

Al Reyes

Dan Wheeler

Gary Glover

Scott Dohmann

Jason Hammel

Kurt Birkins, LHP