Rays paying it forward

Sternberg believes Pena, Kazmir deals - and efforts toward keeping others - bring brighter days closer.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 19, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - By giving more than $24-million over three years to Carlos Pena and going up to nearly $4-million for a one-year, arbitration-avoiding deal with Scott Kazmir, the Rays on Friday put two of their best players under contract for the upcoming season.

And they may have put to rest questions about their commitment to assemble, and retain, a competitive team.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said these deals and others, such as an in-the-works long-term contract for starter James Shields, should prove the sincerity of his efforts to win since taking over in October 2005.

"We've been very up front in everything we intended to do," Sternberg said from New York. "We had a plan, and it wasn't an overnight thing that was going to happen. It's still early in the game as far as where we want to get to and need to get to. ... (But) fans can look at this and see we've got a guy (Pena) committed to be here in his free-agent year, following (Carl) Crawford and (Rocco) Baldelli and now Shields as well, guys that are well-above-average players that want to be here, and the team is making a commitment to it.

"Between that and the planned stadium, I hope people feel as energized as we do."

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the length and value of the deals, which likely will push the opening-day payroll past $40-million, shouldn't be a surprise.

"I think it's consistent with what we've been saying the last couple years," he said. "The first step is acquiring talent, whether it's a good signing by one of our scouts, or a draft, or a trade in the minor leagues. We know our own players better than anybody, and it's important for us to not only acquire top-end talent but be able to keep the top guys in place for a number of years, to keep the nucleus in place."

With the Rays seeking voter approval and some funding for the new waterfront stadium, Sternberg acknowledged that winning more games could help them win more votes - "It doesn't hurt," he said - but insisted the projects are "completely" separate. "If it was all about being snazzy and getting votes ... we'd go out and spend another $10-$20-million, but that's not what this is about," he said. "We're not trying to juice the returns. I think we've taken a pretty good step forward, or at least we have the opportunity to."

Pena, 29, was one of the game's biggest bargains last year, when he posted a Rays-record 46 homers and 121 RBIs, and was the team MVP while making just $800,000 (plus $400,000 in incentives) after coming to spring training on a minor-league deal.

The Rays, gambling that he maintains close to his career-best production, rewarded him for what he did, but also how he did it, providing a positive influence and veteran leadership in the young clubhouse. His public raves about how much he liked playing here and how he wanted to stay didn't hurt.

"Obviously, the first thing is performance," Sternberg said. "But if he weren't the type of person he was and a quality guy, we wouldn't be doing it."

Pena was more than thrilled. "It's extremely exciting," he said from the Dominican Republic. "I get to be in a place I absolutely love, around people that I love and people that I know care about me. It couldn't be any better."

Officially, Pena agreed to a one-year deal for $6-million that becomes a three-year deal once he passes a physical next week, with salaries of $8-million in 2009 and $10.125-million in 2010. By annual average value, it is the second-largest contract in franchise history, behind Greg Vaughn's four-year, $34-million deal.

As late as mid morning, Kazmir expected to end up in arbitration and wasn't particularly happy about it. But Friedman, while traveling to the Dominican Republic, renewed the talks, and with revised offers the sides came to agreement at 11:51 a.m., nine minutes before a team-imposed deadline to halt talks and proceed to a hearing.

"It took both sides moving some to get a deal done," Friedman said.

Kazmir, 24 next week, said: "I'm very pleased. They stepped up to the plate, and they've been doing it the whole offseason."

Kazmir is under the Rays control through 2010, and though talks on a long-term deal didn't get close this offseason, both sides said they expect to revisit the subject.

The Rays are working on a deal, up to seven years with options, for Shields, who won't be eligible for arbitration until 2010 and free agency until 2013, and could have it done next week. "I'm optimistic," Sternberg said.

Fast facts

Rays deals

1B Carlos Pena: Agreed to three-year, $24.125-million deal, with salaries of $6M, $8M and $10.125M

LHP Scott Kazmir: Agreed to one year, $3.785M

RHP James Shields: Working on up to seven-year deal

The $40M question

Current projected 25-man roster and payroll. *Denotes estimated salary.

Player Position Salary

Carlos Pena 1B $6,000,000

Carl Crawford LF 5,250,000

Troy Percival RHP 4,000,000

Scott Kazmir LHP 3,785,000

Dan Wheeler RHP 2,875,000

Cliff Floyd OF 2,750,000

Akinori Iwamura INF 2,400,000

Al Reyes RHP 2,300,000

Rocco Baldelli OF 2,250,000

Jonny Gomes OF 1,275,000

Gary Glover RHP 1,075,000

Mike Difelice C 560,000

Grant Balfour RHP 500,000

Jason Bartlett SS 440,000*

Edwin Jackson RHP 440,000*

Dioner Navarro C 440,000*

Scott Dohmann RHP 435,000*

James Shields RHP 420,000*

B.J. Upton CF 420,000*

Matt Garza RHP 410,000*

Andy Sonnanstine RHP 410,000*

Jason Hammel RHP 410,000*

Willy Aybar INF 410,000*

Ben Zobrist INF 410,000*

Joel Guzman INF 400,000*

Total $40,065,000