The Rays have a challenging offseason ahead, as they often do. Even after successful seasons, they usually find themselves looking for financial cuts given their low-spending ways. That could be the case again this winter though Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times relays that the club is open to running a higher payroll in order to keep much of the club intact.
“We have the ability to do that,” president of baseball operations Erik Neander says. “And that’s a nice starting point to have — 99 wins with contributions from as many players as we did this year, players that established themselves, young players getting their first opportunities. It puts us at a really strong position.”
The Rays usually run a payroll near the bottom of the league, with the data of Cot’s Baseball Contracts never having them above $85MM on Opening Day and they haven’t been higher than 25th in the league since 2010. Topkin’s report says the $78.245MM Opening Day figure from last year is actually the franchise high, which is even lower than the listing at Cot’s. But with raises due to various players on the team, running out a similar roster for 2024 would involve getting way up into the $120MM range.
Part of that is Tyler Glasnow, who made just $5.35MM this year but is set to jump to $25MM next year as part of the extension he signed with the club. Lesser raises are also due to other players who signed extensions like Manuel Margot, Yandy Díaz, Jeffrey Springs and Brandon Lowe. Then there’s the arbitration class, which features 16 players. Some of those are non-tender candidates but projections from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz show that Randy Arozarena will likely earn around $9MM, more than double this year’s $4.125MM salary, among many other notable jumps.
Roster Resource estimates that the club already had about $74MM committed for next year, without those arbitration estimates taken into account. The class is projected as a whole for $46.3MM, which lines up with Topkin’s $120MM figure for keeping the whole gang together.
In the past, the Rays have often dealt with this situation by moving on from notable players like Tommy Pham, Blake Snell and many others. The willingness to trade established big leaguers for cheaper and less-proven ones has allowed the club to continually compete even with their budgetary limitations. 2023 saw them reach the postseason for a fifth straight year, despite sharing a division with many bigger spenders. Though they were quickly eliminated in their last three postseason trips, it’s nonetheless been an impressive tightrope walk.
Perhaps they can proceed with a bit more continuity next year, if Neander’s words prove to be true. Skeptics would be forgiven for rolling their eyes, but the club has hinted at some greater spending capacity in the past. As Topkin points out, the club made an offer of $150MM over six years to Freddie Freeman before he ended up with the Dodgers.
Sticking with the same roster would still leave issues, given how the 2023 club started out red hot and faded as the season went along. But it’s possible that the reverse trajectory could be in store next year. Shane Baz missed all of 2023 recovering from Tommy John surgery but should be ready to go for Spring Training. Springs required the same procedure in April and could rejoin the club next summer. Drew Rasmussen could also be a midseason returnee after undergoing an internal brace procedure in July. Continued development from younger players like Taj Bradley, Junior Caminero and Curtis Mead could also give them some more momentum.
The Freeman offer from a few years ago shows that the willingness to change course doesn’t necessarily lead to it actually happening. But as Topkin points out, the club had increased attendance this year and has a funding agreement for a new stadium, perhaps giving principal owner Stuart Sternberg some extra incentive to sign off on a different spending level, though it seems it may not be permanent even if it does happen.
“If the timing’s right — right player, right team, right time — there’s always that ability to push,” Neander says. “It’s probably going to come from somewhere at a later date. But there is a fluidity to our payrolls and things, there’s a freedom to it, that allow us to be more competitive if the right circumstances suggest we should make that run.”
Still, there are many who won’t believe in the higher payroll potential until it comes to fruition. It will likely also depend on what discussions happen in the winter with free agents or potential trade partners, something Neander acknowledges. “Every offseason is unique,” he says. “A lot of it will depend on what the other 29 teams are looking to do in addition to what we think is best for us. So, very TBD. Not much of an answer, but a lot of it is you’ve got to be ready to go in whatever direction the winter takes us. But we can run this group back. And it’s a good starting position.”