The Tampa Bay Rays, winners of 99 games this season – and another disappointing playoff run – did so on the strength of another threadbare payroll. At just $79 million, the Rays’ payroll was the 4th smallest in baseball, less than half the league average, and less than 1/4 that of the league-leading New York Mets. None of that was surprising, as it’s part of the franchise’s M.O. Heck, at $79 million in 2023, the Rays were almost operating at a record spending level.
Yet they would have you believe they are primed to dramatically increase payroll.
Rays President of Baseball Operations Erik Neander said that his club will have enough financial flexibility to keep the whole roster together if they decide that’s the right thing to do long-term.
“If we think that’s what’s best, not just for next year, but the years ahead, to figure out a way to not be up here (on the podium doing a season postmortem) after two postseason games, I think the option will be on the table to run that back,” Neander told reporters, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Simply running it back with the current Rays roster, after scheduled raises and arbitration projections, would run payroll well above $100 million, and probably closer to $120 million. That’s a level the Rays have never even remotely approached.
If you are inclined to take Neander’s proclamation at face value, maybe you would say that more certainty on the stadium side of things, at long last, gives Rays ownership the confidence necessary to bump up payroll.
… Even though the new stadium will not actually be in operation for five more seasons. So.
Instead, I take a much more cynical view here, and operate on the assumption that the Rays’ front office knows they’ll have to move substantial money around, and knows everyone will be expecting, specifically, them to trade starter Tyler Glasnow and the $25 million he’s owed for 2024. It was the expectation the day his two-year deal was signed last year, and it’s still very much my expectation today.
Perhaps, then, in a slight nod to preserving minimal leverage, the Rays front office would like folks to know that they don’t ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO trade Glasnow. It’s possible they could make it work, together with some kind of bump in payroll.
Fine. I’m sure that’s true on some level. But the Rays weren’t going to move Glasnow as a pure salary dump anyway, because I imagine there’s plenty of market participants out there who would love to have Glasnow for one year and $25 million. So I’m not sure how much leverage this preserves even if true. Instead, the return in a trade was always just going to have to be about how desirable this particular pitcher is to the broader market (at a time when the broader market is kinda loaded with quality pitching options).
That is all to say, even if it’s true that the Rays could bump payroll enough to find a way to keep Glasnow, I still expect he will be dealt, and I still expect the acquisition price to not be outrageous. And I still want the Cubs to pick up the phone.