If there's one commonality you saw among Tampa Bay Rays fans yesterday after the Grant Balfour signing, it was the question of, "are the Rays going all-in in 2014?"
Judging by the moves they've made relative to the Rays' standards...a quick answer would be yes.
A list of the off-season transactions for the Rays:
1. Re-signed James Loney to three year deal (bringing back the entire Gold Glove-caliber INF from 2013)
2. Acquired pitch-framer and game-caller Ryan Hanigan for an upgrade at catcher
3. Acquired reliever Heath Bell for high-leverage situations
4. Acquired utility-man Logan Forsythe and four prospects from Padres in exchange for middle-reliever Alex Torres and pitching prospect Jesse Hahn
5. Under-the-radar signings of Jerry Sands and Jayson Nix who will likely make an impact during the MLB season
6. Stuck it to the Baltimore Orioles and signed closer Grant Balfour to a two-year deal after they disagreed with the Rays team doctor's medical opinion
That list doesn't even include picking up David DeJesus' option and re-negotiating his contract to a multi-year deal. Oh, and did I mention David Price signed a one-year deal worth $14 million?
The 2014 season certainly looks to be an "all-in" kind of year for the Rays. By bringing back nearly everyone from last year's squad, they enter late January with an "unsustainable" payroll north of $75 million. However, if you ask team owner Stu Sternberg, 2014 is all but an "all-in" year.
"All-in means 'no next year'," Sternberg said in an interview with WTSP.com. "We could go that way and run $25 million payrolls the next three years and bankrupt our farm system. That would be all-in"
And Sternberg brings up a good point. Many would be quick to believe that the Rays are looking at 2014 as World Series or bust kind of year, but if you look at their roster and their contracts, they tell a different story.
Virtually, all key pieces to the Rays' puzzle are guaranteed for beyond the 2014 season. You could argue that Price will more than likely be traded during or after this season (if he isn't before the start of the 2014 season), but even then, a return on Price will command top talent. Combine that with the remaining players and this is a team built to win for the foreseeable future.
Could some of the Rays' off-season acquisitions flame out this year? Sure. That's a risk every season. But if you have learned one thing as supporters of this team, it's to never doubt the moves the Rays make. Not only is this team to built for 2014, but the core pieces will be around much longer than that.
As Sternberg always says, the goal of the Rays is to "play meaningful games in September." It's clear that 2014 isn't an all-in season, but rather a strong commitment to the Rays playing those meaningful games for several years to come and hopefully bringing a World Series champion to the Tampa Bay area.