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Rays payroll set to decrease in 2015

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Back to the loser levels you're used to.

Brian Blanco

Among the relocation rumors that sparked back up last week was the footnote reminder, here and elsewhere, that 2017 could bring 4-5x the television revenue when a new contract is negotiated. The Tampa Bay area is among the top twenty most populous metropolitan areas, and the Rays are consistently drawing ratings above average for baseball. There's money to be had, but 2015 is two years shy of the gold mine.

The Tampa Bay Rays entered last season with an $77M payroll, the highest in team history, although the 28th largest in baseball, outpacing only the sub-$50M payrolls of Miami and Houston. According to quotes from owner Stu Sternberg, the Rays will function with a salary closer to the Marlins:

We've run payroll into the ($40 million range) and gotten into the World Series and well into the playoffs, and our two highest payrolls ... the years we stepped it up (percentage-wise) were 2009 and 2014, and those are the only two years we haven't played significant September baseball. That doesn't mean you're not going to go at it again if you can, but we spent some money on a couple of big signings, for us at least. It still comes down to performance for all 30-35 guys at least. [tampabay.com]

It's worth reminding you that these quotes were given before last season ended. The cryptic words indicate when the Rays have gone for broke with the salary, they came up empty. If it's a lower payroll he's after, though, the Rays already have significant money coming off the books in the departing players.

Rays Departed

Player 2014 Salary 2015 Status
David Price $14 million
(+$4M deferred)
Detroit Tigers
Heath Bell $5.5 million Released
May '14
Juan Carlos Oviedo $1.5 million (+$0.3M buyout) Free Agent
$25.3 million $0

David Price is a significant chunk of change for the Rays, the highest dollar amount ever paid to a Rays player, and including $4M of deferred salary that was scheduled to be paid this month. That dollar commitment was presumably traded with Price to the Detroit Tigers.

Heath Bell was a disaster by all accounts, and the Rays decided they could not salvage the reliever after taking on $5.5M of his salary to facilitate the Ryan Hanigan trade.

Juan Carlos Oviedo had his contract bought out and re-signed last off-season, and his departure has already been met with a replacement: reliever Michael Kohn, already signed to a major league deal in the first move of the Matt Silverman Era. That contract has not been announced, but can be expected at ~$0.5 million.

Guaranteed and Option Contracts

Here are the Rays other contract commitments for 2015.

Players Under Contract 2014 Salary 2015 Salary
Evan Longoria $7.5 million $11 million
James Loney $7 million $7 million
Grant Balfour $5 million $7 million
Yunel Escobar $5 million $5 million
David DeJesus $4.25 million $5 million
Ryan Hanigan $2.75 million $3.5 million
Jose Molina $1.75 million $2.75 million
Matt Moore $1 million $3 million
Chris Archer $0.5 million $1 million
Michael Kohn Free Agent $0.5 million*
$34.75 million $45.75 million

All contracts listed above are guaranteed, with Kohn's estimated. By comparison to the aforementioned Tigers, the Rays have twice as many contract commitments for 2015 at half the cost, but lack any expected All Stars, save an improvement by Longoria that lets him outpace his fellow third basemen.

The other contracts currently signed with the Rays are two options expected to be continued in 2015:

Players with an Option 2014 Salary 2015 Option
Ben Zobrist $7 million $7.5 million
Joel Peralta $3 million $2.5 million
$10 million $10 million

The versatile Ben Zobrist is a tradable asset if anything, so his contract will be honored at the least, and while it's possible the Rays could lean on their rookie depth in the bullpen, it's unlikely the team would forgo the veteran presence of Joel Peralta.

For those counting, we're up to $55M and change for 12 players.

Arbitration Eligible

Then there are the players up for contract arbitration in 2015. Andrew Friedman never lost an arbitration case during his tenure with the Rays, though the team did it's best to settle all differences early in the process. These are the players eligible for contract arbitration as a product of their standard rookie contracts, and the estimated salary for each:

Arbitration Eligible Players 2014 Salary 2015 Expected
Matt Joyce $3.7 million $4.9 million
Jeremy Hellickson $3.65 million $3.9 million
Sean Rodriguez $1.475 million $2 million
Jake McGee $1.45 million $3.8 million
Cesar Ramos $0.75 million $1.3 million
Alex Cobb $0.5 million $4.5 million
Desmond Jennings $0.5 million $3.2 million
Drew Smyly $0.5 million $3 million
Logan Forsythe $0.5 million $1.2 million
$12.925 million $27.8 million

All estimates provided by MLBTR.

If the Rays were to retain the full staff of arbitration eligible players, the total now creeps up to $83.55M in contracts, significantly beyond last year's highest ever. This does not include the rookie contracts from elsewhere on the field and in the pitching mix, such as Wil Myers, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Guyer, Nick Franklin, Curt Casali, Jake Odorizzi, Brad Boxberger, Kirby Yates, Jeff Beliveau, or any other rookies who might grace the Rays with their presence next season.

Simply put, the 40-man roster is ready to burst, and the expected payout by the Rays if nothing changes sits around $86M for 2015 at the major league level, depending on how the 25-man roster is finalized.

If the owner is preaching $40M as a successful model, there are significant changes to come.

For more details on the contracts currently held by the Rays, see our Rays' major-league payroll commitments spreadsheet, dated from now until 2023 (when the Evan Longoria contract expires).