Following the grievances filed on Tuesday by the MLB Player’s association, in which they claimed the Rays, as well as the Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Miami Marlins were not spending their revenue sharing appropriately, the Rays Radio team was able to sit down with the Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg to ask him how he felt about the allegations.
Sternberg, ever affable, started out by saying, “I’m extraordinarily happy baseball is being played again.” Indeed, the sounds of baseballs hitting leather gloves filled the air as he spoke, while Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” played, an unintentional anthem for the young men on the field who would be stalking victory like prey this coming season. Sternberg talked briefly about the excitement of the 20th anniversary kick-off and the hype surrounding the stadium announcement, but he wouldn’t be able to keep to the lighter topics for long.
As discussion turned to the recent moves made by the team, Sternberg acknowledged that not everyone would agree with what the team had done. “We have a good sense of what we’re doing. We have a pretty good track record — I’ll say great track record — in putting a very competitive product or an incredibly competitive product on this field for the last ten years. And I’ll stand by that for 2018 and beyond as well.” It’s clear losing isn’t in Sternberg’s vision for the team.
Conversation naturally touched on the national criticism surrounding whether or not the Rays were cutting payroll, and it was pointed out the team actually looked to be spending more in 2018 than in 2017. Sternberg didn’t mince words about his approach. “If somebody wants to give me the number five prospect in baseball for somebody who’s making a lot of money, I’ll be happy to cut payroll. But we’re not interested in cutting payroll and not putting this organization on better footing in 2018 and beyond.”
Financial talk segued into questions about the MLBPA grievance. “I was genuinely surprised when it happened,” Sternberg told press. “We’ve run our organization in a very open, transparent fashion since the day I’ve come in.” He pointed out that payroll has never been the make or break aspect of success for the Rays, “We’ve not gotten to the playoffs with our highest payroll, and we’ve gotten to the playoffs with some of our lowest. We got to the World Series with some of our lowest.”
Bringing the topic back to the grievance he admitted, “I don’t know what happens from here, it’s uncharted territory for me, and I would imagine the other teams as well... I don’t get it.” Asked outright if the team was in compliance, he said, “I think we’re beyond what compliance is.”
Sternberg wasn’t about to take the grievance, or general public negativity about the team to heart. He seemed very positive about the Rays prospects for the 2018 season, and well into the future, and didn’t linger on the naysaying public sentiment.
“I think we’re in incredible shape,” Sternberg said. “We’re very judicious in how we spend our money, but it’s spent in a lot of forms, and payroll is one of them. I think that the payroll we have out here and the players we have out here... we’re doing our jobs.”
Looking to the future, Sternberg is open about his view of the team that will be taking the field in the proposed new Ybor stadium. “Any of the players who were here last year who are not here this year would almost definitely have not been here when the new ballpark was opening, anyhow.” He named players like the departed Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, and Corey Dickerson among those who he would have gladly taken along if the park were to open in the 2018 season, but said it was the minor leaguers practicing behind him who represented the future of the team.
He thinks the new stadium will pave the way for the Rays going forward. Sternberg said he’d love to compete with the big teams in baseball “as we do on the field, but also with the checkbook.” He knows the Rays are the low guys on the spending totem, but also believes the team does good work every season with what they’re given. “When we get our new ballpark, those monies go back into the ball club, as every nickle has gone into the ball club to this point in time.”
Given the opportunity to predict how many wins the Rays would collect in the 2018 campaign, he said, “More than you think.” As the collected media chuckled, he was asked if he could be “more vague” to which he replied, “Whatever it is anyone in this group here is thinking, it’s more. I’m a high man.”
Ultimately, his outlook for the year is an optimistic one, but he’s not here to make bold predictions. He doesn’t like that the Rays get sold short on a regular basis, adamantly reminding the group that the team was in as good a shape as it has ever been. But baseball is a hard game to predict, and Sternberg knows it, summing up his feelings by saying “Baseball happens.” He then went on to add, “I wouldn’t trade [this system] for any other system in all of baseball... someone said we have 26 kids in our top 20.”
If you think Sternberg is worried about the Rays, he’s not. “I love our team on the field, I love what we’ve done, and I am incredibly excited [about] what’s to come for this organization.”