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Tampa Bay Rays Rebuild: How much money are the Rays saving?

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So you want to talk cheddar

MLB: Winter Meetings Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Quite possibly THE biggest criticism being thrown around after the tirade of trades the Rays have managed lately, aside from the timing (which wasn’t entirely under their control), is money.

Rays ownership has been called cheap, they’ve been accused of taking the money from MLB transfers and pocketing it instead of re-investing in the players, and much much worse.

Some in the media, truthfully, are going overboard.

If you search long enough on Twitter, there’s very little in the way of positives reference these deals, unless you read the thought provoking work Darby Robinson wrote or read Fangraphs writers, such as Jeff Sullivan, and their thoughts on the trades.

I do not mean to re-litigate what has already been written, but it’s important level setting.

Although they cut deeper than some of us would have thought, most of these moves are not a surprise (aside from the Longoria trade) — they simply happened sooner than some predicted.

With these things in mind, looking over who is left on the 2018 roster, something dawned on me: Yes, each deal is very much about money, but the greatest impact it has is on 2019’s budget, not 2018’s.

So Rays fans, writers, and analysts want to talk Cheddar

If the majority of the fans out there want to take things out on Rays ownership, I’d ask them first to have a thorough read through JT Morgan’s piece and think it over after you’ve read it.

Good to go? Alright, so with his effective and thorough breakdown of what costs the Rays have assumed and the fact that they’re set to continue spending a normal amount of their revenues in 2018, let’s take a closer look at the players budget for 2018 and 2019.

Knowing what we know now, the following traded players, had they been kept, would have cost the Rays the following in 2019 (approximate values in brackets, using low end of increases):

That would add up to a total of over $35M, which in of itself covers close to half the budget the Rays have maintained in recent years. The extra cost for each player not only means an increased cost to the Rays, but it can also be assumed that it drives down each player’s trade value, making it harder to move them due to both increased cost and one year less of control.

Simultaneously, the Rays would be asked to pay raises to six arbitration players other than those listed above, including,

  • Brad Miller (Arb 3, $4.5M in 2017)
  • Dan Jennings (Arb 4, $2.375M in 2017)
  • Matt Duffy (Arb 2, $930K in 2017)
  • Jesus Sucre (Arb 3, $925K in 2017)
  • Matt Andriese (Arb 1)
  • Chaz Roe (Arb 1)

Total would be a significant raise on the $10.475M these six players are being paid in 2018. The point being that with only 10 players considered, the Rays would already be looking at close to $50M spent and would still have to fill pay another 15 players on the 25-man roster.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Tampa Bay Rays
Chaz Roe
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Rays can let some of those Arb cases go to make the budget work, but all-in-all, this would have the Rays beginning the season with little-to-no manoeuvring room to add players and could help the team reach new heights in a tough AL East. And if they held onto these players, they would have become far less valuable in trade than they were this offseason.

Instead

Instead of hanging onto these players, the front office took the initiative, and we get to go through this barrage of trades and wind up with the following situation overall:

  • Rays committed to total of $21M in 2019 if Denard Span’s option isn’t picked up, $30M if it is.
  • There are now seven players going through arb process (C.J. Cron added, $2.3M in 2017, Arb 2), so Arb total can be predicted to be a raise over the $12.775M they’ll earn in 2018.
  • That makes the total owed before considering free agent additions, $33.775M plus Arb raises.

If accurate and approximately $42M is owed to player budget commitments in 2019, this scenario - which is now a reality - allows the Rays to spend significant money on polishing off the roster in the best way they see fit.

And all of this doesn’t include the reduced costs that will come from having so many high end prospects may their way to The Show, something that should - in theory - help fill many positions.

Assuming that they’re willing to kick things off in 2019 with $77M in commitments - the same amount they’re kicking off with this year, that allows them to add $35M worth of player commitments COMPLETELY due to the players they traded. Without those trades, there’s no money to add anyone else at this point.

And that would have remained so until. . . .

New TV Deal

We just recently had news of a new TV deal being worked on that could bring a total of $82M to the Rays budget annually.

Talk about being in an interesting position.

Not only have the Rays cut costs significantly for 2019, but now they may also be adding a very significant amount of money to the budget. Combined, these positive budget influences would actually allow the Rays to be significant players on the free agent market.

Wait, did we say significant players on the free agents market?

Doesn’t seem right if you’re a Rays fan, but it would be the case with upwards of $50M to spend if the TV deal comes in as predicted, adding close to $15M to the $35M for the 2019 season.

Using 2018’s offseason as standard, $50M could afford you J.D. Martinez and more. Although it’s unlikely to happen, the Rays could chase some of the best free agents available, and the extra money available can help out when the unexpected happens, such as:

Will the Rays be in on some of the biggest names? It’s not likely, but it’s no longer impossible - a monumental change for this franchise.

Let’s take a peak ahead though, just for fun, at one example of what they could target.

How money available may be used

The Rays have top prospects and solid players that can allow us to focus on where the Rays could spend that money. From 1B through to LF, the Rays project to be solid - with depth - all around the diamond.

So where’s the biggest need?

Most would point behind the plate, where Wilson Ramos is a pending free agent, leaving Jesus Sucre, Nick Ciuffo, and possibly Brett Sullivan as options so far.

The Rays, with the extra funds available, could target a free agent catcher, such as bringing back Wilson Ramos, or going after someone like Yasmani Grandal.

If they don’t like the best options on the FA market - or if those options don’t like them best, the Rays could also add through trade. Who knows which team may be selling and willing to part with an above-average backstop next offseason?

The possibilities improved significantly with a lighter payload and likely increased revenues.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants
Christian Arroyo
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Result of the Trades and TV Deal

The real point in all of this is the position the Rays find themselves in now that they’ve cleared a whole lot off the books for 2019. No longer shackled by contracts and salaries they were going to struggle to move or afford in 2019, they now have the means to target very specific needs after they’ve seen what many of their top prospects have to offer in 2018.

Better informed, well funded, and able to chase the key pieces, it’s a situation that should leave no excuses for the front office. With their top 5 ranked prospect system ready to sustain help for years to come, the Rays should be able to compete with the best of them in short order.

How short a timeframe depends on many variables - baseball’s funny like that. But I can say this for certain - if the Rays lock down that stadium site in Ybor and build the right roster by 2019, they’re set to take off for a significant amount of time.

And as we all know, winning heals all wounds.