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Rays could increase payroll in World Series pursuit

Mark Parker

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From left: Tampa Bay Rays General Manager Peter Bendix; Erik Neander, president of baseball operations; and Manager Kevin Cash. Photo by Mark Parker.

Tampa Bay Rays officials gathered Monday morning at Tropicana Field to reflect on what Erik Neander, president of baseball operations, called a “highly successful” yet “highly disappointing” season.

Neander, general manager Peter Bendix and manager Kevin Cash also looked ahead to 2024. While the Rays often jettison emerging stars once their success dictates a salary increase, Neander said the team could bring back nearly every player from a group that won 99 games.

“We think that’s what’s best,” Neander said. “Not just for next year, but the years ahead to figure out a way to not be up here after two postseason games.”

Tampa Bay began the season 13-0 with a $73.26 million payroll, third lowest in Major League Baseball. For comparison, the rival New York Yankees paid its players $278.42 million.

Ensuring the 2023 roster remains intact would cause the payroll to balloon beyond typical Rays levels, although it would remain well below their American League East rivals.

“If we returned everyone … you’re into the low $100’s (millions), comfortably,” Neander added. “We’re reasonably confident that if we think that is the best path to winning a World Series, then that will be an option for us.

“We’ll see what the winter brings and how it all plays out. But we’ll have that freedom and flexibility.”

All-Star outfielder Randy Arozarena applauds the Rays faithful after Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. Photo: Tampa Bay Rays.

Star shortstop Wander Franco’s status remains in flux. The phenom is on administrative leave while MLB officials investigate allegations that he had improper relationships with minors.

Bendix said the team would prepare for various outcomes and stressed the importance of roster versatility. Neander declined to comment on reports that Franco could play in the Dominican Professional Baseball League when the season commences Oct. 19.

Cash dispelled rumors that he could succeed Terry Francona as the Cleveland Guardians’ manager. Longtime baseball insider Peter Gammons recently said Cash’s departure is “something people there worry about.”

“I didn’t know that,” Cash said. “I’m very happy here. I’m under contract here and look forward to next year.”

Neander believes 2023 was Cash’s best year as a manager due to the adversity he and the team overcame. In addition to Franco’s dismissal, the Rays lost starting pitchers Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen to injuries by mid-May, and ace Shane McClanahan’s season ended in August.

Just five Tampa Bay players remained active throughout the 162-game season. “In August and September alone, if I had a dollar for every person that said, ‘How in the world is this team competing and winning and doing the things they do,’ I think we’d be able to finance not one stadium, but two,” Neander said.

“There’s so many reasons that this season could have gone sideways … The fact that it not only didn’t but ended up with 99 regular season wins – in this division – speaks highly.”

McClanahan will miss 2024 as he rehabs from an elbow injury. However, the Rays expect Springs and Rasmussen to join playoff starters Tyler Glasnow and Zach Eflin in the rotation around midseason.

Pitcher Shane Baz is ready to play in the spring. Younger players received critical experience, Eflin had a career year and Yandy Diaz became the team’s first batting champ.

Bendix noted that Tampa Bay’s diverse lineup found multiple ways to score, and he plans to continue building the team through athleticism and speed. “I think from a fan’s perspective, at least from my own perspective, the game of baseball this year was a lot of fun,” he said.

“The games were quick, and they were well-paced,” Bendix added. “There was action.”

Neander noted that regular season attendance increased 30% this year. The team also had the best home record in Major League Baseball. “There’s a relationship there,” Neander added.

Rays shortstop Taylor Walls said the fans who did make it to Game 1 of the American League Wild Card series “showed out.” Photo by Mark Parker.

Many people used the team’s historically low postseason attendance to criticize the City of St. Petersburg’s funding agreement for a new ballpark. Neander said that was a complex topic.

“Within baseball operations, we have our own very complex topic,” he said. “Which is how to not be up here after two postseason games. If we can find a way to do our job to the best of our abilities and have things go in the direction we expect them to go – and eventually win a World Series – everything else will take care of itself.”

Despite many positives throughout the 2023 season, the Rays still lost their two Wild Card Series games to the Texas Rangers by a combined 11-1 score. Bendix does not believe there is one formula for postseason success.

“They’re the two most important games of the year; it’s still two games,” he said. “I think that we’ll always continue to evaluate what can we do better. What can we do differently? Our goal is to win the World Series, so those questions are going to exist every year that we don’t …”

 

 

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    John West

    October 9, 2023at3:16 pm

    The Rays are not the only MLB team in this situation. The Mariners are notorious for being in the bottom third of MLB payroll, yet they fail to advance in post season too. Heck, last year was the first time in over 20 years the Mariners made the playoffs. It’s good to see the Rays commit to higher payroll and try to achieve more. There is a terrific foundation of talent, coaches and management. Hopefully, we’ll all see more playoff baseball for years to come!

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