Could a Forced Payroll Ruin the Competitive Rays?

You know Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Rays President Matt Silverman and Vice-President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman are anxiously awaiting the end to the 2011 post season. Possibly even before the fizzle leaves the last champagne bottle, and the last tinsel of ticker tape hits the pavement, there could be an announcement by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig about baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Unlike the NFL and NBA, MLB and the MLBPA have been working themselves into a fever trying to get their own deal finalize, in place and ready to implement as soon as the curtain is drawn on the 2011 Fall Classic. For some clubs around the MLB, this upcoming announcement could be met with both joy and sadness as elements of the overall agreement are opened to the public. Some teams could face hardships, other revisions of their anointed Winter of 2011 scenarios, but all will eagerly be awaiting the final draft of the document.

Even with all this positive energy surrounding some of the preliminary items already leaked to the public, there could be a potential dark side to the new CBA, one that could instantly help or hinder the Rays 2012 season blueprint. Potentially there have been talk of a minimal salary or “competitive balance” ceiling that every club will have to maintain within the season, possibly setting into motion 180 degree changes or implementations of a different roster formulation.

Not only will some of the smaller market clubs feel some pain, but it could stifle the first few weeks of free agency as teams readjust their expectations, circumvent their initial plans in place, and possibly even abandon some potential deals currently in the works behind the scenes.

Ever since MLB Commissioner Bud Selig spanked the Florida/Miami Marlins both verbally and in writing for their blatant funneling of luxury tax funds from the upper echelon MLB teams, there have been more than whispers about a reverse luxury tax, possibly taking money from clubs that do not do their due diligence to stay competitive or hide the money for another rainy payroll day. Teams like the Marlins, Rays, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates fit this bill with payroll all coming in under $ 60 million dollars.

Amazingly the Marlins  led that small segment of the lower echelon of the MLB salary ladder with over $ 57 million in player salaries, while the Rays ($ 42.1 million) and Pirates ($ 42.04 million) were not the bargain basement dwellers when it comes to their club’s 2011 payroll. That honor ( if you call it that) went to the Royals who had a 2011 club payroll of just under $ 40 million.

Interesting enough, the Chicago Cubs ($ 134 million), Los Angeles Angels ($ 141.7 million), New York Mets ($142.7 million), Boston Red Sox ($163.8 million), Philadelphia Phillies ($165.9 million), and of course the New York Yankees ($ 207 million) all had the payrolls and revenues to have individually paid the salaries of all 3 of the MLB’s bottom 3 all by themselves. Some say that with the new CBA there will be a salary revolution, and teams from Tampa Bay north to Cleveland and west to San Diego will feel the fiscal vibrations first.

Winter payroll prep and roster plans are already formulated and signed, sealed and delivered for most of the MLB, but for clubs near the bottom of the fiscal food chain, the CBA announcement could be their blessing or curse for their preconceived forecasts for their roster makeup for the Spring of 2012.

If MLB does impose a mandatory $65 million dollar payroll bottom end for their franchises, this could both hurt or help the Rays. It would force a rethinking of the overall progress of the franchise as they reload as a competitive unit. With a slew of rookies and second years players possibly dotting the roster again in 2012, their collective salaries would be minimal compared to the high dollar salary of wily veterans or potential free agents. Sternberg has hinted in previous interviews that the low intake of revenues by the Rays during the 2011 season would be felt in the team’s player personnel makeup.

If MLB mandates a set bottom for payroll for the Rays would it help the likes of Johnny Damon or Casey Kotchman in getting a longer tenure with the Rays, or could it open avenues for the Rays to circumvent the system a hair and offer long-term deals to David Price, Matt Joyce and possibly B J Upton to put their 2012 mandated dollars to work without a huge influx of new personnel or expectations? If the Rays did fund a payroll of $65 million, would it have to take funds from other sections of the team like their development and scouting, or possibly from their promotional budget?

When Selig begins to speak at the microphone about the new CBA, the Rays Republic should be eager to read behind the words. MLB is set to transform into a new generation, and teams staying near the bottom rung of the MLB salary ladder could greatly be effected by the new agreement, and it provisions and expectations.

But right now the conversation might seem moot. Trite because the writing is not in front of us, the proverbial pen has not left the paper and things could change dramatically before the final document is sent to the printer. A salary cap might seem like a blessing to some within the Rays Republic to make Sternberg and his crew bring in vital cogs to the Rays machine for 2012, potentially circumventing our own farm system and clogging up the lanes again to the Major Leagues for so many of the Rays budding players.

I hope I am worrying about nothing, that a salary cap will not even be broached and voiced by Selig or the MLBPA. Then again, Selig’s 2012 rants towards the Marlins shows that MLB wants the bottom rung to move up farther away from the ooze of the muck. Problem is, will that cause a baseball evolution or slice into an already streamlined Rays payroll forecast for 2012….I can already hear the darkened clouds rumbling.

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