2011 Contract Issues: Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays face two contractual options after the season:

  • Reliever Dan Wheeler has a $4MM club option with a $1MM buyout.  Wheeler is homer-prone, but he's somehow kept hits off the board in his best years.  He's also struggled against lefties at times.  The Rays may have better ways of spending the $3MM net price.
  • Infielder Willy Aybar has a $2.2MM club option with a $275K buyout.  For the Rays this is a matter of determining what Aybar would otherwise earn as a member of the third-time arbitration class.

The Rays have a huge slate of important free agents, headlined by Carlos Pena, Carl CrawfordPat Burrell, and Rafael SorianoGrant Balfour, Gabe Kapler, and Randy Choate will also be eligible.  The group earns about $40.4MM this year, more than half the Rays' payroll.  If Wheeler departs, $43.4MM will come off the books.

Increases to players under contract check in around $7.9MM, led by Ben Zobrist.  The total increase would reach $8.7MM if Aybar's option is exercised.  The Rays arbitration-eligibles include Andy Sonnanstine as a first-timer and Matt Garza, B.J. Upton, and J.P. Howell as big-name second-timers.  Jason Bartlett and Dioner Navarro would go for a third time, Lance Cormier a fourth.  The Rays may be inclined to lock up Garza.   They could potentially tack on $10MM retaining their key arbitration-eligibles.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said in February payroll will drop back under $60MM next year, from this year's $72.8MM range.  Holding payroll steady would've given the Rays over $20MM to fill vacancies from Crawford, Pena, or Soriano, or retain one or two of them.  Most of that free cash could disappear with a payroll cut, leading the Rays to turn to their deep farm system for the next wave of cheap talent.

Thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for the info.

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