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 Crawford, Pat Burrell, and Rafael Soriano. Grant 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.