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Rays are heading to the World Series
Sports Pulse: The. Rays are going to the World Series for the first time since 2008
The Tampa Bay Rays have turned winning on a shoestring budget into an art form, with perhaps their finest effort coming this season.
The Rays had the third-lowest opening day payroll in Major League Baseball this season at just over $28.2 million, according to Spotrac. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles had a lower total.
Yet the Rays finished the regular season with a 40-20 record – the best in the American League – and they validated it with victories over the Toronto Blue Jays ($54.5M), New York Yankees ($109.4M) and Houston Astros ($82.5M) on their way to the second World Series berth in franchise history.
Behind the numbers
So, let’s take a look at how the Rays have put their pennant-winning roster together without breaking the bank.
First of all, this year’s payroll numbers are a little different from other seasons because players were paid their salaries on a prorated basis over 60 games, rather than the usual 162.
That means starting pitcher Charlie Morton – the Rays’ highest-paid player with a salary of $15 million – is being paid roughly $5.56 million this season.
The Rays have to feel like they’ve gotten an exceptional return on their investment after signing Morton to a two-year, $30 million deal before the 2019 season. He’s posted an 18-8 record and 3.33 ERA in two seasons, but has been amazing in the playoffs.
Morton has gone 5-0 in five playoff starts with the Rays, allowing just two earned runs in 25⅔ innings (0.70 ERA) – including his 5⅔ shutout frames Saturday night in Game 7 of the ALCS against Houston.
Morton is one of just two Rays players with annual salaries of $10 million or more this season. The other is center fielder Kevin Kiermaier at $10.16 million.
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The Rays also maintain considerable payroll flexibility with only three players under contract beyond next season. Kiermaier is signed through 2022 (with an option for 2023), left-hander Blake Snell is signed through 2023 and infielder/outfielder Brandon Lowe through 2024 (with two option years).
The Rays didn’t sign any major free agents of Morton’s caliber this past offseason, but did add some key pieces. DH Yoshi Tsutsugo and relievers Aaron Loup and John Curtiss were under-the-radar signings who’ve been part of their playoff roster.
Trades also helped strengthen this Rays squad. They picked up arbitration-eligible outfielders Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe in separate deals with the San Diego Padres. And perhaps most important, they acquired ALCS MVP Randy Arozarena from the St. Louis Cardinals.
Arozarena perhaps typifies the kind of player the Rays have relied on to raise their level of play. He’s among many young players on the roster who don’t have enough major league experience to qualify for arbitration. As a result, they’re all making close to the major league minimum salary.
- Starting 1B Ji-Man Choi
- Starting SS Willy Adames
- Starting 3B Joey Wendle
- OF/DH Austin Meadows
- 1B Yandy Diaz
- IF (and ALDS hero) Mike Brosseau
- LHP Ryan Yarbrough
Plus, bullpen stalwarts Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo
It’s a testament to the creativity and flexibility of general manager Erik Neander and the Rays front office staff that they’ve been able to assemble a winning roster despite the constraints of the Rays’ small-market budget.
Their World Series opponent will have a substantial payroll advantage when the Fall Classic begins on Tuesday. The Los Angeles Dodgers ($107.9 million) ranked second behind the Yankees in total payroll this season, while the Atlanta Braves ($61.2 million) ranked 15th.