The Tampa Bay Rays will have a record payroll in 2014 of around $80 million.
As the Rays have proven over the past six seasons, teams can win without spending over-the-top dollars on free agents and top-tier talent. Even with the record salaries, the Rays still have the fourth-lowest payroll in baseball.
In order for the Rays to accomplish their goal of a fifth postseason appearance in seven seasons, they will have to overcome divisional opponents with much deeper pockets. Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune described the financial competition they are up against in a recent article:
They will compete for a playoff spot in the unforgiving AL East, home to the free-spending New York Yankees ($200 million payroll) and Boston Red Sox ($150 million). The Red Sox who just happen to be the defending World Series champions. Baltimore ($102 million) opened its checkbook this season. Toronto ($127 million) did so last year only to see the season blow up because of injuries and poor pitching, but the Blue Jays still have a dangerous lineup.
Helping the Rays compete will be a roster that could turn out to be the best in franchise history.
David Price, James Loney and David DeJesus were critical players to retain for the 2014 season.
It is a big deal when the Rays retain any of their critical pieces. Typically, the offseason is a time of player departure and fans' jerseys turning into instant throwbacks.
This offseason was different.
Instead of the Rays trading away a top-of-the-rotation starter like James Shields or losing a great defender like B.J. Upton, they are bringing back their players. In addition to the retention, relievers Heath Bell and Grant Balfour were added to complete what should be one of the best bullpens in baseball.
Matthew Pouliot from NBC Sports also noted some of the offensive improvements the Rays made this offseason:
Instead of the typical rummaging through the bargain bin, the Rays did ante up and retain both James Loney and David DeJesus. They also added a pretty good on-base guy in Ryan Hanigan to replace Jose Lobaton and perhaps cut into a little of Jose Molina‘s playing time behind the plate and a mini-Ben Zobrist in the form of Logan Forsythe, who can play all over the place while offering intriguing pop.
There is certainly a lot to be optimistic for when a team wins 92 games and returns its core players and add some improvements to areas of weakness during the offseason.