ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays, A’s and Pirates, the little trains that think they can, each bowed out of the postseason last week, meaning a low-revenue, low-payroll team will not crash the World Series party.
Of those three, the Pirates at $66.8 million, had the highest payroll according to Baseball Prospectus’ Cot’s Baseball Contracts. The Rays and A’s both checked in at $61.9 million.
That leaves the Cardinals ($116.7 million) with the lowest payroll among the contenders — Dodgers ($216 million), Red Sox ($154 million) and Tigers ($148 million).
This further fuels the argument that you have to spend to advance in the postseason.
The Tigers supported that claim by winning Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland behind the power of Miguel Cabrera ($21 million in 2013) and the pitching of Justin Verlander ($20 million).
Giving hope to the low-revenue clubs is the 2008 Rays, who reached the World Series with a $43.7 million payroll. Along the way, they toppled the defending World Series champion Red Sox ($133 million) in the ALCS.
The World Series that year was won by the Phillies ($98 million), one of two teams since 2007 to win it all with a payroll less than $100 million. The other was the 2010 Giants ($96 million).
So, what does this mean?
Nothing, if you play for the Rays.
Owner Stuart Sternberg sticks by his yearly goal of playing meaningful games in September. He said before the wild-card game in Cleveland that he would have considered the season a success had the Rays lost to the Blue Jays on the final Sunday of the regular season and not reached the playoffs.
Sternberg said that because he knows how tough it is for an AL East team to reach the postseason.
But executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman tries to piece together a team each offseason that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big spenders every day of the season except paydays.
“I’m pretty sure they will bring some guys to help us to accomplish that next year,” pitcher Joel Peralta said.
That’s why Friedman won’t rule out the possibility of bringing staff ace David Price back for another season. The rotation, as talented as it will be with likes of Matt Moore and Co., will be more talented if it still includes Price.
The players have long stopped worrying about the discrepancies in payroll.
Outfielder Sam Fuld said the goal is to be one of the five teams to reach the playoffs.
“Then you assume that if you’re good enough to get in the playoffs, you can go all the way,” he said.
The Rays have been bounced in the AL division series during their past three postseason trips.
Second baseman Ben Zobrist, while cleaning out his locker Wednesday, was asked what it will take for the Rays to take that next postseason step.
“I don’t know. That’s the short answer,” he said. “We can talk all day about if this would have been different and that would have been different, but I think when it came down to it, it’s about executing in the postseason. Getting to the postseason is really hard, just to get there. That’s about trying to be as consistent as possible through the course of 162 games. But then once you get in the postseason, it’s anybody’s game. If we were to get hot, then we could just as likely be moving on.”
The Rays know they were outplayed by the Red Sox in the ALDS. Afterward, manager Joe Maddon finally admitted that his team might have felt some fatigue from playing three elimination games in four days before reaching Boston for Game 1.
One part in taking the next postseason step, Zobrist said, is to win the division and gain homefield advantage at least in the first round of the playoffs.
“Seeing the potential in our team and believing we’re much better than where the season ended up, yeah, it’s frustrating,” Zobrist said. “We really thought that we could have virtually switched places with the Red Sox, not only in the playoffs but in the regular season, with the way things went.”
Life without DP
Pitcher Alex Cobb called the thought of Price pitching elsewhere in 2014 a “sad” one.
Price has made 152 starts and won 71 games since joining the Rays full time in 2009. He is the leader of the staff, replacing James Shields, who was dealt in December to Kansas City in the trade that brought four prospects, including right fielder Wil Myers, to Tampa Bay.
When asked if the Rays had enough arms among the pool of starting pitchers to replace Price, Cobb said, “You’re not going to fill that, just like you couldn’t fill James when he left. You’re taking a huge chunk out of this rotation. Nobody can replace the Cy Young. We’ll have to make do with what we have, but, no, he’ll never be replaced.”