ST. PETERSBURG — Being a Rays fan often carries a heavy price.
This afternoon, when the Rays close out a three-game series against Detroit, the hometown fans will be reminded of that cost as David Price takes the mound for the visiting team three weeks to the day he was traded by the Rays.
Price became the fourth top-end pitcher the Rays dealt since 2009, joining Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and James Shields as a trade target when his projected salary ballooned to heights the team deemed too expensive.
The club says that's just how it has to go about its business, doing things the Rays' way while trying to compete on a small-market budget.
For some fans of the team, seeing another popular and talented player traded away in the name of saving high-priced salary has become the expected.
“It's common knowledge that we don't have the payroll and we are not going to have the payroll unless for some reason MLB starts handing out Lotto tickets,'' said Davis Williams, a partial season-ticket holder at Tropicana Field. “And unless the big guys are going to take a hometown discount ... they are not going to stick around.''
That was the case with outfielder Carl Crawford, a catalyst for the Rays' surge to the top of the standings who became too expensive for Tampa Bay to re-sign. Crawford bolted for Boston as a free agent, signing a seven-year, $142 million contract following the 2010 season.
Two year later, the same happened with outfielder B.J. Upton, who left as a free agent and signed a five-year, $75 million contract with Atlanta.
“Because we are a small-market team, our payroll is not like other teams, so I just don't get attached to players because of the past,'' said Scott Campbell, a Tampa native who attends 10-20 games per season when he's not attending classes at Florida State University.
“There are some people who may say they don't like how they do business, they don't like how they treat the players. But I know how it goes. I know we are a small-market team and that's how we do business.''
The Rays have gotten some players to stick around by signing them to long-term deals at a young age, such as third baseman Evan Longoria and pitchers Matt Moore and Chris Archer. The team, led by vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, is banking on those players to blossom into high-end talent for a somewhat reduced price.
Those who did not sign long-term deals are often traded away near the end of their contracts in return for young prospects to retool what has been one of the more consistent farm systems in baseball in recent years. That's a big part of how the Rays have remain one of the more consistent teams in the majors since 2008.
“I root for the team,'' Williams said. “I put my faith in Friedman and the guys to do what is best for the team.”
But that doesn't mean losing Price — and seeing him return to face his old team so quickly after the trade — was any easier to accept.
“There is a rational part of me that understands it and accepts it, but I will not leave this team because of it and will not be less of a fan because of it,'' said Annette Baesel, a St. Petersburg resident who has purchased full season upper level tickets for the past five years. “But I have to tell you, it really hurt nonetheless.''