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Inside The Wheelhouse: Is this the last hurrah for the Tampa Bay Rays?

Stu Sternberg has threatened to cut the Tampa Bay Rays payroll.While 2010 has been an amazing year for the Tampa Bay Rays many skeptics in Baseball from the start of the season considered this to be the last chance for the Rays to be contenders for the World Series trophy. Those skeptics got their concerns answered on Wednesday when Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg spoke to the St. Petersburg Times. The end result was that no matter happens this season, World Series or not, the Tampa Bay Rays will look completely different next season.

The Tampa Bay Rays for years were the bottom feeders of the American League year after year and grabbing up top picks in the MLB draft season after season. Finally all those year of being a bottom feeder caught up to the progression of a Franchise when the Tampa Bay Rays shocked the world in 2008 by winning the American League Championship. They would go onto to lose the 2008 World Series that season to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Despite losing the series the Rays were poised to be in contention in the American League as they had surrounded themselves with young talent that can carry a team very far in Major League Baseball. Tropicana Field was fielded by an All-Star of prospects and top draft picks in the likes of BJ Upton, Evan Longoria and David Price. The sky was the limit for the Tampa Bay Rays.

[adinserter block=”1″]Tampa would not make the playoffs in 2009, coming off of what many people would look at as a potential “World Series hangover.” That the many young talents in Tampa got the taste of the World Series and figured that it would come to them year after year. That wasn’t the case in 2009 and it appeared that it was a growing stage for the young Rays ballclub, one that would humble them to be contenders again in 2010.

As I write this blog the Rays are one of the best teams in Major League Baseball in one of the league’s toughest, if not the toughest Division, the American League East. Barring some monumental collapse in the final week and a half of the season, the Rays are poised to be in the Postseason in 2010. Whether it is an AL East or AL Wild Card berth has yet to be decided at this point.

What has been decided is that no matter what success the Rays see in 2010, this could very well be their “last hurrah.”

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg spoke to the St. Petersburg Times recently about what the landscape of the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays may look like next season: “Unfortunately there’s nothing that can happen between now and April that can change that unless Joe Maddon (Rays manager) hits the lottery and wants to donate it, or I hit the lottery.” When asked what the payroll may look like in 2011 and how much the Rays may have to cut Sternberg told the Times this: “I don’t have a plan in mind what the lower (end) is, I just know it’s going down.”

We could be looking at the next reincarnation of the 1997 Florida Marlins should the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays win the World Series this season. A team that goes from World Series bound to dumping a good portion of their salary next season and not being competitive the following year. Is it a sad state of affairs in Baseball? Yes.

This is something that could have been avoided in great detail if the Tampa Bay fans got behind their great ballclub, something that will very easily drive a player like Carl Crawford to a bigger stage and a bigger wallet. Despite having one of the best records in Major League Baseball the Tampa Bay Rays still rank at the bottom of Major League Baseball in attendance. While some may argue that fan support doesn’t play a role in a teams mindset it has a lot to do with it, home field advantage still doesn’t feel like a home field to the Rays when larger market teams like the Red Sox & Yankees come to town. A lack of support will drive player like Carl Crawford away.

[adinserter block=”2″]Tampa’s payroll for the 2010 season sits at $72 million. Many people believe the Rays will have to cut $15-20 million off their payroll in 2011 putting them in the $50 million payroll stage. They will more then likely say farewell to All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford, who is poised to be the top Free Agent in the 2011 class. They could also say farewell to first baseman Carlos Pena and closer Rafael Soriano unless they take a considerable pay cut next season.

The Rays may also be looking at potential trade suitors to shave off salary in the offseason. Many names that have been instrumental in the success of the Rays in 2010 are being rumored to be dealt in the offseason. Guys that are rumored to be trade bait in the offseason are shortstop Jason Bartlett and pitcher Matt Garza.

On the other side of the coin the Rays do have young talents under contract for a good amount of years. Third baseman Evan Longoria and ace David Price are locked up for a good amount of years in Tampa. While minor league prospect Desmond Jennings is locked up for a multi-year deal as well and should Carl Crawford leave Tampa in the offseason it will be 24-year old Jennings patrolling left field for the Rays in 2011.

As 2010 draws near to a close it will be this storyline that the Rays will have to face throughout their postseason run this October. It is the “last hurrah” for this group of Tampa Bay Rays players to get the job done and win a World Series. The comparisons to the 1997 Florida Marlins are starting to build as this Tampa Bay Rays franchise could look completely different come Opening Day 2011.

Jeff Peck is the producer for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday – Thursday @ 8pm ET/5pm PT at and at @ 2am ET/11pm PT

Jeff also co-hosts “The Still Real to us show” with Eric Gargiulo which can be available at and can be downloaded in the “Real Guy Radio” section of the site..”

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  1. To blame the fans of Tampa Bay is just plain incorrect. The Rays have seen a greater increase in merchandising and tv and radio share than any other team in the league. The attendance problems aren't the result of the fans. They are the result of a stadium in a terrible location that has, when compared to the rest of the league, has less fans within a one hour drive than any. Go ahead, look it up.

    I find it very disrespectful that you are equating an inability to easily attend games to a problem with the fans

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