PORT CHARLOTTE – Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg made his first trip to Charlotte Sports Park on Tuesday and took a few minutes to answer question on the usual topics – payroll, the stadium issue, David Price's future with the organization, and expectations for the 2014 season.
Here is a brief overview:
Sternberg said he expects to talk with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
When? “Soon,” Sternberg said.
“I would expect to be speaking with him,” he added. “He's got a city to run. Spring training has now started. Baseball is on everybody's mind. I found him to be a real pleasant person. I think he will be a great leader for the city. The city, itself, is poised for some tremendous stuff over the next three to seven years, and I think he will be a big part of it, and I'm looking forward to hearing what he's learned over the first few months as well.”
The Rays have a contract to play at Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg until 2027 but have said it was no longer financially feasible to remain there. The city and team have been unable to agree on terms that would allow the Rays to look for a new site in the region.
When asked if he expects any movement this summer on the stalemate, Sternberg said, “It's kind of hard to have expectations. We've been at this for eight years basically, about a new stadium. I'm human in some respects. I'm a little numb to it, but I do think things will be different. Time-wise I can't say. My focus is nurturing and trying to win as many baseball games for our fans.”
Sternberg said in September he expected player payroll to be reduced based on attendance, which was last in the major leagues in 2013. But this season, executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman put together a team that will push the payroll above $80 million – a team record. Sternberg said he didn't envision this scenario heading into the offseason.
“No question, that's very true. I think there's only been one year where I really expected it to go up,” he said. “That was after '10. I just felt like at the end of last year, we had some things that we were still yet to accomplish with this group of guys, and we're trying to do as much as we can to give them an opportunity to succeed.
“I think we were fortunate that we were able to get James (Loney) back to play first base. I wouldn't say that was promising at the end of the year. We just don't necessarily go sign a guy for that kind of money just to spend it, and we clearly didn't anticipate a fellow like (Grant) Balfour being available to us at a price we couldn't afford but at a price that was not unreasonable.”
Manager Joe Maddon said Friday the goal this year is to win the World Series. On that subject, Sternberg said: “As I sit here today in February, I want to be playing — as I will tell you my goal every year, and I don't anticipate that changing at any point — is to be playing important games into September. Now if we get to the end of August, you can ask me that question again. And I would like to be able to give you a different answer.”
DAVID PRICE'S FUTURE
The Rays did not trade the left-handed ace this winter despite heavy rumors that they would. Instead, the signed Price to a one-year, $14 million deal.
When asked if they could keep Price after the 2015 season, when he would enter free agency, Sternberg said, “I wouldn't say it's likely his last year, as I said before we've kept a number of free agents and stars — high-paid guys — right through the end. So winning still trumps all.”
In assessing Price long-term, Sternberg said the pitcher is “unique, talented. I won't say one of a kind, but David is like one of a handful. You just can't make decisions like that this far in advance, and were trying to give the team as big of a chance as we can this year without sacrificing our future as well.
“There's the opportunity of other players, there's the expense that's involved in it, but were still a little bit, I don't want to say blinded, but a little enamored with the possibilities of what we can do, and what he brings.
“We saw it last year. The difference of having him in a playoff game last year, he pitched his heart out (in Game 163 against Texas) and just shut down the other team, and knowing he was there because of that gauntlet we had to run through at the end of the season and into the postseason.
“We'll see. It's more difficult now than it was in the past given the numbers, there's been inflation.”