Despite the dire financial forecast from owner Stuart Sternberg, Rays vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said it will be business as usual this offseason as he and his staff search for parts that can improve a club that won 91 games and reached the playoffs as the American League Wild Card.
Friedman said a hard payroll cap is not an issue.
"Like in years past, it won't be a set number," he said Thursday during a season-ending press conference at Tropicana Field.
The payroll for 2011 was $42 million. Whether it increases or decreases depends on who the Rays sign or trade for this offseason.
"There's going to be a range," Friedman said. "The one thing I'm confident about is we're going to have an extremely talented team."
While Sternberg said revenues were down this season, he also expressed a desire to remain competitive.
When asked before Game 3 of the American League division series if the preseason plan was for the Rays to "go for it" in 2011, Sternberg said, "If I wasn't going for it, I would've spent 22 million dollars."
"I think the one thing we've learned about Stu is things change," Friedman said. "He likes to say markets change, things change. Before we got Rafael Soriano (in 2008) he said there's going to be no $7 million closer coming, five days later there was. I know that he's frustrated, but on the baseball operations side of things we try to insulate ourselves from that. It doesn't do us any good to get caught up in that. We understand and appreciate that our A.L. East brothers spend more than we do. We get that. We operate within that. It's part of our organizational DNA now. … We relish the us against the world mentality and our guys have embraced it, so it makes it even more special to do that in this division."
Friedman's shopping list this winter is considerably shorter than the one he had last offseason that included an entire bullpen and a designated hitter.
This year's list has been whittled to one or two arms for the bullpen, a DH and a first baseman. A catcher who could hit wouldn't hurt, either.
Friedman would like to bring back Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman, but since both are free agents, he's going to have to deal with their agents as well as other teams with deeper pockets.
"Obviously, Johnny and Casey were huge parts of our success both on and off the field," Friedman said, "and so we're just going to have to figure out with the 13 position players, what the ideal mix is."
The idea of dealing from their deep reservoir of starting pitcher to acquire a hitter was floated to Friedman. He said it's possible but not likely.
"Starting pitching depth for us is everything," Friedman said. "For us to have success in this division is tied so directly to our starters and what we've been able to accomplish on that front, because that's the one area that we can't make great decisions under the radar. … We need to have them and we need to have guys that are extremely talented and can get swings and misses in this division, all of which is extremely difficult. We can't ever lose that. If we ever have to go to market for that we're in a lot of trouble."
It can be assumed that pitcher James Shields will be back in 2012 with a contract that calls for $7 million.
B.J. Upton will receive a similar contract once he goes through arbitration. Upton might have priced himself out of Tampa Bay much the way Jason Bartlett did after the 2010 season, or he could remain with the team if Friedman feels the Rays have a better chance to return to the playoffs in 2012 with Upton in center field.
As it is every winter, the goal this offseason is find players who fit in with the Rays style of baseball, which is based heavily on run prevention. There won't be any Soriano or Pat Burrell deals, but Friedman maintains he and his staff can find ways to improve the team.
"We've proven time and time again it's not about the payroll number," Friedman said, "it's about the talent we have."