Guest Posting: How Tampa Will Reload

What makes the Rays draft unique is that they are likely to break the record for signing bonuses doled out with just those twelve picks alone. Never mind the remaining 47 picks from rounds 4 through 50.

Between 2008 and 2010, Tampa Bay had 11 top 100 picks, of which they signed only 9. In 2009, they did not sign either of the two picks they had in the top 100, and they still managed to drop over $4 million on draft bonuses. They are not afraid to spend on the draft to acquire talent. And that should frighten us all.

The record for draft bonuses doled belongs to the Nationals, set last year, breaking their record from the year before. Baseball America has the numbers for the last three seasons. I’m drawing data from them for slot numbers and what the Rays have averaged spending over slot in the top 100 in the last three seasons.

Pick | 2010 Slot | 2010 Actual | Team
24 $1,242,000   . $1,450,000 Giants
31 $972,000 $1,025,000 Rays
32 $954,000 $954,000 Yankees
38 $858,600 $600,000 Blue Jays
41 $815,400 $815,400 Blue Jays
42 $802,800 $845,000 Rays
51 $694,800 $1,000,000 Nationals
55 $653,400 $1,200,000 Indians
58 $624,600 $655,830 Astros
59 $614,700 $614,700 Padres
75 $485,100 $625,000 Cardinals
88 $398,700 $395,000 Diamondbacks   .

Last year teams went 11.7% over slot to sign the 12 picks that the Rays control, and spent over $10 million. But we can better predict the Rays behavior if we look at what they have done before.

Year | Pick | Slot | Actual
2010 17 $1,467,000 $1,620,000
2010 31 $972,000 1,025,000
2010 42 $802,800 $845,000
2010 66 $555,000 $555,000
2010 79 $457,200 $457,200
2010 98 $341,100 $341,100
2009 30 $1,089,000    . Did Not Sign  .
2009 78 $463,500 Did Not Sign
2008 1 $4,000,000 $6,150,000
2008 47 $809,000 $728,100
2008 78 $515,000 $515,000

2009 is an obvious outlier, they signed neither of their picks. 2008 reflects the opposite type of outlier, the large over slot bonus for Tim Beckham makes it difficult for a point of comparison. But we can observe a pattern of behavior, when going over slot a premier talent, the Rays are apt to stay near slot for the rest of their picks. That leaves just 2010 as a basis of comparison. They went 5.4% over slot in 2010, but they also ran their highest big league payroll in club history (per Cot’s). That clearly restricted their willingness to spend freely in the draft.

They are expected to shed $30 million from last year’s payroll, which will give them greater flexibility to sign picks. As a result, I expect them to be closer to the league average 26.7% over slot from the last three years. Using that number and the 2010 slot values, the Rays can be expected to spend approximately $11.5 million on those 12 picks and easily blow through the Nats record. But what kind of talent will they land.

Pick | Top Player | Career WAR | Team | Year
24 Alex Fernandez 27.3 Brewers 1988
31 Greg Maddux 96.9 Cubs 1984
32 Dave Magadan 22.2 Mets 1983
38 David Wright 31.1 Mets 2001
41 Fred Lynn 47.3 Red Sox 1973
42 Dennis Leonard . 24.0 Royals 1972
51 Barry Larkin 68.9 Reds 1982
55 Bert Blyleven 87.6 Twins 1969
58 Tony Gwynn 68.4 Padres 1981
59 Roger McDowell 10.5 Mets 1982
75 Grady Sizemore 27.9 Expos 2000
88 Kirk McCaskill 12.6 Angels 1982

I don’t expect them to get three Hall of Famers this June. The 2011 draft is expected to be quite deep, and afford Tampa Bay an opportunity to reload. We have reason to remain wary of the Rays.

Joe Tetreault blogs about the confluence of Business and Sports as Managing Editor of the Business of Sports Network and its flagship site, The Biz of Baseball and on more far flung topics over at TetreaultVision. Feel free to follow him on Twitter.

About @Jason_IIATMS

IIATMS overlord and founder. ESPN contributor. Purveyor of luscious reality.

17 thoughts on “Guest Posting: How Tampa Will Reload

  1. A minor correction I need to make. I forgot that Larkin didn't make it this year. Maddux is a definite HoFer and Larkin should be too. So that's four taken with these particular set of draft picks.

  2. Joe, welcome to IIATMS. I have long admired your posts on I hope you make it a habit to post over here as well.

    For a NYY site, we spend a LOT of time talking about the Rays. Your boss over at BizofBaseball called the Rays a "shining example" of what can come out of baseball's revenue sharing system, so I examined the Rays here:,, and We've also looked at the future of the Rays here:,, and, In hindsight, it's remarkable how much time we've spent here talking about the Rays. We don't talk nearly as much about how the Red Sox built THEIR team, perhaps because we know first-hand how evil empires operate!

    Yep, the Rays have a lot of picks in the upcoming draft, but their first pick is pick #24, and that marks a big difference from how the Rays grew the 2008-10 version of their team. The 2008-10 Rays featured a number of early first round draft picks: B.J. Upton (second overall pick), Evan Longoria (third overall pick), David Price (first overall pick) and Jeff Neimann (fourth overall pick). There were also early first round picks used to make trades (Delmon Young: first overall pick).

    Sure, there are (or were) Rays who were taken in the neighborhood where the Rays will draft in 2011. Carl Crawford and Reid Brignac were second round picks. Wade Davis was a third round pick. Jeremy Hellickson was a fourth round pick. But the haul of Upton, Longoria, Price, Neimann and Young is remarkable. It takes a really awful team with a really great front office to amass all of those top picks and select such good players. In any event, this is how the 2008 Rays were built: primarily through the amateur draft, and principally there through players picked at the very top of the draft.

    Obviously, this is not a sure way to build a winning ballclub, or else the Pirates and Royals would also be winning ballclubs by now (yes, we've heard about the Royals farm system, so maybe it will just take the Royals longer to succeed with this strategy). Problem is, once the Rays started to win, their position fell in the draft. In 2011, the Rays will try to make up in quantity for what will probably be lower quality players than the ones they could choose routinely 5-10 years ago.

    Ultimately, the Rays might not succeed even if they can continue to bring in quality young ballplayers with later picks in the draft. The Rays need to be able to hold onto these young players long enough to reap the benefits, as they did between 2008 and 2010. So it must make the Rays SICK to see a guy like Joey Votto pull in $11 million a year in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The Rays cannot afford many contracts like Votto's, and they are not going to be able to build a winning team primarily around players who are not yet arbitration-eligible.

    Ultimately, IIATMS. The Rays are going to have a difficult time trying to compete against the financial clout of the Yankees and Red Sox, regardless of how many players they're able to draft

    • If Tampa Bay honestly can't afford to spend like Cincinnati over the long term, then the bottom line is that something drastic will have to change there.

      • Brien, this is not a knock on the Rays' fans. But last year, the Reds outdrew the Rays by about 2,700 fans a home game. Even in 2008, when the Rays went to the World Series and the Reds finished 23.5 games behind the Cubs, the Reds outdrew the Rays by over 3,000 a home game. Forbes shows Cincinnati outearning Tampa Bay by about $10 million in revenues.

        Tampa is the larger metropolitan area, by about 2.7 million to 2.2 million (larger TV market, too), so they certainly have the potential to earn (and spend) like Cincinnati. But it hasn't worked out that way yet.

        Cincy's been spending about $75 million a year on payroll, and that's likely to increase in 2011: Cincy already has about $62 million committed to 14 players in 2011 and that does NOT include Votto. Tampa's announced payroll budget for 2011 is around $50 million.

        By the way, I don't know whether the Reds can afford any more Votto-like contracts either.

        • In addition to stadium quality and location, Larry, don't forget that Florida has fared worse than any other state during the economic crisis. IIRC, even the 10-6 Bucaneers didn't sell out all of their home games this season.

          • Yes, JE. Mark at (SweetSpot blogger and good friend to this site) has repeatedly reminded me of this. And as I stated, the Rays DO get good TV ratings. So there may be positive things ahead for the Rays financially. But at the moment, the Rays are near the bottom in terms of team revenue and there are severe limits on how much payroll they can take on.

      • Brien, nothing drastic will change over at Rays' headquarters. The Rays will try to build a winning team through the amateur draft, same as always. If they succeed (and the odds are against them), then they'll try to hold the team together for as long as they can afford to do so. When they can no longer afford to keep the team together, then massive pieces of the team will fall away in free agency in exchange for draft picks, and the Rays will start all over again. The only change I see is with contracts like Votto's, which means that top players entering arbitration can command $10 million or more a year … meaning that the Rays will have to let young players go even earlier.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Larry. It's too soon to tell what the Rays will reap. I completely agree that it comes down to possessing the financial wherewithal to retain their young talent. An analogue that seems to fit are the Athletics clubs when Beane was still revered as a super genius. When the talent became too pricey, they folded and are only now showing signs of recovery.

      Still as much as IIATMS, the Rays wisely turned down extending Crawford. Especially with Desmond Jennings in the wings. Deal Kazmir in 2009 because you have Wade Davis in the wings. Dish Garza because Hellickson is ready. They are managing the decline with the last group of reinforcements from those high draft position days. If Reid Brignac has a big year in 2011 or 2012, he'll be dealt to make room for Beckham, and so forth. Is Friedman a better minor league talent evaluator than Beane has been? No way to tell, yet.

      Their primary hope is to maintain a steady talent flow, unless they get a better stadium deal (Irony alert, remember when the White Sox and Giants were threatening to relocate to Tampa Bay and play in the Trop?) they will incessantly face this challenge. And if they can't get better than three years of contention with the best possible draft talent, they will likely never get a new stadium deal. As it stands, I figure them to be the next Nationals and sent to Portland, OR, or Charlotte, NC, at the behest of MLB.

      How they draft this year will tell us more about whether they are regrouping or surrendering. I think it is the former. But I can't wait to see.

  3. To be fair, rather than look just at the best players taken with each pick, shouldn't we look at "best, worst, typical"? I don't care how good the Rays are in drafting and developing, they are not going to get anywhere near that idealized lineup.

  4. Three days ago, I looked at pretty much the same topic, but also focused on what it would have cost for a team to have signed the most expensive players in last year's draft (with the same slots as the Rays). The link is, but if the Rays really go for the best talent, the price tag could actually be $20 million for just the first nine picks.

  5. One more note…where do you get the 10th pick in the first round from? The pieces keep moving, but I think the slots they currently have are 24 (BOS-Crawford), 31 (NYY-Soriano), 32 (Own), 38 (Supp-Crawford), 41 (Supp-Soriano), 42 (Supp-Balfour), 52 (Supp-Benoit), 56 (Supp-Choate), 59 (Supp-Hawpe).