The Rays have the 2nd lowest payroll in baseball in 2011 at $41 million. In 2010, they had a payroll of $74 million or 9th lowest in baseball. After an off-season of cutting almost half their payroll (33 million dollars), and losing many key players in trades and free agency, while the Red Sox made moves to bolster their lineup no one expected the Rays to make it back to the playoffs. Yet, the Rays returned and lost for the second straight season in the ALDS to the Texas Rangers. But how they reached the same point this year was an incredible feat.
The Rays lost Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit, and Randy Choate to free agency. They also traded away staff ace Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett. Replacing nine key contributors to a playoff team is a feat any team would have serious trouble with. The way Tampa Bay went about reloading their team was different than many people would have expected, instead of spending the $33 million they had freed up this offseason they used low cost players from within their organization. Players such as Sam Fuld, Casey Kotchman, Desmond Jennings, Sean Rodriguez, and Jeremy Hellickson stepped up to fill-in the huge holes that were left after 2010. These players made a combined $2.4 million this season, for a combined WAR of 10.8. Also, relatively cheap additions from the free agent market Johnny Damon (1.5 WAR, $5.25 million) and Kyle Farnsworth (.9 WAR, $3.25 million) contributed greatly to their success. Thus, these seven players contributed a total WAR of 13.2 to the 2011 Rays, while the nine players they lost achieved a WAR of only 12.1, for an excessive cost of 58 million dollars. In other words, the players the Rays lost this offseason made $17 million more than their entire payroll this season, yet those players performed much worse than their cheaper replacements.
Many experts thought the Rays would be sellers at the trading deadline with assets like James Shields and BJ Upton rumored to be on the move, for more young talent, but Tampa staid pat and kept these veterans on their way to fight all the way back in the Wild Card race and reach the playoffs on the final day of the season in dramatic fashion. Tampa Bay has built an organization that continues to reload with young talent and cheap undervalued veterans, who seem to leave after one year deals for more money. This formula is how the Rays were able to duplicate a 2010 season in which they won 96 games and had a team WAR of 46.3 and spent $1.6 million per WAR with a 2011, that saw them win 91 games with a team WAR of 45.6 and spend only 946k per WAR.