Sternberg Talks Payroll, Future Of Team In Tampa Bay

SAN DIEGO (WDAE) — The future of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise isn't the only thing up in the air when you speak with Stuart Sternberg.

The Rays principal owner loves to talk in hypotheticals, as he did for close to an hour Tuesday at baseball's Winter Meetings in San Diego, discussing a number of topics ranging from the recent trade of Tommy Pham to the Padres to the split-city plan now in motion for the start of 2028.

On making the difficult decision to move Pham to the National League West for outfielder Hunter Renfroe and minor-league prospect Xavier Edwards along with a player to be named later:

"Clearly the deal we just made with Tommy Pham was an eye to the future. It remains to be seen if it’ll work out presently, but it’s hard to imagine us, with that trade, being a better team in 2020. There aren’t many Tommy Pham’s walking through the doors. The reason we were able to make a deal that worked for us was because a guy like him was very much in demand and because of that, our DNA is about doing things that are going to keep us in a good position, which we currently are, but also making us demonstrative better moving forward, and that has been, for better or worse, our secret for a decade-long history of pretty good successes. Obviously most of the teams in baseball spent more than us last year and very few had as much success. Trading Tommy Pham is a very difficult decision. But now we have plans in place and things we’ll try and do and I think we’ll try and execute."

But even with the trade of Pham, who is projected to make just south of $9 million, Sternberg says he is anticipating to spend more than the $65 million spent in 2019 because sticking with the status quo normally means you end up taking a step back.

"We’ve learned that standing pat isn’t necessarily an ideal way to operate and when you have success you’re more opt to stand pat and when you have a bad situation, you’re more apt to blow stuff up. Neither are good scenarios."

The Rays owner pointed to the 2009 season, when after coming off a trip to the World Series, he stood firm with the roster he had, adding just one right-handed bat in the offseason (Pat Burrell) and watching his team go from a franchise record 97 wins the year before to just 84 victories.

As for where the team will play in 2028 when the use agreement is up at Tropicana Field, Sternberg remains optimistic that the split-season between the Tampa Bay region and the city of Montreal is the right path.

"Most people we've spoken to in a one-on-one or a small gathering and things like that get what we're trying to do and can see the benefits of it. While St. Petersburg would love to have a full-time team, Montreal would love to have a full-time team, there are no shortages of cities that would love to have a full-time team. What we're getting so far is the people in Montreal see as we've described it, the benefits of having a part-time team. It's both an identity. They've lost baseball. They know what it means to have lost baseball. They know what it means to get baseball back. Being able to do it and have the benefits of a shorter schedule. Most places to try to sell 81 games and ask people to show up, unless it's one of the top 10 cities in the country, it hasn't happened to this point in St. Petersburg, it didn't happen in Montreal. I envision a time where with a partial season in Tampa Bay, where we're consistently drawing 25,000-plus, and a partial season in Montreal, where we're consistently drawing 25,000-plus."

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