No matter what Rays do in playoffs, payroll to be reduced in '11

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Despite dropping their last two games to the New York Yankees this week, the Tampa Bay Rays have been among the best teams in baseball all season long.

Entering Wednesday’s action, only the Yankees, Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies have better records. They have a young, exciting nucleus of players, and the experience of having been to the World Series in 2008.

But despite all of this the Rays average only 23,000 fans per game, ranking 23rd among the 30 teams. The Mariners, Nationals, Brewers and Astros are all among those who draw more fans per game than Tampa Bay.

Because of this, Rays principle owner Stuart Sternberg has some bad news for Rays fans, telling Marc Topkin that payroll will be reduced – potentially significantly – in 2011.

“No question. Nothing can change that,” Sternberg said before Tuesday’s game. “Unfortunately there’s nothing that can happen between now and April that can change that unless Joe Maddon hits the lottery and wants to donate it, or I hit the lottery.”

Sternberg wouldn’t say how low the payroll may go, though he said in spring training it wouldn’t reach even the $60-million range. “I don’t have a plan in mind what the lower (end) is,” he said. “I just know it’s going down.”

The Rays had a franchise record payroll of more than $70 million this season, so a reduction below $60 million is significant. When you consider that Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano will be among those hitting free agency after this season, and Matt Garza and B.J. Upton are arbitration eligible, something will have to give.

It’s a shame, but it’s also tough to blame Sternberg when you have a great team that “can’t come close” to turning a profit because it doesn’t draw flies. Why should he expect to sell more tickets next year? Clearly he doesn’t, and thus Rays fans face the prospect of a dramatically different team next season, no matter what they do this fall.

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Report: Mariners’ Taijuan Walker drawing “strong” trade interest

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 08:  Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker #44 of the Seattle Mariners looks on from the dugout after completing eight innings against the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field on June 8, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY reports that the Mariners have received “strong” trade interest for starter Taijuan Walker. The right-hander is currently on the mend from tendinitis in his right foot.  He’ll throw a bullpen on Friday at Wrigley Field with scouts in attendance.

Walker, 23, has a 3.66 ERA with an 80/18 K/BB ratio in 86 innings this season. It’s his first bit of sustained success at the major league level. What’s arguably just as intriguing is the fact that Walker will be under team control through 2020.

The Mariners have been hovering around .500 for the last month and entered Thursday six games behind the first-place Rangers in the AL West and 4.5 games out of the second AL Wild Card slot, behind three other teams as well as the two Wild Card leaders. It’s enough uncertainty which could push the Mariners to sell.

Report: Mets, Brewers continue discussing Jonathan Lucroy

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 20:  Jonathan Lucroy #20 of the Milwaukee Brewers walks back to the dugout in the eighth inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on July 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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On Monday, we learned that the Mets offered to swap catchers with the Brewers, Travis d'Arnaud for Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers, as expected, turned that down. The two still continue to discuss a trade involving Lucroy, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports.

The Mets certainly could use some help at catcher. The club has gotten an aggregate .608 OPS from their backstops, the fourth-lowest mark in baseball, ahead of only the Pirates, Rays, and Indians. However, the Mets seem to be behind other teams — including a “mystery” team — in the bidding, according to Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball.

Lucroy, who took Thursday off, is batting .300/.361/.486 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI in 371 plate appearances for the Brewers this season. He can become a free agent after the season if his controlling club opts against picking up his $5.25 million option for the 2017 season.