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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Brewers no. 1 prospect Keston Hiura named Arizona Fall League MVP

Keston Hiura
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Brewers top prospect Keston Hiura has been named the 2018 Arizona Fall League MVP, per an announcement on Saturday. He’s the first Brewers player to receive the distinction since the award was first handed out in 2002.

Hiura, 22, was selected in the first round of the 2017 draft and has remained at the top of the Brewers’ prospect rankings since then. The second baseman was promoted to Double-A for the first time in June and finished the season with an explosive .293/.357/.464 batting line, 13 home runs, and 15 stolen bases (in 26 chances) across 535 PA for High-A and Double-A. During his time in the AFL, he found even greater success after slashing .323/.371/.563 with five homers and a league-best 33 RBI in 96 at-bats.

Following the award announcements — Rockies corner infielder Tyler Nevin won the AFL batting title, while Pirates shortstop Cole Tucker was designated the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award winner — the Arizona Fall League Championship Game kicked off at 3 PM EST with Hiura batting second and playing second base for the Peoria Javelinas, whose roster is comprised of players from the Braves, Brewers, Padres, Mariners, and Rays.