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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Phillies option Hector Neris to Triple-A

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The Phillies announced that they’ve optioned right-hander Hector Neris to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Nerris, who saved 26 games as the Phillies closer in 2017 and ten games in that role this year, has struggled this year, posting a 6.00 ERA in 30 appearances. While his strikeout and walk rates aren’t too far off what he was doing last year his hit rate has spiked and he’s currently allowing 10.3 safeties per nine. The wheels have come off of late, as he has allowed nine runs on 15 hits — five of them homers — over his last eight innings of work. Yesterday he allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a game the Phillies had led by five.

It was clear that Gabe Kapler had lost faith in Neris as a result, using him almost exclusively in low-leverage situations. That changed on Saturday, as Kapler used him in a save situation and said after the game that they were easing him back into his role. That plan obviously changed after yesterday’s meltdown.

Seranthony Dominguez had been getting the call in save situations. He’ll get them more now.