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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Victor Martinez played his final major league game on Saturday

Victor Martinez
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After 16 years in the majors, longtime Tigers DH Victor Martinez capped his career with one final start at Comerica Park. Although there are seven games remaining in the club’s regular season schedule, Martinez said he felt he owed it to the fans to record his final at-bat at home. He’ll still cheer the rest of the team on from the dugout when they hit the road for their last six-game stretch on Monday, though he’s not expected to slot into the lineup at any point during their back-to-back away series against the Twins and Brewers.

In order to commemorate the occasion, the Tigers arranged a pregame ceremony to celebrate the veteran infielder’s seven years with the team, during which they presented him with Topps baseball cards, a recliner, a pair of boots, and a saddle, among other honors. Martinez also put in a special request to play first base, a position he hadn’t manned in over two years.

The 39-year-old didn’t waste a single minute of his final start in the majors. He deftly handled an inning-ending out in the top of the first, then laced a rare infield single to short in his first and final at-bat of the afternoon, beating the throw to first and advancing Nicholas Castellanos to second base in order to set up the Tigers’ first run: a two-out RBI single from Niko Goodrum that brought Castellanos home to score.

“I think that at-bat was the perfect at-bat to describe my career,” Martinez told reporters after the Tigers wrapped a 5-4 win over the Royals. “I had to sweat it out. I had to sweat it out the whole way. I had to grind it. That was my whole career.”

Following the hit — and the standing ovation that greeted it — the switch-hitter was promptly replaced by pinch-runner Ronny Rodriguez, who subbed in at second base in the top of the second while Goodrum shifted from second to first base. Taking Saturday’s performance into account, Martinez polished off his big league career with a lifetime .295/.360/.455 batting line, 423 doubles, 246 home runs, 1,178 RBI, and 28.4 fWAR across 1,973 games and three separate stints for the Indians, Red Sox, and Tigers. His accomplishments at the plate have been decorated with five All-Star nominations, two Silver Slugger Awards, and the designated hitter-exclusive Edgar Martinez Award following a career-best campaign in 2014.