Rays' payroll cut in 2011 perfectly healthy

Is it disheartening for people in the Rays organization to read, just as spring training begins, that the payroll will drop significantly in 2011?

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg was a guest Monday night on the Rays weekly Hot Stove Show (WDAE 620 am) and told hosts Andy Freed and Dave Wills that Rays fans can expect a reduced payroll after this season.

“It won’t be [$]70 [million] and it won’t be 60 [million],” he said.

The payroll is around $72 million for 2010 and includes huge contracts for Carl Crawford ($10 million), Carlos Pena ($10.125) and newly signed closer Rafael Soriano ($7.25).

“We did out-spend ourselves last year and completely out-spent ourselves this year, and we’ll feel the effects of that next year,” Sternberg said.

A lot can change between now and next winter; if the Rays qualify for the postseason, all bets are off. But dropping below $60 million would be far from disastrous, given the current composition of the roster. At the moment, only four players account for half the Rays' payroll:

Pena -- $10 million

Crawford -- $10 million

Pat Burrell -- $9 million

Soriano -- $7.25 million

That's roughly $36 million coming off the books at the end of this season, assuming that nobody's traded.

Obviously, the Rays could say goodbye to Pena, Burrell, and Soriano, and have enough payroll space to re-sign Crawford.

Not that I would necessarily advise such a thing. It's probably going to take at least $15 million per annum to lock up Crawford, and I don't think it's smart for a club to devote something like 25 percent of its payroll to one player. And in this case, the Rays have a replacement for Crawford waiting in the wings: 23-year-old Desmond Jennings, who needs just a bit more Triple-A seasoning.

Either way, dropping the payroll below $60 million won't mean Draconian cuts; for the most part it'll be healthy attrition, with neither Burrell nor Crawford nor Soriano really deserving the sort of raises it would take to keep them on the roster (especially Burrell and Soriano).

There will be some questions to answer next winter. Who's going to play first base in 2011? Who's going to hit, designatedly? But between Sean Rodriguez and that newfound $36 million, I suspect they'll figure something out.