ORLANDO, Florida - At the start of the two-day Major League Baseball (MLB) Owners' Meetings, Rays owner Stu Sternberg says fans should have faith in one of the best-run organizations in baseball.
"We lived far above our means," said Sternberg of the Rays' record payrolls in 2009 and 2010. "But who would have thought we'd win (the pennant) in 2008 with a $44 million payroll?"
"Have faith in us," he continued. "We think we're good helmsman at the ship."
The Rays are coming off a 2010 season where they finished with the league's best record and the American League East title. But team brass has not been shy about the need to reduce payroll in 2011.
Free agent Joaquin Benoit is headed to Detroit and all-stars Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano are likely gone too. Carlos Pena will likely sign elsewhere as well unless he takes a pay cut to stay in Tampa Bay.
Day-to-day operations of the team is usually handled by General Manager Andrew Friedman. Many in Tampa Bay know Sternberg as a New Yorker who only comes down to ask for a new stadium.
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But Sternberg maintains the image isn't accurate. He says he's committed to Tampa Bay and since the stadium issue has gotten so much press, much of the public has the wrong idea about his intentions.
"I'm straight and honest. I tell it like it is. I try to be transparent," Sternberg said. "Obviously, I've been responsible for some of (the misconceptions), I guess, in trying to get a new stadium done."
"George Steinbrenner," Sternberg continued, "was a 'Tampa Bay guy,' not a 'New York guy.' And the Yankees were pretty successful."
Sternberg said he didn't want to talk about the search for a new stadium right now, but held his press conference this summer because he wanted to "get the ball" rolling for an "eventual" Tropicana Field replacement. He showed sympathy for the area's economic struggles but also thinks a downtown is the right time to plan for the next upturn.
He's also interested in helping MLB plan to keep the league competitive.
"The status quo doesn't do us any good," he said of the current playoff system. "Any change is really in our favor."
Owners are expected to discuss expanding the playoffs from eight teams to 10 teams by adding another wild card to each league. Division realignment is also on the table for the next collective bargaining agreement, which would likely start in 2012.
"Whatever (changes to the current system) you can come up with, chances are I'm going to be supportive of it," he said.
10 News will be in Orlando Thursday as well as the MLB Owners' Meetings wrap up and Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to speak about how the league will proceed with the proposed playoff expansion.
Follow 10 News reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky, Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky, or on his Sports Business blog, Shadow of the Stadium.