Notes: Rays to add to payroll

Notes: Rays to add to payroll

ST. PETERSBURG -- Stuart Sternberg attended Thursday night's home finale, and he addressed a number of topics.

The Rays' principal owner called the 2007 season "the most exciting last-place year we've had," adding, "And hopefully, it's going to be the last exciting last-place year we're going to have."

Prior to speaking to the media, Sternberg stopped by the Rays' clubhouse to wish the players well in the coming offseason. He described the atmosphere inside the clubhouse as excited, coupled with a joint discontent about the team's record.

Sternberg said that the team is on solid footing heading into the offseason.

"The nice thing for us, it's probably the first time in our history -- or any team's history -- and I could be off a little bit, that we do have the ability and right to bring back whoever we want next year," Sternberg said. "There are no free agents or potential free agents. Obviously, there are going to be a lot of salary raises next year due to arbitration, and escalation from contracts. But those are our guys. Guys we've chosen to have here."

Sternberg said that when the current ownership group took over the team after the 2005 season, it expected payroll increases between 10 percent and 20 percent a year for the first "five years or so."

"And obviously, we set our benchmark this year, and it was lower than when we had taken the team over initially," Sternberg said. "But we absolutely expect to increase the payroll next year by over 20 percent. Maybe even a little bit more. That's what we're budgeting for. A lot of it will be internal, keep the guys we have, like Carlos Pena in particular."

When asked if the club would try to sign Pena to a long-term deal, Sternberg said that the organization is always looking for ways to keep players it likes. He pointed out how they had worked out long-term deals with Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli, though they weren't able to make such a deal with Julio Lugo.

"Obviously, it takes like minds to get something to happen," he said.

Sternberg managed to have a sense of humor when asked if he would like to lock up Scott Kazmir and James Shields to long-term deals.

"Like Bob Barker would say, 'If the price is right,' " he said, allowing himself a chuckle. "If the price is right."

Sternberg also talked about the team's uniforms without validating the leaked reports.

"The uniforms, some portion of them, have come out, apparently or possibly on the Internet, the beauty of the Internet and the curse," he said. "It's certainly a new era. We'd like to think we've got a real new beginning here, new colors, new name. ... We're really excited about bringing it out to the Tampa Bay region. ... It's going to give us the opportunity, again, to reinvent ourselves."

As for the team's attendance, Sternberg said that he was neither concerned nor satisfied.

"I'm satisfied because this was still a last-place team. I think a level of support, as far as the numbers [go], we always like it to be better," he said. "We would have liked to have seen some growth from last year. From that respect I'm not satisfied, but I'm far from concerned. Because I do believe that as our product improves, and it has improved, we're going to see some more consistent numbers of people coming out.

"Our ratings on TV, and all the other metrics that I've talked about in the past, such as Web hits and whatnot, and radio ratings are up significantly. That's a very good barometer of what's going on. The biggest growth we have right now is on the corporate side."

Clearly, Sternberg is excited about the organization's future.

BBWAA awards: The Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America announced the winners of its annual awards on Thursday. Voting was done on a 5-3-1 basis.

Pena was named Most Valuable Player in a close vote over Crawford and Shields. Delmon Young was voted the team's Outstanding Rookie by unanimous selection, and Pena won the Paul C. Smith Champion Award, which is presented to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field.

That award is particularly meaningful to those at MLB.com, as Smith worked as the Rays beat reporter for MLB.com. It is the first award in the chapter's history to be named after anybody. Smith passed away at age 46 on Feb. 26, 2005. He left such an impression on the Rays organization that a commemorative plaque was placed where he once sat covering games in the Tropicana Field press box.

Up next: The Rays begin their final series of the season on Friday in a 7:07 p.m. ET contest at Rogers Centre. Andy Sonnanstine will start for the Rays, and he will be opposed by right-hander Dustin McGowan.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.