"We run the team as if we're balanced on the head of a pin, and there's very little margin for error -- I'd say zero margin for error," team president Matt Silverman said. "We've accepted that. We understand that. It factors into all the decisions we make."
While the Rays were mindful of the financial implications of this trade, Silverman insisted the move was not a product of budget concerns. Since Tampa Bay reached the playoffs for the first time in 2008, its payroll has fluctuated from as low as $42 million in '11 to as high as about $73 million in '10.
Silverman and the rest of the Rays' brass often note that the club made the postseason in 2008 and '11 despite having payrolls in the low $40 million range, but it missed the playoffs in '09 and '12, when that figure sat around $63 million.
"As you know, we operate within a range, and whenever we extend far, or too far, there's always going to be some sort of pullback at some point," Silverman said. "We look to put a talented and compelling club on the field every year. Sometimes that means running a $65 million payroll. Sometimes it means running a $40 million payroll.
"We've made the playoffs with a $40 million payroll twice, and when we've run the $60 million payroll, we haven't. That's sort of the range that we've been in, and certainly, there are some savings from this, but it's not motivated by those savings."
Indeed, as is usually the case with Tampa Bay, this deal was motivated by what best serves the club's long-term interests without doing irreparable harm to its short-term goals. Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman admitted it was the toughest trade he's made in his tenure, and despite their wealth of pitching talent, the Rays will feel the impact of losing Shields both on the field and in the clubhouse.
But by parting with two proven Major League pitchers and nearly $13 million in 2013 payroll commitments, the Rays added a handful high-level prospects, each with six years of club control, whom they believe will help them stay competitive in 2013 and beyond.
"None of them are easy, but when you're talking about two guys who have a history with this franchise, two guys who were so additive to our current club, it's a tough decision to make," Silverman said. "But it's one that we feel we have to make, as we look ahead for the next several years to try to sustain the success that we've had."