The Tampa Bay Rays have taken a hacksaw to their roster and their payroll this offseason and have hacked away particularly aggressively over the past several days. Earlier this offseason they dealt face-of-the-franchise Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants. The timing on this was no accident, as they did it just before he got 10/5 rights, which would lock him in to Tampa Bay absent his consent to be traded as his once team-friendly contract got more expensive. They dealt Jake Odorizzi, who is now starting to get moderately expensive in his arbitration years. They designated outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment for the same reason. Last night they traded away Steven Souza for the same reason. Each of these moves, individually, have been defended at least half-heartedly on the baseball merits by either the club, the media or its fans. Longoria is not the player he once was. Odorizzi can be frustrating at times. Dickerson had a bad second half. Hey, it’s baseball, and apart from Mike Trout and Jose Altuve, no one is perfect, so someone can construct at least a moderately plausible argument to defend any of these transaction in baseball terms. Let us not be naive, however. Given the lackluster return for most of these players — indeed, they may get absolutely nothing for Dickerson, a good left-handed bat that any team should value — it’s laughable to say that these are truly baseball-inspired moves, even if the Rays front office and some Rays partisans are claiming they are. They’re financial moves. It’s almost insulting to suggest otherwise. They’re moves aimed at saving a few million dollars here and there to improve the owners’ bottom line. The players involved in all of this know what time it is. Once upon a time in baseball, this would carry a lot of risk for a baseball owner. If you get rid of good and popular players and do not replace them with other good and popular players — and especially of the team begins to lose a lot more games — you’d feel the pinch at the box office. Fewer fans would buy tickets, fewer would watch the TV broadcasts, fewer would buy merch and fewer would patronize businesses that put up billboards on the outfield wall and the scoreboard. Losing, traditionally, has been bad for business for a baseball team. We’re in a time now, however, when that is less true than it ever has been. Sure, it’s still better to win, but it hurts far less to lose these days given the way the business of baseball is set up.