Less than a week removed from the 2017 GM Meetings, the trade winds swirling around the Tampa Bay Rays have picked up. Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote on Sunday morning that the Rays soon will launch their offseason mission of trading at least a couple of veterans to reduce payroll, noting that the team is willing to listen to offers on Alex Colome, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer and Evan Longoria, among others.
The question begs: How far they will go? Some, like the writers at DRaysBay, argue that after missing the postseason by just five games, a slight retool is needed going into the 2017 Winter Meetings. In other words, the rational way of building a roster when you are this close to being competitive. However, others have the Rays selling the house, the car, the kids and the face-of-the-franchise.
As I wrote at the end of September, Stu Sternberg intends to “absolutely” drop the payroll from its current $80MM range, although he doesn’t “anticipate” an enormous payroll dropoff or a shift towards a rebuild.
That alone suggests that the team is comfortable with its core of players, which was mirrored by GM Erik Neander last week:
We believe in the core of players we have. Our farm system is as strong as it’s been in quite some time, with a lot of players I think are close to graduating, Neander said. So there is optimism for some of the players we have here and our chances to compete. But we’re not that close at the same time.
We need to be open and cognizant of that and try to do the best we can to provide opportunity to our young players, to provide the right opportunity to our veteran players and leaders of the club. But it could go in a lot of different directions in terms of how we ultimately find our way to get there.
The team has already shed $16.5MM thanks to players who either were released from their contracts, or were lost to free-agency: Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Steve Cishek, Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo, Peter Borjous, Trevor Plouffe, and Curt Casali.
Yet with five players expected to earn half of the Rays payroll 2018 — Longoria, Archer, Odorizzi, Colome and Wilson Ramos — paired with the fact that the team has pitching to burn, they may shed more than a few players to save money; an all too familiar reality faced by fans of this small market team.
How far might they go? Topkin writes that the sequencing may hold the key:
If the Rays can make a couple of initial deals that cut salary and yield the right return, they could halt the sale and pivot to seeking a couple of additions and fielding an improved team. For example, even if they traded Longoria, Archer and Colome (shaving $25.5 million), they could try to fill in the pieces between what they have (Matt Duffy at third, young arms) and low-cost additions.
He added a caveat, however:
Or they may start out and find the market robust to go for a total rebuild, dumping five or six veterans, opting for a young team with little chance to win now (with no apparent concern that doing so could impact stadium discussions) while looking to the future.
Two other mitigating factors are in play.
- The Rays don’t know, here in mid November, where they are going to end up in March.
- Despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an apparent concern otherwise, a rebuild of the roster could impact stadium discussions … especially for a fanbase that already feels as though the ownership cares more about the bottom line — even though Sternberg has never given any conclusive evidence to support his claim that the team is hurting financially — than it does fielding a competitive ball club.
Speaking of stadium discussions, Noah Pransky (Shadow of the Stadium blog, WTSP) brought up a few good points missed by yours truly in my last piece about the Stadium Saga. Sigh … Such is the life of a full-time teacher, and part-time blogger, who has to split his time thinking about work as opposed to digging up dirt.
Pransky wrote that three conclusions can be drawn from Sternberg’s comments:
- Commissioner Ken Hagan has repeatedly said there would “never again be a sweatheart deal” like the one the Glazers got at Raymond James Stadium. Except the Rays’ stadium is likely to be WAY more expensive, even when adjusting the Buccaneers’ 1998 haul for inflation.
- There is no way Hillsborough (or even the deeper-pocketed Pinellas) is coming up with $650 million in public cash for a new stadium, so they two sides had better start hawking peanuts to private donors who may have a sweet spot for baseball.So why did he hit everyone with the sticker shock of $650 million this week?
Either because it’s the next step in Sternberg’s exit plan, finally coming clean that not even a new ballpark means significant new revenue unless someone else pays for it (as this blog has written dozens of times)…
And/or he’s setting public expectations high – and his initial offering low – so that coughing up $350-400 million in public money later may seem like a deal. It’s a topic this blog covered in 2016:
This way, the Rays are now perfectly set up to “settle” sometime down the road for a fixed-roof stadium at a much lower overall cost…once the public has committed its chunk of the cash.
We should end the conversation about a retractable roof right now. The Marlins’ don’t use theirs, the region can’t afford one, and the technology has come a long way since the Rays’ last stadium foray in 2008.
But Sternberg knows there is no appetite to fund major subsidies for a new stadium in Tampa: not on Hillsborough’s county commission, where four of seven commissioners have already spoken out against any tax funding for a stadium; not in Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s office, where he just had to fight for a controversial tax increase to pay for basic city services and wastewater upgrades; and not in the statehouse, where several bills aim at banning all sorts of stadium subsidies and the biggest proponent of stadium investment, State Sen. Jack Latvala, is sitting on the sidelines as allegations of sexual misconduct play out.
So what does Sternberg do with that? Well, a savvy negotiator creates leverage. And he’s doing his best.
Sternberg is well-aware there are at least 14 different types of public subsidies the Rays could target to subsidize a new home.
- Sternberg said the $150 million figure was based on the team’s estimated revenues from a new stadium – something he told me five years ago the Rays don’t do.So, I guess now in 2017, the team all of a sudden knows what kind of ballpark they want to build and generally what kind of revenues it can expect from it? Does that mean the Rays will finally be a little more forthcoming about financial issues?
To put things in layperson’s terms, do not expect a deal to be completed in Hillsborough County before the 2019 deadline set by the city of St. Petersburg.
Even if the $800MM price tag was reduced by $150MM — accounting for a fixed ETFE roof, as opposed to one that is retractable — and, even if Sternberg committed to chipping in $250-$300MM total, we are still talking about a $350-$400MM facility. Hillsborough does not have that money in its coffers even with the 14 public subsidies listed by Pransky. Not to mention that the probability of the county scaring up that sum of money for a stadium, in lieu of things like road and sewer improvements, is slim at best.
A few other factors to consider:
- The purchase cost of the land in Ybor City.
- The cost to be incurred by the team when Rays attempt to buy their way out of their current contract with St. Petersburg.
- The demolition cost of Tropicana Field.
All three will drive up the amount of money Sternberg has to contribute to the overall project, while potentially driving down the money the team is willing to put toward the cost of a new stadium.
But yeah, BASEBALL IN TAMPA, am I right?!