Any astute follower of the Tampa Bay Rays could tell you that principal owner Stu Sternberg typically opens up to the media, around the same time every year, to give his autopsy of the season. In fact a quick internet query would find that Sternberg has done as much every year since he took over as the principal owner, and this season is no different.
More often than not, a similar theme runs through every autopsy: the Rays don’t have enough money because they were not able to generate enough revenue — thanks a lot, fans — and because of it, they must reduce the payroll by massive proportions … despite the fact that the team’s value has steadily increased each season since Sternberg took over. Again, this season is no different.
On Thursday and Friday of this week, Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) published the most recent Q&A autopsy with Sternberg — although to be fair, we cannot be 100% certain that his responses weren’t cut-and-pasted from those of the previous nine seasons. I kid of course.
Bulleted highlights from the Q&A autopsy follow:
— The Rays principal owner is disappointed by the team’s late fade from playoff contention, although he doesn’t regret going all in and dealing prospects for midseason upgrades.
We’d do it 10 times out of 10 again…I’d love to be in that position every year to be able to do that with the kind of team we thought we had, and the team we had up until the All-Star break, Sternberg said.
— Going all in this season, however, could come at a cost, as it may impact next season’s plans. The payroll will “absolutely” drop from its current $80MM range said Sternberg, although he doesn’t “anticipate” an enormous payroll dropoff or a shift towards a rebuild. Be that as it may, he also didn’t entirely rule out the possibility:
The team is good enough clearly, and we have confidence in the guys, but we’ll see how the offseason goes. Who’s available to us? What’s available in trade for us? We try to react to what the market is going to bear.
…We try to react what the market is going to bear. Last off-season we were fortunate we needed a first baseman back at a time when first basemen weren’t at a premium and we hit beautifully with Logan (Morrison). We added a shortstop (Adeiny Hechavarria) who has been just enormously helpful for us. You never know what is goign to available and why. Last year we picked up (Colby) Rasmus and maybe things would’ve been different if he had stuck it out, if (Kevin) Kiermaier stayed (healthy). If, if, if.
“But you’re not going into the off-season thinking this is the year to cut back to like $30-million?” asked Topkin.
No. It could always happen; I don’t anticipate it happening.
— Don’t expect any management changes in the forthcoming season, as Sternberg expressed confidence in the front office and in Kevin Cash’s work in the dugout.
— The Rays continue to lag in the financial resources department. This season saw more low attendance numbers despite the fact that they were playing relevant baseball for most of the 2017 campaign. Sternberg cited lower-than-expected attendance numbers from the Red Sox and Cubs series, not to mention the two-week impact on attendance due to Hurricane Irma — including the unexpected shift of a home series to Citi Field.
We’ll get revenue but the games are very expensive to put on, and they were attended, but not like 40,000, 50,000 people showing up, it was a $25 set price. And we had to house and transport people for four extra days on the road in New York. And a lot of other expense like overtime (for staff at the Trop) and buttoning the place up and some damage to the stadium. All in all, it was a minus-minus-minus. However, having said that, we’re incredibly fortunate for what could have been.
— The Tampa Bay Times again found a way to give a taciturn endorsement of a new stadium in Tampa, by way of Topkin’s line of questioning, “With the season ending, how soon could there be an announcement of a stadium site selection, given the reported Ybor City option?”
We’re ready. Whenever Hillsborough or Tampa make their pitch, we’re ready. We’ve worked with them a bunch, and we’re waiting to hear the pitch. There’s nothing more for me to do at this point.
It was a fair answer to a rather misleading question which implied that a stadium in Ybor City is all but certain. As Noah Pransky (Shadow of the Stadium) pointed out, maybe we’ll finally get to hear all the taxpayer subsidies our elected leaders have been offering up behind closed doors the last few years.
In my opinion, a clearer line of questioning on the part of Topkin — one takes both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties into consideration — would have been preferable. Then again, that wouldn’t really fit the Times’ single issue focused mold.
— Because a new television contract is “way down the road,” although and he wouldn’t say when, the Rays could end up receiving less than they currently do for broadcast rights “given what’s gone on with cord-cutting and the value of cable.“ Sternberg also hinted that the organization could explore starting their own TV network:
If it’ll even be a contract – we might end up starting a network at some point. When the time comes and we can negotiate a TV contract there will be a lot of parties to talk to. .. Unfortunately it’s not the environment for that given what’s gone on with cord-cutting and the value of cable, so I don’t expect it or anticipate it to be nirvana. Ideally when and if something gets done it could move the needle. By the same token it might end up being less than where we are now. It’s way down the road.