I can almost predict your reaction to some of these theories about the Tampa Bay Rays and their roster overhaul. That I’ve been dipping into the sauce too much during my semi-retirement, and my repeated exposure to the sun has shrunk my brain. Sports talk radio has been on fire this week about the Rays’ moves, with fans outraged that their team will be fielding a Triple-A squad in 2018. Owner Stuart Sternberg has given up on even trying to make it look like he’s trying to win.
Okay, here we go.
First of all, I don’t why people are surprised and shocked that the Rays are moving veterans. It was common knowledge this off-season that rebuilding was exactly what new General Manager Erik Neander had to do. His marching orders from on high were to cut payroll. And that meant getting rid of the highest salaries, while still trying to field a competitive baseball team.
And yet, fans were shocked.
Neander started with long-time star Evan Longoria. Again, not a surprise as this scenario has been talked about for the last few years. When is the right time to trade Longoria and all the money that he is due until the age of 37? So they traded him for prospects, which is the Rays’ business model... always has been. Sure it hurts since Longo was a fan favorite, and most people don’t like change, but not a surprise
Then Jake Odorizzi was traded for a low-level talent, a shortstop who is behind the organization's top prospect. Doesn’t sound like much, but think about this.. is Odorizzi a Cy Young winner? He’s not David Price. Jake’s a good pitcher, but likely a middle-of-the-rotation guy, not a staff ace. He’s been basically a .500 pitcher, with a decent 3.83 ERA, but has allowed 59 homers in the last two seasons. And since the Rays are rich in pitching prospects with good upside, why not deal Odorizzi and give the kids a chance?
I’m with the fans on the Corey Dickerson salary dump, as that’s all it was. But remember Dickerson did have a lousy second half of 2017, and his defense is not that good.
Steven Souza Jr. was a surprise since he's coming off his best season with 30 homers and is under still team control for three years. But again, he’s not an All-Star. 30 homers, yes, good speed and defense, sure... but a .236 career average. And projected over a 162-game season, Souza’s been averaging 199 strikeouts a year. The key to this deal was Neander was able to get two good prospects from Arizona and the Yankees, plus two additional younger guys to come.
Now, the most important cog in this always-belt-tightening organization.
Why spend heavily and destroy your budget on a franchise that’s not going to draw fans to St. Petersburg anyway, win or lose? That’s been proven. Twenty years at Tropicana Field, and in 12 of those the Tampa Bay Rays had the worst attendance in the American League. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter, attendance will suck. So why not save the money, including all that revenue sharing money, and the $50 million windfall all teams will receive this spring from digital media sales, and use it to fund a new ballpark?
Yes, it’s true we don’t know Stuart Sternberg will steer all these savings toward the Ybor City project. Baseball teams don’t have to open their books to anyone, and unless the financials end up on Deadspin again we'll never know. But we don’t know he’s NOT doing it either, so it’s a nice thought.
The Rays will still field a team in 2018. I don’t think they’ll be the worst in baseball, I don’t think they’ll lose 100 games... like the Astros did for three years in a row, then won the World Series.
Okay, take a breath. Opening Day is March 29.