What Is The Future Of The Tampa Bay Rays?

Wednesday November 30, 2011

Sam Evans: Ever since the Rays organization eliminated mistakes from their front office, and combined traditional scouting with advanced numbers, they have produced a winning baseball team in the hardest division in baseball. Unfortunately for the Rays, nobody in Tampa Bay noticed. The Rays have only finished in the top-ten in attendance in the AL twice in their fourteen years of existence. Tampa Bay has the ugliest ballpark in baseball, and now the only question is: How long will they be able to stay there?

What the Rays have done in the last five years is extremely impressive. They have won the division twice and won the wild card once in the last five years despite having the second-lowest payroll in all of baseball. The Rays have discovered market inefficiencies and taken advantage of them. For example, after the 2010 season, the Rays let their top relief pitchers leave in free agency, and they not only received draft compensation, but they easily replaced them in 2011. Also, signing young talented players to long-term deals has been a huge factor in their success. Overall, the Rays have found ways

The Rays have no reason to worry about their on-field product. The team is 368-260 in the last five years, and they show no signs of stopping their pace. They have more pitching depth than almost any other team in baseball, and Evan Longoria is signed through 2016 in what is one of the most team-friendly contracts in all of baseball. Despite having a winning ballclub for four straight years, the Rays are barely filling half of the stadium’s capacity per game.

Low attendances lead to a low payroll, and while the Rays would certainly like a larger payroll, they have still managed to be competitive within the AL East. The new CBA will hurt the teams with the lower payrolls around the league, but it will hit the Rays especially hard. They will no longer be able to take chances on international free agents for a low-cost and they will still be competing with the Red Sox and Yankees revenues.

The main contributor to the Rays low attendance has been the stadium. Tropicana Field is, by far, the worst stadium in baseball. It is the only domed stadium in baseball that is not retractable. The blueprint for the stadium was not well thought out, as evidenced in the catwalks that hang down from the ceiling. The bullpen is are almost nonexistent, and the interior design is the worst in baseball. Not to mention, the ballpark is not at the center of the city’s population unlike most other ballparks in baseball.

After the 2011 postseason, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said that he was disappointed about the future of baseball in Tampa Bay. That is a very bad sign for Rays fans. Sternberg is not a bad owner, and has shown dedication to making the Rays a more popular franchise in Tampa Bay. The Rays have tried everything to get fans to come to the ballpark, from Vuvezelas to a touch tank to a new enlarged scoreboard. Sadly, none of those techniques have worked to this day.

The Rays technically are signed through 2027 according to St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster. This contract that the Rays have with the city states that the Rays cannot enter discussions with other communities. However, with the right lawyer, the Rays would be able to escape this lease agreement. If the Rays can’t find a place to build a stadium in South Florida, then there are many cities that would love to host a Major League franchise. If the Rays are forced to move, then Las Vegas is the perfect fit. It is very sad to watch a team not be able to sell out a game in the ALDS.

I really feel bad for those devoted Rays fans. Living in Seattle, I had to go through the process of losing our hometown basketball team, the Sonics. It was a very similar situation where you could sort of sense the relocation coming. The stadium was not up to par, and the league was impatient. I’m not sure if baseball will ever thrive in Tampa Bay, but I am definitely rooting for this organization to find a way to boost attendances and keep their team in Tampa.

 ***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter***

 

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About samevans87

I love writing, talking, watching, and playing baseball. I am a baseball writer for MLB Reports and Fish Stripes. "No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined." -Paul Gallic

Posted on November 30, 2011, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hello Sam,

    “However, with the right lawyer, the Rays would be able to escape this lease agreement.”

    With respect, if Sternberg thought he could easily escape it or void it, he almost certainly would have done so – certainly after the last stadium proposal (at the old Al Lang Field) crashed and burned.

    The Fruitdome is, of course, the absolute worst in the majors, no question. It’s like a giant rec room, and a pretty sterile one at that. It’s not doing the Rays any favors. St. Pete built it in the 80′s, hoping that “they will come.” But they hedged their bets by making it a bland multi-purpose dome, and ended up with the worst of all worlds: a giant tank no pro sports team wants to play in.

    But the Rays’ problems go much deeper than that. The fact that they have been highly competitive for the last four seasons and yet their attendance has barely budged (in fact it dropped by 300K this season) suggests as much. Winning does more than anything to build a fan base, consistent winning, and yet it’s not working well in Tampa: there just are not that many Rays fans. The reality is that Florida is an inherently poor market for pro sports in general, and baseball in particular: too many people are from somewhere else, and there are too many other entertainment/recreation options year round. That was going to be a big hurdle to surmount (and I remain skeptical that the Marlins will surmount it with their new park), but the Rays shot themselves in the foot repeatedly under their last owner, Vince Naimoli, who managed to alienate almost everyone in Tampa who might have been willing to be a fan with an endless succession of offensive and stupid moves and comments. Naimoli’s gone, but the bitterness remains. A new ballpark, no matter how well designed and located, won’t fix that.

    Sadly, I fear the Rays’ long-term solution is almost certainly going to require a move, probably out of state. Sternberg might not be able to void the contract, but if Selig can arrange for him to take over the Mets, an MLB receivership of the team might be able to get away with it, though not without keeping a lot of lawyers well employed. I’ll be surprised, to be honest, if the Rays are still in St. Pete five years from now. It’s a shame, because it is finally an organization that deserves a better fanbase (and stadium). Perhaps it will find it in Portland, Charlotte, or San Antonio.

    • I think anything can happen in court so i still think there is a posssibility he finds some flaw in the deal to opt out, or that he makes an agreement with the city. I also think that they will be forced out of Tampa, hopefully to somewhere else in South Florida. Naimoli has done more to hurt this franchise then any other owner in baseball. I do think Florida can successfully host two teams, maybe in Orlando. It would take a (very rich) hero to step in and provide the money in order for this team to stay in Tampa. Thanks for the comment, Sam

  2. Hi Sam,

    Yes – if the hope is to stay in Florida, Orlando is the obvious destination.

    I’m still not sure it’s ideal territory for MLB. But that might be the first place the Rays and MLB look if they can’t get anything done in Tampa/St. Pete.

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