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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Sunday September 4, 2011
MLB reports: Here is our weekly look at Major League Baseball and the latest news, together with analysis and of course, our opinions:
I am about to finish the latest baseball book that I am reading and will be posting a review this week. “The Fastest Thirty Ballgames”, by Ballpark Chaser extraordinaire, Doug Booth. I don’t want to give away much of my report, that will be saved for the review. Needless to say, the book has inspired me to fulfil my goal of seeing all thirty MLB ballparks. While it takes me ordinarily a couple of days to a week to complete a baseball book, this particular book has taken me much longer. I have read and re-read this book over and over, going back to read favorite sections. For any baseball fan who loves baseball road trips or is thinking of taking one, this book is the perfect travel companion.
One of the biggest topics on the lips of Yankees fans is the contract status of C.C. Sabathia. After Ivan Nova, the Yankees have several question marks as to their rotation going into the playoffs. Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett are all in the mix. But if Sabathia were to hypothetically opt out of his deal and test free agency, the Yankees pitching staff could collapse like a house of cards. It appears that Sabathia has enjoyed his time thus far in New York and plans to continue pitching as a Yankee. Although Sabathia will likely opt out, both player and team will do everything possible to keep the big guy in pinstripes. Sabathia will become even richer on a new deal, as Alex Rodriguez was on his decision to opt out and sign a new Yankees deal. For the team with the highest payroll in baseball, to contend it will re-sign its ace in the offseason.
Rumors are circulating that many MLB General Managers will be wooed to change teams in 2012. Brian Cashman of the Yankees, Andrew Friedman of the Rays and Theo Epstein of the Red Sox are all apparently in demand, as is Billy Beane in Oakland and Mike Rizzo in Washington. From all the best GMs that will be considered for the Cubs position, the only one I could see is Cashman. With his contract up in New York and the Steinbrenner regime exercising control in decision-making (see the Rafael Soriano deal), Cashman may have had enough and makes the move to the Windy City. All of the other GMs are in great positions, with little or no incentive to make the leap. Some have called for the Astros to make a strong play for Friedman, but I see him staying put in a great situation with a strong talent base. Friedman will see his team through to an eventual World Championship.
I had several conversations with baseball people about the World Baseball Classic, with the third edition coming up rapidly in 2013. As discussed in a previous article, there are some changes to the WBC that have been instituted, including a qualifying tournament in the fall of 2012. New countries in the mix include Great Britain, France, Israel and Brazil. In all there will be 12 new countries, together with 4 holdover countries vying for 4 open spots into the tournament. From the 16 existing WBC countries, 12 were granted automatic berths into the tournament. The challenge facing MLB and WBC officials is to have eligible players play for their respective countries. One particular country I discussed was Israel. Imagine a team lead by Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun and Kevin Youkilis. Quite the powerhouse offense. To have this tournament ultimately succeed, star players that are eligible for new and less known baseball countries need to play for these countries and increase the exposure of the sport in those regions. That is really what the WBC is all about.
For fans in Kansas City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Washington, and San Diego, please be patient. Your teams will be better. It might be hard to believe and some of you must be sick of hearing it, but your teams have great young talent and each will be a contender one day. The only variable against you is time.
With their victory over the Giants last night, the Diamondbacks now hold a six game lead in the NL West. How Kevin Towers remained on the market so long before being hired in Arizona is beyond me. Derrick Hall and company have put together a nice young team, with strong management on the field and in the front office. Towers has put together the team and manager Kirk Gibson has molded them into a contender. It goes to show that a bleak situation can be transformed almost overnight, if you have the right people in place. Baseball, as much as any other sport, starts with the people in charge. A solid management foundation flows through the whole organization and can make or break a major league team. Arizona is the team of destiny in the NL West in my mind and while they will have a very difficult time passing the Phillies if they make the playoffs, just playing in October this year will be considered a huge victory for the team.
Outside of New York and Boston, many baseball fans are apparently sick of talking about the Red Sox and Yankees. For as much as fans may despise the teams, as baseball fans they should still respect them. Baseball, without the history and tradition of the Red Sox and Yankees, would have a large void. During my recent trip to Cooperstown (with a full report on my experiences coming soon), I was fascinated by the Babe Ruth exhibit and all the features on the two powerhouse squads. There are no guarantees that either the Red Sox or Yankees will be in the World Series this year. But having the teams in baseball is a good thing. Attendance figures on the road when either team in town shows the demand. You may hate the Red Sox and Yankees. But you love to hate them. For those of you that are either Red Sox or Yankees fans (can’t be both), you are some of the most passionate and knowledgable fans in baseball and I salute you.
I have been speculating since spring training that Jonathan Papelbon will leave Boston and join the Phillies this offseason. I read some speculation this week that the Yankees may look to add him as the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera. I could only imagine the feeling in Fenway the first time Papelbon would step foot on the mound in Pinstripes. Unlikely to happen in my opinion, but speculating can be fun sometimes. Until I hear otherwise, I am predicting Papelbon to the Phillies.
With the playoff races in baseball almost completed, it is time to turn our attention to October and thinking about the teams that will play in the World Series. My picks at this point are the Rangers and Phillies. Call it a hunch. Call me crazy. I am seeing a Texas Philadelphia matchup and one of the best fall classics in recent history.
Finally, I made a point on Twitter yesterday that the regular season is almost done. If you have not made it a live game yet this year or even if you have gone to twenty or more games, try to attend as many September games as you can. When November hits, the winter can be quite a sad time for baseball fans. Unless you can make it out to Arizona or Mexico, chances are that you will not be able to watch winter ball. With the internet, those games can be found to be viewed on your computer. But as fans can attest, nothing beats a live ball game. Enjoy as many of those games as you can now.
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