The Rays have made some interesting moves as Spring Training gets underway in Port Charlotte, Florida. The front office has shipped out mid-rotation arm Jake Odorizzi and 4-WAR outfielder Steven Souza, receiving several prospects in return.
The most mind-boggling move of them all, though, is the DFA of 2017 AL All-Star, Corey Dickerson. Contrary to widespread belief, the trades don’t appear to be pure salary dumps. The prospects heading to Tampa — Nick Solak, Anthony Banda, and Jermaine Palacios — are fairly well thought-of by most publications. Overall, though, the moves help save Tampa Bay nearly $15MM in salary for the 2018 season.
InstaGraphs: Scouting Anthony Banda, Nick Solak, and Taylor Widener https://t.co/RCcWy24nsw
— FanGraphs Baseball (@fangraphs) February 21, 2018
Not to mention the earlier offseason trade of longtime franchise stalwart Evan Longoria, whose move relieved a financial burden through 2022. The Rays, while always seemingly infused with elite, young arms, are waving the white flag before the first pitch of the 2018 season.
These moves have left many scratching their heads. Of course, there are a few possible explanations.
It’s difficult to blame management for beginning the teardown of the team’s veterans and high-salary players. They’ve been doomed with poor attendance for much of the franchise’s existence, as they have not drawn more than 1.3 million fans in a season since 2014, which ranks 15th out 15 teams in the American League.
Along with poor attendance numbers, the team has not performed well either. The Rays have had three consecutive losing seasons since the departure of top executive Andrew Friedman and esteemed manager Joe Maddon. Competing with the juggernauts of the AL East does not seem feasible for the Rays. Calling them a “small market” club might be an overstatement.
New York and Boston routinely brush up against the luxury tax threshold, $198MM for 2018. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has never exceeded an opening day payroll of $77MM in franchise history. The acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton in New York, and the signing of J.D. Martinez in Boston may have expedited the team’s inevitable tear-down.
Another factor in the rebuild could be the impending stadium situation. Major League Baseball, and the Rays themselves, have been actively seeking sites to house a new stadium. A proposal is currently in the works to build a new stadium near the downtown Tampa area in Ybor City.
A move would surely provide an uptick in attendance and revenue. Tropicana Field, the Rays current stadium, sits across the Bay in St. Petersburg, which can be nearly an hour commute during rush hour traffic from downtown Tampa Bay.
Floridians, knowing how the recent Marlins stadium debacle was handled, where taxpayers ended up footing over more than 75% of the stadium’s cost, won’t be looking to get taken to the woodshed again. Ownership, knowing this, could be looking to pocket as much money as possible to put toward future stadium costs, as a team-friendly deal seems unlikely.
Assuming a new stadium is complete by 2027, the Rays would also be on the hook to buy out of their current lease agreement for Tropicana Field, making every last penny all the more important.
While the present day looks bleak for the Rays, it will only get worse before it can get better. Assuming they go about the rebuild the right way, it’s only a matter of time before more veterans are dealt. Soon Chris Archer, Alex Colome, and Kevin Kiermaier will also be suiting up for new organizations.
With a solid, albeit not elite farm system, and only two guaranteed Major League contracts from 2019 and on, it will be a lengthy journey back to relevance. Thoughts and prayers to the baseball fans in Florida for 2018 and on, it’s going to be a rough one.