Ask Gary: Are Rays’ fans frustrated or just numb?

by Gary Shelton on February 24, 2018 · 12 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

After having watched the Rays jettison some of their most popular players, as they seem to do every year, do you think the frustration level of the fans has reached the point of no return with this franchise? The lack of transparency with the Rays ownership is appalling. After trading more than half their run production from 2017, they still say they can be competitive. For what, last place? If they would come out and say they have to rebuild and go with youth, wouldn’t that play better with the fans? All we hear from ownership is that payroll must be reduced. Any momentum for a new stadium is gone now. There is no effort to build a level of trust with the community. Do you think Stuart Sternberg has given up on this market?

Larry Beller

Larry, it's a dark time for the fans of the Rays. No doubt about it. I don't think it's every year they jettison their most popular players, but it's far to frequently. We're forever watching David Price and Ben Zobrist and Josh Hamilton walk out of the exit. I think the fans could have lived with Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison leaving, because that's the way the game is played, but you sure wish you could see the team spending that money elsewhere.

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I don't know if it's a lack of transparency; everyone knows their blueprint. They're going to ride young players until they no longer become affordable. We all know that by now. They're going to try to cycle those stars and build up to mini-runs every few. years. The trouble is they've done so poorly at drafting and developing that the blueprint seems broken.

As far as saying they're going to be competitive, that's a vague term that means nothing. Losing a lot of games 4-2 is competitive in a sense, but if the team is doomed for last place, that isn't competitive where it counts Right? I'd be shocked if this team finishes anywhere near the playoffs. If it does,Kevin Cash should be manager of the year, hands down.

As far as saying that they're going with youth, sure, that would play better. If that's what the Rays intend to do. I have my doubts. Daniel Robertson and Mallex Smith, maybe. But I don't think the Rays will speed up the arbitration timetable on a lot of their farm system. Personally, I wish they would. If the Rays are going to struggle, I'd rather seem Willy Adames play for a while. I wanted to see Brent Honeywell pitch before he injured himself But the danger in saying that in the first few days of spring training is that you're committing to it whether the players are ready or not.

I don't think Sternberg has completely given up on the market. I've talked to Stu about it, and he swears baseball can still succeed in Tampa Bay. But it's a treacherous blueprint. It means fans have to swallow a lot of frustration. This fanbase has swallowed a lot of it. Most fan bases have.

Again, I hated this spring's moves. I don't go to a ballpark to crush salary numbers. But I'm not sure if they kept their players, and finished fourth instead of fifth, that it would guarantee a new facility. I've been around a few new stadium projects, and they're hard to get built. Pretty much, they come down to a decision of whether to keep the sport or not. Most teams that need new stadiums seem to do at a time they're struggling.

Frankly, I hope the fans are frustrated. And angry and upset and  fed up and every other emotion of disgust. The alternative is to just be numb and to think that a nearly  .500 record is good enough. It isn't.

You know what I hate? I hate this feeling that "you've got to understand" that a small market with a lousy attendance draw has to accept losing major parts of the roster every so often. I hate that baseball has a system where the bottom half of teams are a farm system for the rich boys. I hate that the field is so uneven.

But I like baseball. And I'll watch. But, no, it won't be as satisfying as it should be.

Please explain to me,  how the Rays think that trading all these players will help them get a stadium built.

 Jim Willson
Jim, it certainly won't help. Fans are sure to be disappointed and angry. The general feeling about the team isn't going to be a good one.
In the end, however, the Rays have to hope winning at the ballot box and winning on the field are different arguments. Even with the departed, the Rays were below .500 last year, and watching that brand of baseball wasn't going to make fans rush out and start building the stadium with their bare hands. I think the yearning for a better day will win some votes. Enough? It's uphill.  Building a stadium always is.
If the Rays have proven anything, however, it's that wins and losses don't have much effect around here. They didn't when the team was going to the playoffs (attendance was still awful), and with a last-place-forever crowd draw, I'm not sure of the link between unpopular trades  and a new home.
I'm on record as hating these trades. But if the Rays went out and re-signed all four of them, how much do you think it would increase attendance this season? It's a fair question. And how high would the Rays finish in the standings?

With the departures/dumpings of Evan Longoria, Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, Corey Dickerson, Jake Odorizzi and Steven Souza Jr., is it Stu Sternberg’s short-term goal to insure that the Ray’s opening day for the 2018 season is not a sellout?

Scott Myers

It must be. If it got any worse, the team would have to turn fire hoses on the fans as they waited in line.

The truth, of course, is that the Rays expect fans to follow like sheep, and to be grateful for those nights when the score is tied for a while.

There was a time, when the team was going to the post-season, I thought the Rays were trying harder than the community. I don't think you can say that anymore. The Rays are lost.

In a lot of years, after the playoff years, when they had young stars, it was hard to figure out why there were so many empty seats. But I don't know if any of us are going to have patience this year if the Rays gripe about being last in attendance. That includes opening day.

The NHL trade deadline is the 26th. What does Yzerman & the Lightning do? And if somehow they have done it by the time you answer, how do you feel about what they did?

Cecil DeBald

Cecil, history tells us that the Bolts won't make a major move. They're slow to bring in a high-priced vet in midstream; instead, they spend freely in the off-season and play the hand they're dealt.

I think this year, I'd make an exception. The Bolts are very talented, but they have a few flaws. I think a player like Erik Karlsson could put the Bolts over the top and stop some of this breakaway nonsense we've seen over the last 25 games.

I'd certainly investigate the cost. If I could move a non-essential regular, I'd give up the first-round pick that is needed. Odds are that someone more desperate than the Lightning will pay more, but still, I'd kick the tires and entertain a big trade.

If you remember the Cup year, you remember the new energy that Darryl Sydor brought to the Bolts. A trade like that can suggest to a team that the front office is always working to make a team better.

If I had to guess, I'd bet that the Lightning doesn't make a major move. But I hope they do.

Dick Vitale is calling on Stu Sternberg to sell the team. Should he?

Peter Kerasotis

What? He no longer thinks that Sternberg is a PTPer? He doesn't think that the kids are Diaper Dandies?

I'd say this to Dick, a very nice man who does a lot of good: Try to remember when Vince Naimoli owned the team. Want to risk more of that?

My gut feeling is that anyone who buys the team would do it with moving it in mind. Selling is the quickest way to Montreal. So, no, I wouldn't bang the drum for a new owner.

Of course, Dick has a lot of money. Maybe he should buy it. At least the press conferences would be fun.

Hey, I understand why Sternberg has lost some popularity. He wants a new stadium, and he's playing hardball to get it. He's lopped most of the familiar names off of the roster in order to go cheap.

But it's like the devil you know vs. the one you do not. I fear that faceless man who would buy the Rays in a bad stadium and a bad market. I would wonder about his motives.

(Peter is a long-time Florida sports columnist, a buddy of mine, and the author of several books. His latest is Felipe Alou My Baseball Journey is scheduled to be released on April 1. He'd grin if you bought one.)

Peter has new book./PETER KERASOTIS

Peter has new book./PETER KERASOTIS

What do you think of NBC's coverage of the Olympics? Anything better or worse than you expected? I’ll have to say I’m not a big fan of NBC showing all the preliminary heats and such early, then holding off broadcasting most of the finals until 11:00 PM – I don’t stay up that late…but then, that’s just me.

Cecil DeBald

I don't think it was great television, perhaps because, for the U.S. , it wasn't great competition.  The U.S. had a pedestrian finish, and there weren't a lot of stars. I say that apologizing to Shaun White and Adam Rippon.

When I covered the Olympics, I thought the best games were usually in North America or in Europe. I say that not because of the venues or the athletes but because of the time zones. If it's here, and the competition is live, there is a different feel. If it's in Europe, you can show the competition in prime time in just a few hours. The results seemed fresh. But in Asia, however, you have most of the day. The competition seems like it was yesterday. That means most people are aware of what happened before it is shown.

But the U.S. doesn't get behind fourth-place finishes. The figure skating team bombed. The hockey players stayed home. Lindsay Vonn didn't do well. Roughly speaking, there wasn't anything to stay up for.

I've never been a fan of dream teams in the Olympics. But these Games missed hockey, didn't they?

Well, the Rays have a new pitching coach. Assuming for a moment that the role of coach has an impact on pitching, what changes do you expect to see from the pitching, starters, relievers, from a strategic perspective with Kyle Snyder at the helm?

Cecil DeBald

I'll be honest. I don't know much about Snyder. I did, however, know a lot about Jim Hickey, and I thought he was terrific. I've often said that he was the Monte Kiffin of the Rays.

A lot of Rays had their best success pitching here: Matt Garza, James Shields, David Price. Yes, the franchise invested in arms, but Hickey helped those guys to develop. I didn't think it was by accident.

Hickey had one phrase I loved: Pitch better. The hitters aren't hitting? The infielders can't catch a grounder? Well, pitch better. That sums up the battle plan fairly well.

A lot of the job of pitching coach is done before a team ever hits the field. I've read that the Rays want to limit the number of times a batter sees a starting pitcher, which hints of an over-reliance on the bullpen. That's organizational more than it is from Snyder.

I know this: At the major league level, a pitching coach affects a pitcher's attitude as much as his mechanics. Sure, he can notice that a guy is dropping his arm on his slider, but he can't get the batter out for him. I suspect that, at the end of the year, you won't blame Snyder. You may, however, blame Archer and Snell.

Let's see.

If you were Yzerman, would you trade for Karlsson?

Jim Willson

Jim, I'd certainly check out the price tag on him. If there is a way the Bolts can afford Karlsson, I'd love to have him in the lineup. It doesn't fit with what the Lightning usually does, but I see Karlsson as a rare opportunity if he can be had without wrecking the roster.

It's no secret that the Bolts have given up a lot of breakaways in recent weeks. Give Karlsson 23  minutes a game, and you'll see a lot of those stop. And if you can limit the ice time of Sergachev and Koekkoek, that has to make them better.

Yzerman isn't asking me, but if he can be had for the right price, I say go for it.

Who knows when the next time the Lightning will have such a clear path to the playoffs? I'm all for maximizing their chances.


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

scott myers February 25, 2018 at 10:32 am

MLB has a structural defect that taxpayers can’t solve, and that is lack of revenue sharing. The 30-team oligarchy is incredibly profitable – if the small market teams are to be in the hunt perennially, then more money must flow from the rich teams to the poor teams. The taxpayers can’t solve the problem that the Rays payroll is just half of MLB average ($70 million per year deficit).

And please keep in mind that MLB is incredibly profitable even with all the STUPID long-term player contracts that are negotiated!


Larry February 24, 2018 at 9:56 am

I think there is more revenue and profit to the Rays balance sheet than the owner is letting on. None of us, not even you, know for sure. They get profit sharing money from MLB, the TV contract generates a decent amount and is due to increase eventually. There are other revenue sources too. I’m sure they do ok.

They cry poor and then sign a guy to replace Sousa who makes more than Sousa did. They saved very little dumping Dickerson. They trade Longoria and take back a guy with an $11 million salary. What? They have to develop a core of players to build around. Who are the core players on this team? The answer is they don’t have any. Everyone is expendable for the right price.

I think they can afford to spend more on salaries as they did last year when they made a number of mid season additions. They just choose not too. They definitely need to fix their scouting and player development problems. That’s a hidden cash drain that they don’t seem to be addressing. They need to be more aggressive to get the TV contract increased. Generate more grass roots, fan friendly marketing programs to get fannies in the seats even if they have to lower ticket prices. Marlins tickets are about half of what the Rays charge.

The owner needs to be in the area more. Push the product. Show you care. Keep the young stars that fans want to see as long as you can. Did they really need to dump Dickerson and Souza this year? And when you have one of the best managers in
baseball don’t lose him over a couple of million dollars.

If they do all of that and put a good team on the field but still don’t get the fan / business support, then who could blame them for moving the team? As it stands now they are doing a poor job in too many areas. The fan support is going to only dwindle more.


Gary Shelton February 24, 2018 at 5:50 pm

I’ll agree with you on this: None of us know how much money is coming in. We do know that the factors aren’t good. The other owners consistently pay the Rays out of revenue sharing, which indicates they’re near the bottom. They have lousy TV package, which indicates they’re near the bottom. The attendance is lousy, which indicates they’re near the bottom.

But, no, I’ve never suggested that Stu has opened his books to me. He has told me that any profit to the owners is minimal, but he didn’t go into details. They certainly don’t make the money they would make in Vegas or Montreal. No one would argue that.

They got a highly ranked prospect in Souza. I’m sure that, internally, they wondered if Souza could repay his season for last year or if they should sell while the return is high.

It might help a small amount if Stu was here all of the time. But Steinbrenner wasn’t with the Yankees all of the time, either. Absentee ownership only bothers fans when everything else is going wrong. If nothing changed, but Sternberg was here for 81 games, it wouldn’t help.

I think fans are frustrated and aiming whatever shots they can where they can. There is no doubt, however, that the Rays are struggling at the gate. That’s been true longer than their struggles on the field.

Again, I’m open for suggestions. But I’ll repeat: There is one way the Rays ever have a chance to win. That’s if they can develop players and win before they hit the big money. That’s true in the smaller markets throughout the league.


Larry February 25, 2018 at 8:20 am

I think we agree on the formula for the Rays. Maybe it’s time they put all their best efforts towards that plan. I don’t know that Wall street guys and annalistic experts are the right people to turn to for finding and developing young players. But that’s how they do it. And if the Rays continue to fail in that area it will be the death of this franchise.


Gary Shelton February 25, 2018 at 5:13 pm



scott myers February 25, 2018 at 10:29 am

MLB has a structural defect that taxpayers can’t solve, and that is lack of revenue sharing. The 30-team oligarchy is incredibly profitable – if the small market teams are to be in the hunt perennially, then more money must flow from the rich teams to the poor teams. The taxpayers can’t solve the problem that the Rays payroll is just half of MLB average ($70 million per year deficit).

And please keep in mind that MLB is incredibly profitable even with all the STUPID long-term player contracts that are negotiated!


Larry February 24, 2018 at 6:56 am

Well I don’t know Stu like you do Gary but I think everyone in this town is getting sick of his miserly business tactics. I agree with Dick Vitale. If you can’t afford to spend money on players then sell the team. It’s debatable as to if having a team operate like the Rays is better than no team at all. I know you don’t agree with that but I think a lot of fans do.

We have talked about this before but this market is just not able to support major league baseball. If you are consistently last in attendance that is a problem that is going to get fixed by moving the team. It’s not all the fault of the fans. The per capita income here is the lowest of all the MLB markets. There is less corporate support. The TV contract is not as lucrative as most other places. No salary cap favors big market teams. And the owner is as miserly and bottom line driven as any in all of baseball. That’s a bad combination.

The only way the Rays could survive here is to be astute at drafting and developing their own talent. Unfortunately that is their weakest link. They try to out smart people with shrewd trades and bring in new young talent and cheap free agents from other teams. How’s that working out? Not so good is the answer.

There is an expiration date for baseball here and it’s the date the lease expires at the Trop. Until then we are in for a lot of turbulent times. It’s going to be miserable for you to sit through all those losing games this year. I won’t be watching. I know how this movie ends.


Gary Shelton February 24, 2018 at 7:52 am

A question. If you owned the team in the worst market in baseball, by far, what would do? Spend an extra $20 million a year? An extra $50 million? I’m not being a wise guy. What would you do?


scott myers February 25, 2018 at 10:36 am

One thing I would do is open my books, if I am expecting taxpayers to subsidize my allegedly unprofitable business.

BTW, a new stadium drawing 10,000 fans more per game, will generate, per Brian Auld, just $20 million per year in additional revenue. And of course there is the pesky detail of how to pay for the new stadium that will cost $34 million per year assuming 4% at 30 years. The MATH DOESN’T WORK for a new stadium!


Gary Shelton February 25, 2018 at 5:15 pm

I don’t think you’ll see that. Owners aren’t interested in what we think is fair,


scott myers February 26, 2018 at 8:37 am

But shouldn’t our elected officials, who are giving away our taxes, be?

Gary Shelton February 26, 2018 at 7:30 pm

Of course


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