Ask Gary: Fans weary of Rays’ business model

by Gary Shelton on January 28, 2017 · 3 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

First of all, for the third year in a row, the Rays are officially cashing in the season before Opening Day by trading away another fan favorite (Logan Forsythe) for another prospect.  Call it what it is, a money move.
 
Sooner or later, the Rays will need public money to build a new ballpark in Tampa/Hillsborough County or Pinellas County or who knows?  The fans here have a decent memory and frankly the Rays are so difficult for me to embrace like I do the Lightning and the Bucs.  Stu Sternberg would blame it on the Trop, attendance, etc, but I bet a shiny hockey puck that Jeff Vinik would find a way to keep the Lightning competitive even if they were still in that barn called the Florida State Fair Expo Hall the team started in.......the Glazers don't like to lose, its obvious (sometimes too obvious) but I am kinda like that myself.
 
I think of the kids who quickly idolize the Ben Zobrist (Zorilla), James Shields, Logan Forsythe, Matt Moore, Matt Garza, etc, proudly wear their jerseys to family day at the Trop and have to be explained why they are playing for the competition now.  The Rays can't draft worth a toot either Gary.  Please, please say something to those of us nearly fed up with the Rays ownership/front office.

Bruce Brownlee

Bruce, it doesn't seem as if there is much I can say that would lessen your angst. The sad thing is, I know more and more Rays' fans who aren't upset the team isn't winning, but that they don't perceive a hope of winning. Those fans are smart enough to know that there has to be a good deal of turnover on a small-market team, but this has been too much. There simply isn't enough quality to replace the quality that the team has gotten rid of.

I know the Forsythe trade was the final straw for many fans who are trying to find something to cheer about as the baseball season approaches, but really, it made more sense than most of their trades to me. It's just that this trade was surrounded by so many others where good players went for unknown prospects, who will in turn be traded for other prospects, to be followed by a prospect to be named later.

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The thing about pro sports, to me, is when the competition is good, you never think about money. No one cared what Michael Jordan made, or Joe Montana, because they competed so hard you could shove it to the back of your memory. The Rays haven't allowed fans to do that. There is no faith in their business model, no believe they can win the AL East, so any move they made looks awkward. At the bottom of it, as you said, the team hasn't drafted a lick. If they had, most of us would understand the business side of it. But when a team looks lost on the field, all trades look careless.

When the Rays were smart -- and it didn't last -- you could say farewell to favorites because other players were still good.. But now, they're just the Oakland A's, trading away contracts more than players.

Hey, we know that every team makes deals for the sake of money -- even the Yankees and Red Sox. But if you're a fan of those two -- or the Dodgers or Cubs or Angels -- you know the team will find the money to buy a player who can put them over the top. Here, there is no chance. I think the fans of the Rays are a resilient bunch. They put up with a lot.

No, they aren't the only team that tries the patience of their fans. But they're the most extreme case. Put it this way: If you were buying your kid a jersey, whose jersey would it be? Who can you sure will still be here in four years?

As far as the new stadium, I think it's build or say bye. The Rays won't be tolerant forever. As far as Vinik, I like him too. But the Lightning is struggling, too. The difference is that no one believes it'll last forever.

Concerning the NFL playoffs and conference championship games. I always look forward to watching them because they are usually the super bowls of the season. Boy, not so this year with the conference games. What a surprise, for me that is, that as good as Green Bay was through the season they were scoreless for so long in the game and were unable to pull it off yet again.

Veronica Richardson

It was amazing that Green Bay was able to go as far as it did with an awful defense. Aaron Rodgers is terrific when he's on a roll, but the Packers eventually have to stop someone. When they faced a offense even better than theirs, they had no answers.

You're right. Usually, the conference games are terrific, and they're often more historic than the Super Bowl. Not this year. Neither the Packers nor the Steelers had enough juice to make a great game. Maybe we'll get it in the Super Bowl.

 

I remember awhile back when the Florida Aquarium in Tampa raised prices because not enough folks were showing up.

The Rays keep lowering payroll year after year.  Is it the expectation that this will increase attendance?

Scott Myers

The Aquarium at least had good fish. The Rays, not so much.

I don't know that you could increase attendance at gunpoint. The Rays, for a long time, won despite their limitations, and fans didn't come. They made the tickets more affordable, and fans didn't come.

Yes, the Rays have had a payroll decrease in each of the last three seasons (no number in on this year yet), but it's pushing it to say they've lowered payroll year after year, if we're being fair. The last three years, the Rays have spent more than $73 million each year. But four years ago, in 2013, the payroll was less than $58 million. Two years earlier, it was $41 million. Eleven years ago, it was last in the league at $24 million. And in a lot of those years, the Rays fair exceeded their salary with their performance.

That's where I have my problem. It isn't with the payroll, it's with the performance.  We all agree the Rays should spend more -- it's like buying lottery tickets, your chances of winning go up the more you pay. To win, the Rays have to develop more players, especially pitchers. They aren't doing that.

Nothing has really had an affect on attendance. But the only thing that has a chance is winning. Bobbleheads won't do it. Bat day won't do it. And if the team stays in last place, I daresay that a new stadium will only partially do it. You could put Shamu at second base -- with Forsythe gone, there is an opening -- and it wouldn't help.

Rick Kriseman went to NYC and spoke to Rob Manfred about St. Pete's ideas for a new stadium at the Trop. Is there any chance in the world of MLB supporting the idea of the new stadium staying in St. Pete? They have never liked the Trop site

Jim Willson

I've been in a press conference with Manfred, and I believe this: The commissioner will support whatever the Rays want. Sternberg is thought of highly in Manfred's office, and if Sternberg thinks his best deal is in St. Pete, I think he'll go along with it.

All things being equal, I think the Rays would prefer to go to Tampa. But in a stadium battle, all things aren't. You already hear noise from Tampa about how poor the town is and how much they want the Rays to contribute. But a baseball owner doesn't get into the stadium game with the notion it will cost him a lot of money. It may not be fair, but owners are notoriously tight on their money. Heck, they wouldn't need a new stadium if they had that much cash.

So, sure, you can see where Tampa wouldn't be able to come up with the finances. I know a lot of smart people who think the team's best deal is still going to be in St. Pete.

If you ran baseball and worked in New York, you probably wouldn't like the Trop, either. The catwalks. The old ownership group. For a long time, St. Pete was a pain the neck. Now that the team's losing again, you probably don't get glowing reports, either.

How sad about Mark Gastineau. Though more focus is on concussions now he is of that era when it was pretty much ignored by powers that be, players and many others.

Veronica Richardson

A few years ago, when all of this concussion news began, I did a story. I called a lot of old Bucs who were starting to show the signs of head trauma. There were a lot of familiar faces, faces who had given great joy to Tampa Bay fans. I thought everyone would love that story.

Instead, I got a ton of email from fans who didn't care. Some thought the players made their money. Some thought they knew what they were getting into.

The thing that always got me, though, was the accusations that the league knew more about the dangers than they ever let on. I compared it to an airline pilot. Yes, he knows that flying is dangerous, but that doesn't mean you don't work to make the equipment safer.

I cringe when I see one of the older players who slurs his words or blinks constantly or who has to write down things to remember it. I love football, but I'll be honest. There are times I wonder if it's worth the trouble.

When I was a kid, Larry Csonka had to have a special helmet made to protect him. Maybe we need to do that for everyone. If I were a player, I certainly wouldn't trust the owners to look out for my health. Would you?

What do you think the chances are of St. Pete getting an MSL team?

Jim Willson

In the long run, I think they're great. The league likes the team owner, Bill Edwards. It likes the stadium site. That's two big steps on a lot of the competition.

I found one site that had a survey of the teams involved. St. Pete was eighth out of 10 teams, so that isn't so good for the next wave of expansion. But I'm not sure the league cares about some of the things that the guy doing the survey cares about.

But I think the area's long history with the Rowdies helps. So hang in there. I think it's coming. I just think the road may be a bit rockier than some fans believe.

Do you think the Rays will be making anymore trades of their higher salaried guys this winter or has enough payroll been dumped? Also what do you think will happen first, Longoria gets fed up with losing and requests a trade or the Rays decide they can no longer afford him?

 Larry Beller

If the trade of Logan Forsythe is any example, I don't think anyone can go to sleep without believing they could be soneone else's property tomorrow. Hey, this is a last-place team. There has to be some level of discomfort.

It's just a thought, but I wonder about Steven Souza Jr. He strikes out a lot, and the Rays have addressed their outfield often this off-season. Maybe another pitcher? It's possible.

I wonder about Longo, not that he would request a trade or that the team would decide to move him because of his pay. I wonder because he's coming off a terrific year, and odds are he won't quite match it this year. Keep in mind: it's the Rays' way to trade players while they're hot and sign players after an off-year.

In a way, though, I think the trade of Forsythe -- which was very unpopular, would make it harder to deal Longo this year. Fans would really be upset at moving the face of the franchise.  But might the Rays trade him? It's possible. Trading a guy who makes a lot of money is usual around here.

Andrew Friedman

Joe Maddon – World Series winning manager.

Ben Zobrist – World Series MVP

James Loney

Brandon Guyer – Major contributor for the Indians in the World Series

Logan Forsythe

This is a short list of personnel/players that Stu Sternberg has let go/traded, etc.  They were all good or great at what they did and all affordable and most of all they were all fan favorites.  So why let them go?   Sure Matt Silverman is the guy making the trades now but nothing takes place without Sternberg’s approval and or direction.  I believe Sternberg wants to bring attendance down to the lowest level ever in order to justify with the City of St. Pete and Major League Baseball a move completely out of the area.  Yes, I realize attendance has never been great but Vinik has proven that things can be done to promote the product. Sternberg has no love for St. Pete and doesn’t even attend games unless they are playing the Yankees. What say you?

By the way, when Kiermaier goes is when I turn in my jersey. 

Michele Forte

There has been a lot of turnover, no doubt. You don't need me to tell you that. But I'm not sure I'd call all of them "affordable." Friedman became a rich man. Maddon became a rich man. Forsythe was jumping to almost 6 million dollars this year and 9 million next year. That's a lot of money for a guy who isn't an all-star.

Sure, Sternberg is the bottom-line guy. Now, when it comes to a trade of Forsythe vs. prospect Jose De Leon, I imagine he's getting most of his information from his scouts.

I'm not defending Stu. He doesn't need for a media person to do that. But if you're talking about bringing attendance down, heck, it's been at the bottom of ht league for years. How much further down can you go than last place? Vinik is great; no one likes him more than I do. But the main thing he's done is win and given people a fun product to watch. Those are the twin failings of Sternberg. I don't buy any grand conspiracies.

To me, here is where the Rays have gone wrong. One, they won enough to stop that streak of high draft picks. Two, they haven't developed players, particularly hitters. Three, because they sign bargain free agents, they depend a lot on a draft that  hasn't been utilized. Four, they lost their ability to outthink most of their opponents.

Whenever I've been around Sternberg, he's had nothing but good things to say about St. Pete. And yes, he does make more than Yankees games. But he's forever going to be thought of as an out-of-town owner.

If a fan wants to blame Sternberg for every ground ball that is bobbled, well, that's their right. He's the guy in charge. If his general manager is screwing up, he can always replace him. Right?

I do know this: Winning is hard when you don't have the resources to pay at the going rate. The Rays had a nice run from 2008-2013. Few teams enjoy that kind of run.

As far as Kiermaier, I hear what you're saying. Most fans love the guy. But you know that the odds of his spending his entire career here are not strong. When he goes, the headline should read: "Rays trade Kiermaier and Forte ... and thousands of other fans."

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller January 28, 2017 at 6:18 pm

From the questions in this segment I would say a lot of Rays fans other than myself are upset with how this organization is run. The Rays ownership is kind of like someone who buys a million dollar house and finds out they can’t make the mortgage payments. If this ownership group isn’t capable of paying players the going rate of what it takes to be competitive they need to get out. I know the attendance is bad but a lot of owners have money to spend regardless of what the bottom line shows. Not with the Rays. To use another analogy when an older person has a terminal illness it’s almost a relief when they pass on so their suffering can end. The Rays are making us fans suffer so much it would almost be a relief if they did move the team which I think will eventually happen. This business model doesn’t work and will never work again.

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Rick Martin January 29, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Outstanding analogy Larry. I’ve said it more than once that Sternberg is over his head financially and shouldn’t be an owner.

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Cecil DeBald January 28, 2017 at 6:10 pm

My thoughts. It doesn’t matter what the Rays do, people won’t flock to the Trop to see them play, and the TV contract is still paying much less than a new one would. A new stadium is in the future, either in Tampa Bay or somewhere else, and a new TV contract. The Rays have to position themselves to be competitive at that point in time, perhaps, 2020 or 2021, and that means trading for prospects that will be ready in that timeframe. Have faith, the Rays will be competitive at some point. But if you think the Rays will sacrifice prospects and cash to keep expensive players in the near future, I think you’ll be disappointed. I have a Longo jersey. I’d like to see him traded to the Dodgers and given another chance to the a World Series winner – this year or next, as Gary mentioned.

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