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Heyman | Rays fire sale timing makes little sense

Jon Heyman

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Aug 23, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) is congratulated by left fielder Corey Dickerson (10) as he hits a home run during the fourth inning Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Some Tampa Bay Rays players are upset by the first-of-its-kind spring fire sale. And fans are said to be beside themselves.

One baseball person who lives in the area suggested that attendance will be a record low. He guessed 2,000 fans per game. We think he was (partially) kidding. The attendance, already weak, has to suffer after this sort of fire sale. The Rays’ payroll will remain in the non-competitive $75 million to $80 million range. (Rays people, for the record, won’t even call it a rebuild, much less a fire sale. They say they’ve lost or traded some good players but they will be replaced with comparable players, that Matt Duffy will be in for Evan Longoria, that Carlos Gomez will be in for Steven Souza, and that a host of kids will be in for Jake Odorizzi.)

The Rays do deserve credit for establishing an excellent farm pipeline and the loss of the stars will be blunted by some degree with a host of very good prospects, eventually including Brent Honeywell, Jake Bauers, Willy Adams, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos and others

The really odd thing about the decision to sell off so many stars is the timing. The team may not be quite as bad some other fire sellers because of its excellent system but the really odd thing is it is normally it is all done before players get to spring training (though perhaps that’s when trades came to fruition, as the whole free-agent market has been delayed by weeks and weeks). But that is only one issue. The really surprising thing is that the extreme sale came right after the Rays announced their intention to build a new stadium in the Ybor City section of Tampa with the hope that the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County politicians — plus corporate sponsors — could get behind this endeavor.

With the trades of Odorizzi and Souza, and the shocking DFA of 2017 All-Star Corey Dickerson after they had tendered him a contract, it is hard to see anyone local investing big bucks in the Rays, whether it be sponsors or politicians they’d need for that new stadium. (One MLB person said the idea may be to play for the future, and make sure the team is very good when the stadium comes to fruition in a few years, but I wonder what the chances are to get the stadium in the first place when the team is decimated to the point it’s down to a handful of name players.)

The team’s announced intention to contribute only $150 million of a projected $600 million need for a new stadium was ridiculed to begin with, but people close to the situation say the Rays may put in as much as twice that and aren’t sure why they haven’t corrected that $150 million impression.

Anyway, now that they seem to be trying to gather a piece of that $150 million by selling off mid-priced veterans, it’s hard to see anyone supporting the project. Rays center field star Kevin Kiermaier voiced his displeasure with what’s going on, and some other remaining veterans are thought to be just as dismayed, according to people who know them. Odorizzi, who was traded to the Twins, told folks he was happy to have found a new home with a contender, and you wonder if Kiermaier and others might think about asking out. (It isn’t known if that’s happened yet.)

Rays GM Erik Neander, who’s a sharp and reasonable fellow, publicly said he does not anticipate trading remaining stars Chris Archer or Kiermaier now. But it’s hard to know whether the players will take that as a promise – or a threat. Archer is in an especially rough spot, as he signed long-term under very different circumstances and still has four years to go in Tampa (including the two team options). People around the team say things aren’t the same since the departures of GM Andrew Friedman, manager Joe Maddon, pitching coach Jim Hickey and others who aren’t as well known. Longtime P.R. director Rick Vaughn was let got around that time, too, and he’s one of the very best in the business. (Maddon hired him to run his charity).

Rays owner Stu Sternberg has said all along his intention is to keep the team in Tampa as long as he can get a new stadium. But the team’s efforts have been less than spectacular in that regard, and that goes way back. Some local political leaders in St. Petersburg are said to have seen some Rays executives as carpetbagging Ivy Leaguers (some have remained living in New York) who weren’t willing to acclimate themselves locally.

Anyway, they’ve never come close to doing what it takes to get the stadium in St. Pete, even before they switched to Tampa. There’s some scuttlebutt the ownership group has interest in moving to Montreal if a new stadium can’t be built. And there’s even more reason to think that’s a possibility.

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Jon Heyman is an MLB Insider for FanRag Sports, featuring breaking news, information and his Inside Baseball column, which appears on FanRagSports.com every Thursday. Heyman also has been an insider at MLB Network since the channel launched in 2009 and is a regular contributor to WFAN in New York, where he appears weekly on the Joe and Evan Show and previously appeared on the Mike and the Mad Dog Show. He also appears on WSCR in Chicago, WBZ-FM in Boston and the Petros and Money Show on Fox in Los Angeles. Heyman comes to FanRag Sports from CBSSports.com, where he worked for five years and wrote the popular Inside Baseball notes column. Before going to CBS, Heyman worked for five years at Sports Illustrated and SI.com, where he was a senior writer and started an Inside Baseball Column. Heyman worked for 16 years at Newsday in New York, where he was the Yankees beat writer, a baseball columnist and finally a general sports columnist. Heyman started his career at the Moline (Ill.) Daily Dispatch, then moved to the Los Angeles Copley Newspapers (Torrance Daily Breeze and Santa Monica Outlook) before going to Newsday. Heyman at one time also served as a national baseball writer for The Sporting News. Heyman is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The Santa Fe, N.M. native grew up in Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Long Island.

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