Rays’ hopes for new park hurt by Marlins
Commentator Keith Olbermann first advanced the notion that the Marlins’ latest bait-and-switch would kill the Rays’ chances of getting public financing for a new stadium in Florida.
Rival executives quickly agreed.
One exec said the Rays had been “making progress” on financing, but would be set back by the Marlins’ betrayal of the Miami-Dade County lawmakers who approved the team’s subsidies.
Another exec predicted that the Rays now stand “zero chance” of getting a park built to replace dreary Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Fla.
The Rays’ view, according to major league sources: Their negotiations for a new stadium were only “inching along,” and their chances of securing financing were slim even before the Marlins’ latest stunt.
Frankly, the Rays don’t believe they should be lumped with the Marlins, and not simply because they’ve won 90 games in each of the last three seasons (while ranking last or next-to-last in MLB in attendance the last two).
The Marlins offered almost a textbook study in how not to open a new park. Some in baseball believe that a series of poor decisions doomed the franchise’s efforts from the start.
For one thing, the Marlins picked a questionable location, choosing the site of the Orange Bowl rather than a more central, accessible part of Miami. They essentially changed markets as well, cutting off Fort Lauderdale with their move to the inner city.
In essence, they were starting over — and would have been, to a degree, no matter where they relocated.
According to the April 9 issue of The New Yorker, “The team typically claimed season-ticket sales of 5,000 in recent years, although David Samson, the Marlins’ president freely, concedes that was a lie.”
“It was always 2,000,” Samson told the magazine.
Under the circumstances, then, it made sense for the Marlins to back-load the contracts of free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell. The team was trying to slap together a World Series contender and generate momentum for its new park. When the effort failed, the Marlins bailed, consistent with their past approach.
Clearly, the Rays should not be held responsible for the sins of their South Florida cousins. But the economic climate for public financing was poor to begin with, and the Rays’ weak fan support doesn’t exactly help their case.
Adding to the Rays’ difficulties: St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster recently rejected a proposal for the team to explore possible Tampa-based sites in Hillsborough County, citing the Rays’ lease at the Trop, which runs through 2027.
Well, Foster will need to reconsider for the Rays to stay in the region. The team’s owner, Stuart Sternberg, has every reason to bolt, but publicly clings to the notion the Rays can succeed in Tampa Bay if they get a new park in the right location.
Where is the justice?
The Marlins do everything wrong and move into a shiny new baseball palace.
The Rays do everything right and get stuck at the Trop.
NEEDED FOR ROYAL FLUSH: AN ACE
I’ve got no problem with the Royals’ one-year, $12 million investment in righty Ervin Santana and three-year, $25 million commitment to free-agent righty Jeremy Guthrie — as long as the team’s next move is to trade for an ace.
Santana, 29, and Guthrie, 33, are mid-rotation pieces at best, pitchers who would look far better if slotted behind someone such as the Rays’ James Shields or Jeremy Hellickson.
Whether the Royals are willing to pay the necessary price in talent for such a pitcher remains to be seen. But as evidenced by the Blue Jays’ 12-player deal with the Marlins, the pressure is mounting on a number of low- to mid-revenue clubs to contend sooner rather than later. If the Athletics and Orioles can reach the postseason, then others can, too.
The Royals still like their young pitching, believing that left-hander Will Smith will only improve, that righty Jake Odorizzi will become a solid starter, that righty Yordano Ventura could be their Pedro Martinez, and that lefty Danny Duffy will make a successful recovery from Tommy John surgery.
All that is fine. But if the Royals are serious about contending in the near future, they need an ace.
FUN WITH COMPARISONS
Which center fielder would you rather have?
Our first entry batted .274 with a .739 OPS last season and ranked first among center fielders in the Fielding Bible plus-minus ratings, according to Bill James Online.
Our second contestant batted .283 with a .738 OPS and ranked third in the plus-minus ratings, but was much less of a base-stealing threat.
Pretty close, no?
Well, center fielder No. 1 is free agent Michael Bourn, and center fielder No. 2 is the Twins’ Denard Span.
Bourn, who turns 30 on Dec. 27, is a little more than a year older than Span. His career OPS-plus is lower (and in fact, below major league average). But the biggest difference between the two players is the acquisition cost.
For Bourn, it will be a sizable contract and a high draft pick. For Span, it will be an accomplished starting pitcher, plus his club-friendly deal — two years, $11.25 million, plus a $9 million club option for 2015.
The Twins might not get the package they want, considering that Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton and Angel Pagan are among the other center fielders available on the open market.
But if you’re, say, the Braves — a team relatively deep in starting pitching — Span might represent a more logical play than one of the free agents.
ANOTHER OUTFIELDER FOR D-BACKS TO TRADE?
The mixed signals continue from the Diamondbacks, who are open to trading Justin Upton even as their managing general partner, Ken Kendrick, continues to insist the right fielder likely will return.
The Rangers, according to one source, are waiting for the D-backs to back off on their demands for either shortstop Elvis Andrus or infielder Jurickson Profar as the centerpiece of an Upton deal.
Others wonder if the D-Backs eventually might trade left fielder Jason Kubel instead of Upton, even though they would receive a lesser return.
Several D-Backs players believe that Gerardo Parra deserves to play every day. A trade of Upton would leave the team with an all-left-handed hitting outfield of Kubel, Parra and Adam Eaton — less than ideal.
Kubel, 30, is signed for $7.5 million next season with a $7.5 million club option for 2014, making him more affordable than most quality free-agent outfielders.
The question is whether Kubel and a young starting pitcher could help bring the D-Backs the shortstop or top-of-the-rotation type they are seeking.
TRADE ARENCIBIA? MAYBE NOT SO FAST
Rival clubs believe that the Blue Jays would trade catcher J.P. Arencibia, perhaps to a catching-hungry team such as the Rangers.
The Jays, though, might not be in a rush to make such a move.
Arencibia, John Buck and Bobby Wilson seemingly give the Jays a surplus, particularly when the team’s top prospect, Travis D’Arnaud, also is a catcher.
D’Arnaud, though, did not play after late June last season due to a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The best course for him is probably to start the season at Triple A.
Thus, a trade of Arencibia would leave the Jays with Buck and Wilson, at least until D’Arnaud is ready.
The risk might be too great for a team that plans to contend.
Buck and Wilson batted a combined .198 in 514 at-bats last season. Arencibia is a year away from arbitration, and the Jays control him for four more years.
There is no need for the Jays to get ahead of themselves — unless, of course, they can get the right pitcher in return.
WAITING ON THE YANKEES
Speaking of catchers, the market for free agents Russell Martin, A.J. Pierzynski and even Mike Napoli is stalled for two reasons, agents say.
First, the Blue Jays and Red Sox are among the teams offering trade possibilities at catcher. Second, the Yankees only are focused on pitching, putting their other decisions on hold.
Agents and others find the Yankees’ approach somewhat odd, but under Hal Steinbrenner, the team has taken almost a paint-by-numbers approach to its offseasons, addressing one need at a time.
The Yankees plan to either re-sign Martin or replace him. The catching market could accelerate if Napoli bolts the Rangers for, say, the Red Sox or Mariners. But even then, the Yankees will partly control the pace.
AROUND THE HORN
* The courtship of Japanese free-agent shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima is proving quite interesting.
Nakajima, who will play at age 30 next season, is expected to receive top-of-the-market offers from multiple Japanese clubs. But he also is drawing interest from the Diamondbacks, Athletics and other major league teams at three different positions — second, short and third.
The question is how much less Nakajima would accept to realize his goal of playing in the majors. Three years ago, catcher Kenji Johjima signed a four-year, $21 million deal with the Hanshin Tigers after opting out of his contract with the Mariners. Nakajima’s potential offers in Japan could be higher.
* The Phillies, in their search for a setup man, are asking around about free-agent righty Koji Uehara, who previously was with the Rangers.
Royals righties Aaron Crow and Greg Holland are two other targets for teams seeking setup help. The Royals, however, are unlikely to trade off their major league club — unless, of course, they can find a taker for right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
* Free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson might not be a team’s first or second choice for a postseason start, but his durability remains a selling point.
Jackson, 29, has thrown 180 or more innings in each of the past five seasons, and has not been the DL since 2004.
According to research by Jackson’s agents at Legacy Sports, only 23 pitchers in the past 20 years have produced five consecutive 180-inning seasons between ages 24 and 28. That puts Jackson’s durability in the top 8 percent of all comparable starters during that time.
* Free-agent outfielder Reed Johnson — a bench player extraordinaire — is drawing interest from the Braves and a number of other clubs.
Johnson, 35, led the majors with 18 pinch-hits in 43 at-bats last season, batting .419 with a .991 OPS and producing more hits off the bench than 12 major league clubs. It helped that he stayed off the DL for the entire season, something he hadn’t done since 2006.