The Rays want out of St. Petersburg

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Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg said yesterday what everyone has known for a long time: the Rays simply aren’t viable in St. Petersburg.  Certainly not in Tropicana Field and probably not even if those cool stadium plans the Rays came up with a couple of years ago — but which the city rejected — ever came to fruition.

Which they now never will, because Sternberg says that, to be viable, the Rays likely have to be across the bridge in Tampa. Hard to say if even that would make the Rays viable. Tampa is turning into a Yankees town, I hear.

I think the most interesting aspect of this — which is kind of buried in the story — is that Sternberg is basically asking the whole region to woo him as if he were the owner of a team in another city looking to move into the area:

“If we weren’t here, how would people treat us?” Sternberg said
wistfully. “I think that’s how I’d like to see this community react. If
we weren’t here, I think it would take a regional effort to get us
here.”

But you are there, Stuart, and you have a lease to an ugly old dome that no one forced you to sign (or, rather, assume when you bought the team), so you can’t expect to sit back and wait for everyone to cater to your leverage-free butt as if you were gifting them something.

Not that I don’t sympathize — the Rays are in a lousy spot — but in case Sternberg hasn’t noticed, the unemployment rate in the Tampa-St. Pete area is close to 12% and property values are in the dumper. To expect the area to pony up a minimum of a quarter of a billion dollars to build you a ballpark in this environment is not realistic.

Personally I think this is step one — the pledge of local loyalty — to Sternberg moving the team out of the Tampa Bay area entirely. If and when the region doesn’t woo him like he wants to be wooed, he’ll move on, saying that he gave them all a chance.

Where to move? I dunno, but Sternberg himself says there are “at least five” better cities in the U.S. that don’t currently have baseball teams and, I’m assuming anyway, could have baseball teams without running afoul of baseball’s established territories. Let’s see, Vegas (which I don’t think is viable for reasons I’ve said before) . . . Portland (which won’t even bother to keep its AAA team) . . . Charlotte . . . OK, I give up, Stuart, which five do you mean?

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.