No, Las Vegas would not work for Major League Baseball

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The other day I wrote about the Rays’ desire for a new ballpark in Tampa instead of St. Pete. At the time, Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg said that there are at least five better cities the Rays could move to that don’t already have baseball teams. Which kind of got my brain whirring.

On the one hand I’m kind of skeptical because the Tampa-St. Pete area is pretty big. Indeed, unless you count the Inland Empire area of Southern California — which may very well be Dodgers or Angels territory anyway — there is no metropolitan statistical area in the United States that is (a) bigger than the Tampa Bay area; and (b) does not already have a baseball team. And the area is growing, so that’s not going to change any time soon.

On the other hand, Sternberg may be right, because there could be factors other than just size and growth trajectory. He could simply be talking about city size + demographics + willingness to build a stadium + a zillion other factors to which we’re all not really hip.  Those are all relative unknowns because you really can’t say what a city and its taxpayers would be willing to do unless and until a professional sports franchise actually knocks on their door.

But we can try to guess some of the main contenders, can’t we?  Let’s do, in order of large MSAs that don’t currently have a baseball team: Portland (23rd largest), Sacramento (25th), Orlando (27th), San Antonio (28th), Las Vegas (30th), Columbus (32nd) and Charlotte (33rd). I dunno, maybe it makes more sense to list them in order of media markets, because ultimately it will be eyeballs on televisions that make the deal workable or not. We’ll likely get the same suspects, however.  Maybe Indianapolis shows up above a place like Columbus, but these are the cities everyone talks about.

Each of those places has its pros and cons, but for now, though, let’s talk about the one people always seem to want to talk about the most: Las Vegas: it’s always everyone’s favorite because there’s so much money floating around the town, entertainment is the leading industry and everyone wants to go there.

But you know what? I’ve never been convinced that Las Vegas would work for baseball.

I think the biggest problem is that unlike boxing, which is Vegas’ biggest sports calling card, baseball is not driven by big, single night events. Football isn’t a good comp either in that there
are 10 times as many home baseball games as there are home football games. Season ticket sales matter more in baseball, and season ticket sales are all about attracting the locals who will come on Tuesday and Wednesday
nights, not the folks who drive up from L.A. on the weekend to gamble a bit.  And if you haven’t noticed, the locals in Las Vegas are in serious economic peril these days.

And even if you assume that you could get the people, where are they gonna watch the game? This is a big issue, because the ballpark economics in Las Vegas seem way more problematic to me than they do to most people who talk the place up.  The assumption is always that MGM or Steve Wynn or someone would simply build a ballpark next to a casino as if it were just another phony volcano or fake pirate battle, but I find such a proposition ridiculous.

Why? because while pedestrian-snaring eye candy is one thing, casino owners have zero incentive to create something that will draw their patrons off the gambling floor for three hours at a time 81 nights a year. Sure, there’s a lot of money in $8 beers and $5 hot dogs, but it pales compared to how much money someone sitting at a slot machine will give you over the course of an evening.  And while I think Major League Baseball would get over its gambling aversion to let a team play in Vegas, I also think they’d draw a line at people playing Keno from the bleacher seats.  The upshot: baseball fans would be a net loser for the casinos. (UPDATE: and if you think public money would work in Vegas, just ask the people behind the arena proposals that were just shot down there last week).

So, if the locals couldn’t support a team — which they couldn’t — and the casinos wouldn’t be into the idea — which they wouldn’t — what does Vegas have to recommend it?

Nothin’ as far as I can see.

Evan Gattis undergoes surgery for hernia; recovery is 4-6 weeks

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Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle shares the bad news

One of the Astros’ big bats won’t be taking hacks when the Astros hold their first full workout on Feb. 23.

Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis recently underwent surgery to repair a hernia, the Chronicle has learned, taking away most of his spring training at a minimum. The recovery is four to six weeks but fortunately for Gattis and the Astros, the injury is not considered severe.

Gattis was working hard on his overall conditioning this winter, even telling MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart in late January that he had already dropped 18 pounds. It sounds like the big slugger might have gone a bit overboard with those workouts, and now he is in real danger of missing the first couple weeks of the 2016 regular season.

Gattis batted .246/.285/.463 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 153 games last season for the Astros. The 29-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career and has a hearing with the Astros scheduled for February 16 to determine his salary for 2016. He requested $3.8 million and was offered $3 million when figures were exchanged a little over three weeks ago.

Suddenly the Astros’ front office might have a new talking point for those arbitrators.

Seung-Hwan Oh finally receives his work visa, will be on time for Cardinals camp

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At last check, new Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh was still awaiting a work visa from the United States Embassy in South Korea and there was some worry that he might not be able to arrive on time to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

But that is now officially a non-story.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Oh has recieved his work visa and is expected to report to Cardinals camp next week along with the rest of the club’s pitchers and catchers. Oh might even show up a bit earlier than the Cardinals originally asked him to, per Goold.

Oh saved 357 games in 11 seasons between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization before inking a one-year contract with St. Louis this winter. He also registered a stellar 1.81 ERA and 772 strikeouts across 646 total innings in Asia, earning the nickname “The Final Boss.”

Oh is expected to work in a setup role this year for Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.

John Lamb had back surgery in December, will likely get off to late start in 2016

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John Lamb was part of the Reds’ return package in last July’s Johnny Cueto trade and he had a strong showing at the Triple-A level in 2015. But the young left-hander posted a 5.80 ERA in a 10-start cup of coffee with Cincinnati late last season — his first 10 appearances as a major leaguer — and now comes word from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that Lamb will probably have to get off to a late start in 2016.

Lamb underwent surgery in December to repair a herniated disc in his back — a surgery that went unreported by the Reds until Tuesday afternoon. Reds manager Bryan Price acknowledged on MLB Network that Lamb is behind the team’s other starting pitchers and will likely open the coming season on the disabled list. The hope is that he might be ready by mid-April.

It’s a small but frustrating blow for a rebuilding Reds team that will be looking to establish some foundational pieces in 2016. Once he is recovered, Lamb will be expected to fill the Reds’ fifth rotation spot behind Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and Michael Lorenzen.

This is going to be an ugly year for Cincinnati baseball fans.

Yu Darvish will report to spring training on time, hopes to begin mound work in March

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Rangers ace Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery last March 17. Most starting pitchers take 13-15 months to fully recover from that procedure, and the Rangers aren’t counting on Darvish until sometime this May.

His rehab so far has gone on without issue.

Darvish offered some very positive updates Tuesday to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram …

Darvish, 29, boasts a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in 83 career major league starts. He can also claim a whopping 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 career major league innings.

Texas has him under contract for $10 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017.