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.

The Padres non-tendered RHP Tyson Ross

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04:  Tyson Ross #38 of the San Diego Padres walks off the field as he's taken out of the game in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day at PETCO Park on April 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Per a report by MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, the Padres non-tendered right-handed starter Tyson Ross on Friday, cutting loose their top ace after three seasons with the club.

Ross, 29, was sidelined for the bulk of the season with inflammation in his right shoulder and underwent thoracic outlet surgery in October. His injuries limited him to only 5 1/3 innings in 2016, during which he gave up seven runs and struck out five in a 15-0 blowout against the Dodgers.

Prior to his lengthy stint on the disabled list, the right-hander earned 9.5 fWAR and pitched to a 3.07 ERA and 9.2 K/9 rate in three full seasons with the Padres. He avoided arbitration with a one-year, $9.625 million deal prior to the 2016 season after leading the league with 33 starts and delivering a 3.26 ERA and career-best 4.4 WARP over 196 innings in 2015.

The Padres appear open to bringing Ross back to San Diego, reported Cassavell, albeit not at such a steep cost. Cassavell quoted Padres’ GM A.J. Preller, who was reportedly in trade talks involving Ross but unable to strike a deal, likely due to the right-hander’s recent health issues. Preller denied that those same health issues factored into the club’s decision to non-tender their ace.

With the move, Ross became one of 35 major leaguers to enter free agency on Friday.

Angels’ Pujols has foot surgery, could be sidelined 4 months

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols had surgery on his right foot Friday, possibly sidelining him past opening day.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols had the procedure Friday in North Carolina to release his plantar fascia, the ligament connecting the heel to the toes. The three-time NL MVP was bothered by plantar fasciitis repeatedly during the season, but played through the pain in arguably the strongest year of his half-decade with the Angels.

Eppler said the surgery typically prevents players from participating in baseball activities for three months, along with another month before they’re ready to resume playing in games. Opening day for Los Angeles is April 3, and the Angels hope Pujols can be ready.

“He’s at that point in his career where he’s keenly aware of what’s happening with his body,” Eppler said in a phone interview. “I don’t put the timetable on Albert like you would with your younger players. We’ll just see in Albert’s case, as he progresses, what his timetable is.”

Pujols, who turns 37 next month, batted .268 last year with 31 homers and 119 RBIs, the fourth-most in the majors – although his .780 OPS was among the worst of his career. He largely served as a designated hitter instead of playing first base due to problems with his hamstrings and feet.

Pujols heads into 2017 with 591 career homers, ranking him ninth in major league history. He is 18 homers behind Sammy Sosa for eighth place.

After playing in pain until the final week of the Angels’ disappointing season, Pujols began shock wave therapy on his foot early in the offseason, believing he wouldn’t need surgery.

But Pujols’ foot became more painful in recent weeks despite the therapy, and he huddled with the Angels’ top brass to decide on surgery after his most recent trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina. Continuing with conservative care would have required 10 more weeks, forcing Pujols to miss the first half of the 2017 season if he still required surgery.

“He just felt that the pain had gotten to a point where he was comfortable” having surgery, Eppler said. “If we did delay it, you’re just looking at 2 1/2 more months into the season.”

Pujols had a different type of surgery on his right foot last winter, but recovered in time for opening day. He also had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the 2013 season, eventually forcing him out for the year when his fascia snapped.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract that pried him out of St. Louis, where he won two World Series and became a nine-time NL All-Star.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since Pujols’ arrival and Mike Trout‘s concurrent emergence as one of baseball’s best players. They went 74-88 last season, the injury-plagued club’s worst record since 1999.