No, Las Vegas would not work for Major League Baseball


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.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.