Rays attendance is not about fan apathy. It's a structural thing.

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I think Bob nailed the Rays attendance hubbub pretty good last night, but I figured I’d add my thoughts.

No one is saying that it’s wonderful that the Rays drew poorly last night (or draw poorly in general), but I think the notion of blaming Rays fans for their apathy or failure to support the team is myopic.

Yes, there was a history of losing there that has been hard to overcome, but there are institutional problems that have always meant for poor attendance and always will make for poor attendance for the club.  The park sucks. It’s separated from the main population center of the Bay Area — Tampa — by a long and annoying bridge. The people that do live in St. Petersburg are not demographically ideal for baseball. Many of them are also likely transplants as well, and have loyalties to other teams.

We’ve heard all of this before, of course, so I’m a bit puzzled at the “why won’t Rays fans support their team!” comments this morning. Not so much from David Price and Evan Longoria — they’re emotional about it, I get that — but from a lot of fans on the web and on Twitter.

For example, one of my friends on the web noted that, like Florida, Philadelphia suffers from 12% unemployment right now, and they’ve sold out hundreds of games in a row.  Well, yeah. But that team has also played baseball in that town for a 127 years, the population of Philadelphia is seriously from Philly, and the park is both beautiful and accessible. It’s a gross understatement to say that those things matter, and it’s an unfair simplification of things to slam Rays fans for failing to support their team.

Buster Olney added a nice bit to this in his column this morning as well: marketing matters. He takes David Price and Evan Longoria’s comments about the attendance and pretends a bagel shop owner said the same thing. It’s understandably silly. Location matters. Marketing matters. Market matters.  In this, the Rays are fighting against the tide (and in some cases, have themselves to blame).

I think the Rays fans that do show up are great fans. But I get why many don’t show up.  It may lead to the team leaving someday. If so, hey, that’s business, and it has always been a possibility with this team. I don’t see it, however, as a reason to cast aspersions on an entire market.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.