The Rays need to get out of Tampa Bay

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I don’t know that I know enough myself to make such a judgment, but that’s the judgment of ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume, who writes what I feel to be a fairly accurate and even-handed assessment of the problems facing the Rays in St. Petersburg, concluding thusly:

Again: This is not about assigning blame. Nobody is a bad person for not attending a baseball game. Even with 30 new ballparks one major league team would still have to be last in attendance, and even with a new stadium on the Tampa side, there is nothing to suggest that team wouldn’t be the Rays. The Tampa Bay area is a great place. It just hasn’t been a great place for Major League Baseball to do business.

The most compelling argument against the Rays’ viability in the Tampa Bay area that I’ve heard is the argument that, overall regional population aside, it’s a population that is really spread out in terms of miles from the ballpark. And that’s even before you factor in the bridges and other demographic considerations. At some point, you either feel like you have a ballpark nearby or you don’t, and the bulk of the population in the Tampa Bay Area apparently views the Rays as playing far away from them, in a location that isn’t worth the bother of reaching.

Of course, there are no easy solutions. There are very few if any cities that would be sure-things from a business perspective if the Rays were to relocate. Some would be better than St. Petersburg, but no sure things.

It strikes me that the best bet to ensure the financial viability of the franchise would be to move it into an area that is already part of the claimed territory of an existing team, such as Brooklyn or the New York suburbs. Inland Empire, California. That kind of thing. Such a move would certainly upset apple carts, but it would also reflect the population trends of the past few decades, and those trends are something to which baseball has always, eventually, had to adhere.

Starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani will pinch-hit and pinch-run for the Angels in 2018

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The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.

I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.

Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.

Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.

To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.