As the leaves turn, the “let’s contract the Rays” talk begins anew

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I feel like I spent half of last offseason debunking the notion of Major League Baseball contracting a team, be it the A’s or the Rays or whoever. It’s an easy notion to debunk when you actually think about what contraction of a franchise would entail.

Just off the top of my head it would require the other 29 MLB owners to fork over close to a billion dollars to pull it off, what with paying off the current owners for the franchise, the banks and creditors who are owed money, the governments who are owed money on ballpark leases, the business partners and other stakeholders who would sue, the army of lawyers it would cost to negotiate all of this and then to throw concessions to the union for the loss of 25 major league jobs, 15 more guys on 40-man rosters and all of that kind of thing. Hell, it may be more than a billion dollars. And for what? To keep an owner from losing ten or twenty million here or there? Please.

But the talk starts up again.  This time, however, we don’t have columnists with overactive imaginations to blame for the talk. We can thank Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg, who unleashed this comment yesterday, and which was picked up by Bill Madden of the Daily News and Rick Freeman of the Times of Trenton:

“It won’t be my decision, or solely my decision, but eventually Major League Baseball is going to vaporize this team,” Sternberg said. “It could go on nine, 10, 12 more years, but between now and then it’s going to vaporize this team. Maybe a check gets written locally, maybe someone writes me a check (to buy the team). If I had $80 million to put out there, we’d be moving along in life. We just don’t have $12 million to put into a hitter.”

I like “vaporize” better than “contract.” I hope that catches on.

Anyway, yes, the Rays’ situation is bad. They are just scraping by and there’s no immediate or obvious way out of the financial trouble they’re in.  But let’s also have some perspective here: the two players Madden and Freeman note the Rays can’t afford to re-sign are Kyle Farnsworth and Casey Kotchman. I get the idea that not being able to sign that big hitter is depressing, but if letting Farnsworth and Kotchman walk is the bellwether, we’re going to have to contract, like, 15 teams.

Sternberg is venting. He’s been doing it for a week now.  He’s entitled. But at some point we need to put his venting in perspective and realize that the Rays present a business challenge for baseball. They do not represent an existential crisis requiring vaporization — or whatever else you want to call it — of a franchise.

Report: Diamondbacks acquire Steven Souza from Rays; Yankees land Brandon Drury

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Update (6:35 PM ET): This is a three-team deal also involving the Diamondbacks, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. The Diamondbacks will receive outfielder Steven Souza from the Rays and second baseman Brandon Drury will head to the Yankees. Lefty reliever Anthony Banda will go to the Rays, Piecoro adds. The Diamondbacks will also receive prospect Taylor Widener from the Yankees, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post. MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert adds that the Rays will get two players to be named later from the D-Backs.

Souza, 28, is earning $3.55 million in his first of three years of arbitration eligibility, so the Rays are presumably saving money in moving him. Last season, Souza hit a productive .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, 78 RBI, 78 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases in 617 plate appearances. Souza’s arrival almost certainly pushes Yasmany Tomas out of a starting gig.

Drury, 25, has played a handful of positions in his brief major league career. Last year, he played second base in Arizona, batting .267/.317/.447 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI in 480 PA.

Banda, 24, made his major league debut last season, posting an ugly 5.96 ERA with a 25/10 K/BB ratio in 25 2/3 innings. The peripherals suggest he pitched better than his ERA indicated.

Widener, 23, was selected by the Yankees in the 12th round of the 2016 draft. This past season with High-A Tampa, he pitched 119 1/3 innings and posted a 3.39 ERA with a 129/50 K/BB ratio. MLB Pipeline rated Widener as the 14th-best prospect in the Yankees’ system.

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Robert Murray of FanRag Sports reports that the Rays will acquire second base prospect Nick Solak from the Yankees. The Yankees’ return is presently not known.

Solak, 23, was selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 2016 draft. He spent last season between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, hitting a combined .297/.384/.452 with 12 home runs, 53 RBI, 72 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases.

MLB Pipeline ranked Solak as the eighth-best prospect in the Yankees’ system and the fifth-best second base prospect in baseball, praising him for his ability to hit line drives as well as his speed.