We mentioned this over the weekend in that post about the misgivings local officials have about helping the Red Sox build their new spring training facility, but James Wagner of the Washington Post has a more in-depth story about the Nationals flirtation with Fort Myers.
The upshot: the Nationals approached
Hammond Lee County officials about moving to City of Palms park — the Red Sox old spring training home — over the summer, but talks haven’t gone anywhere. This passage says why:
… having committed more than $80 million in a bond issue for a new Red Sox stadium and having approved $42.5 million in upgrades to the Minnesota Twins’ facility, Hammond Stadium, the county is limited in what it can offer the Nationals. Despite the financial constraints, Lee County officials remain optimistic they can still entice the Nationals …
There are a lot of ideas in there about how the government can “lure” the Nationals with $1 rent and diverting some local taxes to eventually pay for renovations. It’s a familiar story. Nowhere, however, is there mention of what the Nats might pony up themselves. I guess it’s assumed that a team paying anything for its own facility is crazy talk.
Why the county, which is going broke appeasing the Red Sox and the Twins, should be in the business of “offering” or “enticing” a baseball team owned by an insanely rich person is beyond me. The total renovations required for City of Palms park — which served quite well as the southern home for Red Sox Nation for several years — are about $40-50 million. That’s less than half of what they’re paying Jayson Werth. It’s about one percent of owner Ted Lerner’s net worth. I bet the Nats could swing it if they wanted to.
Professional sports: the only business in which it is assumed on an a priori basis that the government, not the business owner, will build the factory.
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.