Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is trying to get a new ballpark, but he’s got almost no leverage to do so. He’s locked in an iron-clad lease with St. Petersburg, keeping the Rays in Tropicana Field. The city is willing to at least entertain the idea of another ballpark someplace else in St. Pete, but Sternberg is prohibited from exploring moving the team across the bridge to Tampa.
So what can he do? Offer vague and ominous threats, mostly. He went before the Hillsborough County Commission, and said this about the current prospects of the Rays:
Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said Thursday that he wants to keep his team in the region, but “Major League Baseball at this point no longer believes in the Tampa Bay area.”
The nature of the league’s lack of faith in the region was lest unspecific, but he hinted that contraction of the Rays, while not necessarily a priority of the league, is “an option.” This is nothing new for Sternberg, of course, as he has said in the past that he thinks the league will “vaporize” the Rays.
In reality, no, it’s not an option at all. Indeed, as we’ve noted several times here, it’s basically fantasyland stuff, inasmuch as contracting a team would cost Major League Baseball and its owners something on the order of a billion dollars, plus lawsuits and the risk of government meddling in the league’s business. They’d do it if the game was in some existential crisis, but it’s not. One owner has a bad lease and is scraping by. That’s a small problem, all things considered, not one which will ever inspire the league to wade into the muck of contraction.
I feel from Sternberg because, yes, his and the Rays’ situation is awful for them. But it’s one that is simply going to require some creativity and maybe some guts (and the defense of a lawsuit from St. Petersburg), not the nuclear option of contraction.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.