Beware claims that the Braves new ballpark will be privately funded

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As is the case with any breaking news story, there are conflicting reports about the details of the Braves new ballpark in Cobb County, Georgia. Specifically the financing. Reports have the place being a $672 million project overall. Some reports, however, have it as a ~$450 million public contribution from Cobb County with the Braves paying for the rest. Other reports are characterizing that $450 million component of it as private funding or private funding “arranged” by the county, with the Braves paying the rest.

We’ll know the details eventually. But even after we think we know the details, be sure to use your critical listening and critical thinking skills to figure out what you’re really being told. Because politicians and baseball team owners are notoriously opaque about this stuff.

Specifically, they’re big on characterizing what are, in reality, public funds as private funds. Or at least something other than tax dollars. Because in the political orthodoxy of the past 30 years, nothing has become more politically toxic than using tax money for anything. Or, at the very least, having one’s political opponents claim you used tax money for something. Even for things that taxes are actually supposed to pay for like, say, fighting off anarchy and society-killing social and economic dislocation!

So they spin. Like crazy. A hotel bed tax — which is most certainly a tax and is most certainly the spending of public money — is often spun as something other than public funds. So too are bonds. So too are loans. So too are tax breaks and abatements. All manner of politicians with actual educations have stood before cameras before and claimed, with a straight face, that those things aren’t the expenditure of public dollars. As if money wasn’t fungible. As if the government’s spending of money it has for one thing doesn’t necessarily mean that the money can’t be spent for another. Or, if it was derived for a sole purpose, that it could have gone un-derived in the first place.

Private expenditures would be the Braves paying for it all. Or the Braves and a consortium of private businesses using their own money. And, hey, it’s possible that Home Depot (based in Cobb County) or the local Lockheed Martin plant could cut $450 million checks for the place. If so, yes, I will view this project in a very different light.  I just doubt it’s happening that way because it hardly ever happens that way.

Anyway: wait for the information. And, given the compulsion politicians have to avoid looking like they’re spending taxpayer money on anything besides the military, look skeptically at anyone claiming that this is all a private deal with no costs to the taxpayers.

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.