Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is sad

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NASHVILLE — Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg spoke with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times here at the Winter Meetings. And he was waxing pessimistic. Pessimistic at the fact that the Rays don’t make a lot of money or draw a lot of fans and that the cost of players keeps going up and up and it makes it hard for his baseball operations folks to make the team better.

We’ve heard this from Sternberg in the past. Many times, in fact. This time, however, he has a lot of vivid metaphors for the Rays’ plight which makes it a more entertaining read than usual. He’s not just not on a level playing field or on the same field as everyone else, he’s out in the parking lot, looking in at the field. The other teams have tanks, he has a three-speed bicycle. He’s fighting with one hand tied behind his back. And so on.

He’s certainly not wrong about the relative financial disadvantage at which the Rays find themselves. They don’t draw at all, even with several good on-the-field years in their recent history. And even if they did, their ballpark is not a cash register like most other teams’ ballparks are. He can’t get a new one built or get out of his current lease. The Rays do well on television but are still a year or two away from cashing in on good ratings. They get revenue sharing money, but the checks which are cut to the Rays are now far closer to Ben Zobrist money than they are to top-flight starting pitcher money.

But despite all of those challenges, my sympathy for Sternberg only goes so far. Because while he’s right that no other baseball owner would want to trade places with him, that’s a pretty damn privileged group of men to which he’s referring. Men who have, thanks to monopoly protection, taxpayer subsidies and the public’s acceptance of their maintaining opaque financials, defined what it means to be successful so comically upward that even the worst in their club is doing fantastically well.

Take the Rays, for instance. Granting — with a respectful nod to Oakland — that they’re in the worst shape of any team in baseball, they’re still profitable. Granting that the money isn’t liquid, Sternberg’s investment in the Rays back in 2004 has grown dramatically. Forbes financial numbers for baseball teams are sketchy at best, but the Rays are generally thought to clear around $8 million a year and have gone from being worth $152 million to $625 million in the decade and change Sternberg has owned them. That pales compared to what the other teams are doing, but find me an example of a bottom-performer in any other business which is still making money and seeing such dramatic appreciation in value. Baseball is a pretty sweet business to be in.

I do get that this all stinks for Rays fans. The fact that Sternberg is still making money doesn’t make it any easier for a fan to get excited come hot stove time and the Rays can’t sign any big names or extend most of their players to long term deals. It’s pretty depressing, actually. But the linked article — as so many local media profiles of the Rays plight are — is couched in terms of Sternberg’s unhappiness, not that of Rays fans. And it’s really hard to gin up sympathy for a sophisticated financial mind who knew well the challenges of buying a small market team with a bad stadium situation before he did so.

Maybe he hoped that, like a lot of other cities, the local politicians would print some money for him with a taxpayer-subsidized stadium deal. Maybe he expected that the 150-year history of professional baseball which, in large part, has been defined by vast financial inequality among clubs, would suddenly reverse itself and equitable distribution of baseball revenues would commence.

If he did hope that I guess I can see why he’d picture himself sitting on a three-speed bicycle, about to be run over by a bunch of tanks right now. But if so it sure was dumb of him to ride his bike out onto this very well-established battlefield like that.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.