Great Moments in Publicly Financed Sports Complexes

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The Milwaukee Brewers spring training facility is in Maryvale, a less-than-fashionable part of Phoenix, Arizona. It’s not terribly old — built in 1998 — but that’s old by spring training standards, especially in Arizona. The park itself is kind of neat in my view. Easy to navigate, has some good food and has some good sight lines. It’s not trying to be old-timey or grander than it is. It’s a straightforward and pleasant place to watch a game. That’s all a baseball fan really needs, right?

Baseball teams, however, want so much more in their spring training facilities these days. They want development opportunities nearby — hotels and restaurants and amenities — and the ability to extract as much cash from visiting fans as possible. A straightforward ballpark in Maryvale doesn’t really do that, so the Brewers are looking for something new.

Enter the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert, which would like to lure the Brewers to a new facility there. The Brewers are willing to put up only $20 million of the $90 million cost, however. Plus they’re eying an additional $70 million investment for an adjacent development with those hotels and restaurants and retail and stuff. Who pays for the $70 million is an open question, of course.

At the moment the financing of it all is up in the air, but the great Field of Schemes noticed something fun in a recent story about it.

Gilbert commissioned some consultants to see what kind of economic benefit the facility would create for the city. The results were not quite what they expected, however, revealing that the publicly-invested dollars would not result in a worthwhile return. So, that’s that then, right? If your experts say your use of tax dollars would be a bad deal, you don’t do the deal?

Hahaha, of course not. You just get different experts!

Kathy Tilque, president and CEO of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, said the Applied Economics study was fairly limited in its scope and did not take into account the indirect economic benefits of a potential stadium.

The chamber is working with a different economic consulting firm to provide a broader economic analysis. That report should be completed soon and will be turned over to town officials for review, Tilque said.

“It would be a great thing not only for the East Valley but for Gilbert. We just need to make sure the numbers work,” she said.

There is always absurdity involved when it comes to public officials justifying their giveaways to big business and moneyed interests. It’s just usually not so obvious.

Not that this place won’t get built with tax dollars. No amount of absurdity ever seems to stop that.

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.