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Rays have until December 31 to get someone to pay for new ballpark

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Three years ago the city of St. Petersburg gave the Tampa Bay Rays a three-year window in which to negotiate with municipalities other than St. Petersburg for a new ballpark. If the window closes with no agreement the Rays are stuck in Tropicana Field for their full lease, which runs through 2027.

Earlier this year the Rays announced a tentative agreement for a new stadium across the bay in Ybor City in Tampa. The “tentative” part is that there was no funding in place for the ballpark and, of course, the Rays don’t really feel like paying all that much of the cost for their own facility.

As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports today, that three-year window is almost up, ending on December 31. Which means the pressure is on:

But the team and elected leaders have yet to publicly reveal how the community would help pay almost $900 million to move the team to a new ballpark in Ybor City.

With elections now out of the way, negotiations between the team and city and county officials on a ballpark financing plan are expected to kick into high gear. That included meetings last week between recently re-elected Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Irwin Raij, the county’s outside counsel on stadium issues.

Isn’t it funny how there was not much activity regarding how to give a professional sports team money from “the community” before the elections but now that the elections are over, things are about to kick into high gear? It’s almost as if everyone involved knows that it’s unpopular for “the community” to pay a baseball team’s way into a new ballpark that will benefit the baseball team almost exclusively.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.