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Pat Williams wants to bring baseball to Orlando


Pat Williams, co-founder of the Orlando Magic, announced on Wednesday his plan to bring baseball to the city of Orlando. He will gauge fan interest which will help him determine how much effort, if any, he will put into the venture. Williams already has a team name picked out, the “Dreamers,” as The Athletic’s Josh Tolentino and Josh Robbins report.

Williams convinced the NBA to add four new expansion teams for the 1987 season as the Magic joined the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has experience with this kind of thing.

This new wrinkle has a very real impact on the Rays, perhaps giving them leverage to escape Tropicana Field and St. Petersburg. You may recall that earlier this year, the club was exploring becoming a two-city team, bringing baseball back to Montréal. Reading between the lines, it was part of an ongoing effort to get a new stadium. The Rays have eight years remaining on their Tropicana Field lease, but as Tolentino and Robbins note, owner Stuart Sternberg has to get the ball rolling in one direction or another much sooner than that.

Referring to the Marlins and Rays, Williams said, “If I can say this as sweetly as I can, it hasn’t worked in either city.” He said of Orlando, “I’m convinced this market is different.”

The Rays had the 29th-highest attendance in baseball this past season, drawing 1.179 million fans while the Marlins ranked last at just over 811,000. Along with perennially sagging attendance, both teams have ranked at or near the bottom in payroll since their inception — the Marlins in 1993 and the Rays in 1998.

The Rays’ response to Williams’ announcement can be described as cryptic at best:

The Royals are paying everyone. Why can’t all of the other teams?

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Over the past several weeks we’ve heard a lot of news about teams furloughing front office and scouting staff, leveling pay cuts for those who remain and, most recently, ceasing stipends to minor league players and releasing them en masse. The message being sent, intentionally or otherwise, is that baseball teams are feeling the pinch.

The Kansas City Royals, however, are a different story.

Jon Heyman reported this afternoon that the Royals are paying their minor leaguers through August 31, which is when the minor league season would’ve ended, and unlike so many other teams, they are not releasing players either. Jeff Passan, meanwhile, reports that the Royals will not lay any team employees off or furlough anyone. “Nearly 150 employees will not take pay cuts,” he says, though “higher-level employees will take tiered cuts.” Passan adds that the organization intends to restore the lost pay due to those higher-level employees in the future when revenue ramps back up, making them whole.

While baseball finances are murky at best and opaque in most instances, most people agree that the Royals are one of the lower-revenue franchises in the game. They are also near the bottom as far as franchise value goes. Finally, they have the newest ownership group in all of baseball, which means that the group almost certainly has a lot of debt and very little if any equity in the franchise. Any way you slice it, cashflow is likely tighter in Kansas City than almost anywhere else.

Yet the Royals are paying minor leaguers and front office employees while a great number of other teams are not. What’s their excuse?