The Tampa Bay Rays firesale begins

The Tampa Bay Rays are seeking to navigate from under the control of the St. Petersburg City Council and the desolate wasteland of Tropicana Field. The Rays have selected a site in Ybor for a new stadium and Commissioner Rob Manfred has supported the location.  However, Rays owner Stu Sternberg will have to put up a significant portion of the funds in order to get the proposed $800 million retractable roof stadium built.  The new stadium will require government assistance from Hillsborough County but is not expected to be heavily funded by the tax payers.  Marc Tompikin of the Tampa Bay Times covers the progress eloquently and in more detail.

The Rays can thrive in Ybor.  Just outside of Downtown Tampa, it is one of the most vibrant and soulful neighborhoods in the city limits. A move to Ybor will allow fans from the central parts of Florida to attend weekday games without the added burden of navigating through Tampa’s Malfunction Junction.

Much has been written about the Rays struggles to attract fans to the Trop. The Rays consistently rank near the bottom in attendance every year.  In order to build a long term winner in a competitive AL East, the Rays need to move.  It is essential.  And so, the Rays have begun laying groundwork to fund their ability to leave St. Petersburg.

With Sternberg expected to pay upwards of $150 million with a timeline of 2020, the Rays have started to slash payroll now.  In their desperation to cut payroll, much like Miami, their moves reak of desperation.

The trading of Longoria to SF for Denard Span, Christian Arroyo, and two below average relievers set the precedent for this offseason.  With Longoria set to make $81 million over the next five years at age 32, the desire to move him now makes sense from a baseball perspective.  However, Arroyo, the headliner of the deal, will never come close to providing the offensive and defensive impact that Longoria has.  Don’t get me wrong.  Arroyo should be a solid infield bat for the next 3-4 years, but his bat does not profile as a third baseman.  He may never eclipse 15 HR.  Span will cost the Rays $11m this year.  He carries a 2019 mutual option which will be declined. This would allow the Rays to save roughly $70 million on the trade.

For the past two seasons, rumors have surrounded pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome.  The Rays sent 27 year old Jake Odorizzi to Minnesota for SS prospect Jermaine Palacios.  Odorizzi won his arbitration case and will earn $6.3 million in 2018.  Like the Longoria deal, this is another case of the Rays accepting 25 cents on the dollar in order to move money.  One would think in the age of overpriced pitching that a guy just entering his prime after four straight seasons of at least 28 starts would net more than a fringe prospect, but these are the times when desperation trumps savvy baseball sense.

The return for Odorizzi, Jermaine Palacios, is a 21 year old SS.  At 6’1, he is a wiry athlete and an aggressive hitter that barrels balls and hits to all fields.  He flashed power at Cedar Rapids, belting 11 HR and slugging .544.  After a promotion to the Florida State League, Palacios started off hot with the bat hitting over .300 in his first 30 games before fading to a paltry .269/.303/.359 line.   I would slot him somewhere between 25-30 in my Rays Top 50.  Personally, I like Palacios’ ability to make contact but his lack of a standout tool is a concern.  To be the ONLY piece coming back for a solid #3 SP like Odorizzi is borderline egregious.

If that isn’t bad enough, things got a little wierder in Tampa.  After acquiring Angels 1B C.J. Cron for a PTBNL, the Rays DFA Corey Dickerson (career .829 OPS).  Dickerson will make $5.95 million with one more year of arbitration.  Dickerson was an All Star in 2017, hitting 27 HR after mashing 24 in 2016.   The lefty masher posted a 5.6% BB rate and 24% K rate in 2017 exposing flaws in his game.  His 2017 second half was brutal.  He slashed .241/.282./.408. Dickerson was still a 2.6 win player and carries tremendous value.  By DFA’ing him, the Rays have 10 days to trade or release him, leaving the team with almost zero leverage in a trade scenario.  This is a hitter that could easily net two prospects in a team’s 15-25 range and possibly a 3rd outside of the top 30.  However, it a safe bet that if they do trade him, they will receive a worse return than they did on Odorizzi.

So what’s next?  I would imagine the asking price on Colome ($5.3m), Brad Miller ($4.5m), Hechevaria ($5.9m), and Ramos ($10.5m) to significantly drop.  We should see them all moved sooner rather than later. Chris Archer and Kevin Kiermaier, the team’s best assets should net a huge return.  The Rays should exercise patience and hold out for premium prospects.  A package of multiple top 100 prospects would offset the lack of talent in previous deals.

Rays fans….brace yourselves.  Times will get worse before they better.

Article featured image of Jermaine Palacios – courtesy of Cortesia/

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