I know it is blasphemy to talk about the Rays while we're in the middle of the Bucs season but forgive me for the transgression, I feel like the recent developments finally make the Rays worthy of NFL midseason discussion.
For ten years I’ve been looking for reasons to get excited about the Rays and until the last few weeks the closest the Rays have come to raising my expectations was the ill-fated Hit Show. But with more arms in the rotation and bullpen, and plans for a new stadium the Rays are finally giving me a reason to be optimistic.
The New Stadium
For the past few years I’ve been telling anyone foolish enough to listen to me that Al Lang Field would be the perfect spot to build a new open air stadium, so it is no surprise that I fully support the Rays’ plans for a stadium there. I have not met one person who would even rank the Trop as an average MLB stadium, much less a top ten one. Additionally, the new stadium would do so much to add new development to a downtown St Petersburg, more so than the current stadium ever did. Obviously I have no hard evidence to back this up but it has been my opinion that BayWalk did more to revitalize down town than the Trop ever did, mostly because BayWalk is actually in downtown as opposed to the Trop. Placing a new stadium along the water front would almost certainly have a similar effect but on a bigger scale as BayWalk.
The biggest complaint about the stadium (at least based on comments left on the Times article) centers on the Rays building the new stadium with revenues generated from taxes on new development where the Trop currently is. These complaints are fairly absurd when you think about it since 1) it’s a fact of life that new stadiums are built using tax payer money, 2) the proposed taxes would not even be generated unless the Rays move out of the Trop. Before the Rays made their announcement Wednesday I had assumed the city’s portion of the cost for a new stadium would likely be born by the business which would benefit from the new stadium, i.e. the hotels, restaurants, etc. which are downtown. Considering that the only new taxes the city would have to enact would be on new development in Tropicana which would not even exist unless the Rays moved further downtown I think St Pete is getting a pretty sweet deal here.
There are some legitimate complaints leveled against the new location, the two most important being parking and state funding. While it’s great to see our boy Charlie supporting the new stadium the state legislature is most likely hesitant to approve money for the Rays when you have other teams (Marlins, Bolts, Magic, etc.) who have made or are going to make similar demands. It will have to take a pretty convincing lobbying effort by the Rays to gain the support of state legislators for a new stadium, something which the Rays have stumbled with coming out of the gate. Parking is a lesser concern but still worth noting as parking is already starting to be a problem downtown. I honestly don’t know if they are comparable crowds but it is impossible to find parking on 4th of July or New Year’s Eve downtown.
The New Faces
My more cynical side paints the Troy Percival signing as little more than a PR move, bringing in a big name closer in a half-hearted effort to convince skeptical St Pete residents that this team is serious about contending. (Something the team will need to do to convince legislators to support a new stadium.) After all Percival is 38 and has already “retired” once because of injury problems. But then again, Percival did play well last season sporting a 1.80 ERA and 36 strikeouts through 40 innings. Most importantly Percival should strengthen a bullpen which looked atrocious last season.
Additionally, the Rays picked up one of the better young arms in the league and all they had to give up was one of their 25 outfielders. Rays Index has a wealth of information on the Delmon Young for Matt Garza trade, but in the end trading a bat (which the Rays have plenty of) for an arm (which they badly need) should be a huge gain for the team. I don’t like to see Young go, he was the one guy (even more so than Pena) that struck me as the closest thing the Rays have to a power slugger but Young and Carl Crawford were their two best outfielders so at the very least they kept Crawford and still gained a good arm for the rotation.
There are still plenty of question marks around this team’s future, can they develop the young talent, will the new stadium be approved, will the team even stay in St Pete? But at the very least the rays and their new ownership are finally giving fans a reason to be optimistic about the team’s future.