That hurt. Losing a playoff series always does, and falling to the rival Boston Red Sox stings a little bit extra. The crazy caroming ball play that went against the Rays late in Game 3 will take a while to get over. Nonetheless, a hearty congratulations for another entertaining season. By so many measures, the Rays overperformed on the field … again. Now, it’s time for all the off-the-field players to turn their attention to where the Rays will play future home games.
Dollar for dollar, few teams in American professional sports overperform like the Tampa Bay Rays. The team won Major League Baseball’s American League East division this year, tallying a club-record 100 victories. The Rays made the playoffs for the third consecutive season and for the seventh time in 14 years, a record topped by only the Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers. The team twice made the World Series over that span, losing in 2008 to the Phillies and last season to the Dodgers.
And the Rays do it for a lot less money. On Aug. 31, the Rays payroll totaled less than $77 million, 26th highest out of 30 franchises, according to numbers compiled by Major League Baseball. None of the teams with lower payrolls this year got even a whiff of making the playoffs. At the other end of the pay scale, the Dodgers were spending nearly $261 million, the Yankees, $204 million, and the Red Sox, $187 million. Another way to think about the lopsided payrolls: How much did the teams spend for each regular season victory?
Dodgers: $2.4 million/win
Yankees: $2.2 million
Red Sox: $2 million
In fact, of all the teams that made the playoffs this year, none spent as little as the Rays on each win, not even close. The Rays have a long track record of finding underappreciated and underpaid talent and then squeezing every win from the motley assortment. Unfortunately, not that many fans show up to watch at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. For years, the team has ranked near the bottom in paid attendance. It’s hard to blame a good team with bad attendance from exploring new options for where to play home games.
As every fans knows by now, the Rays have pitched splitting home games with Montreal as the most promising way for the team to maintain a presence in the Tampa Bay area for the next 30 years. And the idea of a new outdoor stadium in or near Tampa’s Ybor City has the right people talking. Now is the time to build on that momentum. The Rays have to keep making their case to a skeptical public. They need to sell the community on why it should support building a new stadium for a part-time baseball team.
St. Petersburg and Pinellas officials have to get their heads around how — or if — the team fits into plans for a redeveloped Tropicana Field site. Their counterparts in Tampa have to figure out what financial and other incentives they can live with offering to encourage the team to build in Ybor. And everyone needs to encourage a constructive ongoing conversation. This is not the time to clam up or for grandstanding or unhelpful posturing.
Recent history suggests that the Rays will keep winning but far too few people will buy tickets to watch them play at their current stadium. That asymmetry cannot last. Something has to change or the Rays could wind up moving out of town entirely. The hard work needs to be done now to ensure the team stays in the Tampa Bay area, even if it’s part time.
Losing a playoff series stings. How would losing the team feel?
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.