Yesterday we heard the latest cry from some within baseball’s inner circle looking for the Tampa Bay Rays to be contracted. This immediately led to some (once again) explaining why contraction is a silly idea and why it will never happen in Major League Baseball. But that doesn’t mean that the threat should be ignored.

We have written on several occasions why contraction is highly unlikely. But the fact remains, some in baseball want the Rays contracted. And while they may not get contraction, they may get something else that could be nearly as damaging to the Rays and our hopes of keeping baseball in the Bay Area.

But first…

Who wants the Rays contracted?

When the latest story on contraction broke only days after Stuart Sternberg and St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster exchanged words on the Rays’ quest for a new stadium, many assumed that the talk of contraction was just one of Bud Selig’s “tricks” to get the Rays out of their contract and inside Tampa’s borders.

But Mike Oznanian of Forbes.com cited “high-revenue team owners” who don’t have much of a stake in the Rays moving to Tampa.  And based on previous comments, it seems clear that we are talking about the Steinbrenners (owners of the Yankees) and John Henry (owner of the Red Sox).

What do they stand to gain from contraction?

In the early days of revenue sharing and luxury tax (a tax on payrolls above $170M), the burden of giving money to smaller-market teams was eased by the idea that the Yankees and Red Sox had an easy path to the playoffs. And part of that was playing 18-19 games each year against the lowly Rays.

As long as both teams reaped the benefits of playing on the biggest stage, the Red Sox and Yankees didn’t mind subsidizing the Rays’ (and other teams) operations. But now the Rays are competitive. And they are still receiving money from the Yankees and the Red Sox (the only two teams to pay the luxury tax in 2010). And don’t think those teams haven’t noticed.

Hank Steinbrenner came out over the winter and openly called for baseball to take teams away from markets that aren’t supportive. This was a none-to-veiled shot at the Tampa Bay area. And in the past, Henry has called for an overhaul to Major League Baseball’s revenue sharing system. Henry openly complained about teams “getting $80 million before they ever sell a ticket.”

Why call for contraction if it won’t happen?

Our guess is that this is simply a Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiating tactic. Maybe Henry and the Steinbrenners do want the Rays contracted. But what they really want is to stop paying the Rays to be competitive. They want the Rays to stop taking the Yankees and Red Sox money and using it against those teams and taking away their birthright, a trip to the playoffs.

Why should we be worried if contraction will never happen?

OK, Henry and the Steinbrenners won’t convince Selig and the rest of the owners to contract the Rays. Selig has stated very clearly that Major League Baseball has moved beyond contraction.

But what scares us is the compromise. What will the Yankees and Red Sox get instead? Will the luxury tax be eliminated? Will revenue sharing be reduced? Will the Rays be moved to San Antonio and out of the AL East (Selig has stated on several occasions that he wants reallignment).

When the Rays’ financial documents were leaked last year, we saw that the team was turning a profit, barely. And that included revenue sharing and the 2008 playoff revenue.

If the luxury tax or revenue sharing are reduced or eliminated, it is hard to imagine that this team can even sustain a $40 million payroll. And it is hard to imagine that the team can survive in the Bay Area, especially if plans for a new stadium remain stuck in the mud along the east coast of St. Pete.

So contraction may be unlikely. And while we can’t imagine Major League Baseball is ready to give up the strong local TV ratings (5th in MLB last year), there have been reports that Selig may be getting ready to move the Rays.

We can all laugh at the threat to contract the Rays. But that doesn’t mean the Rays are safe. And that should scare you.

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22 Comments

  1. Martin B says:

    Please spare us the dramatics. There is no market out there right now that will pay to have a stadium built. The Rays aren't going anywhere.

    I have zero sympathy for the Rays Ownership who have seen the value of the Rays skyrocket.

    Once again, it's just the ultra rich having a ridiculous persecution complex.

    WAAAAH! THE TAXPAYERS SHOULD BE SUBSIDIZING ALL MY BUSINESS VENTURES!!! WAAAAAH!!!!!

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      So another city won't fork over taxpayer money for a new stadium. What about private money? One of the Rays biggest problems is the lack of corporate interest/investment in this team. And while it is rare, we have seen other teams build stadiums with money from the private sector. What happens when corporate entities in another city step up and offer to build a stadium?

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      • Martin, would you like some ice for that burn?

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      • Martin B says:

        If it happens, more power to them. But I can't identify a big corporate sponsor in any city in a cash position willing to put up the money to finance a stadium.

        If you know of any companies dabbling in this area in any of the potential cities that have a cash position strong enough to do this, please, enlighten me.

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    • Derek says:

      Does your post have anything to do with this article?

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      • Martin B says:

        Yes. The idea of the Rays moving, at least before 2014 is ridiculous. This is just an attempt by the very rich to extort money from taxpayers.

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        • Derek says:

          Let's pretend this article is about getting a new stadium, just so you can follow along. I'm not sure what you do or what you know, but at the right price, a new stadium, funded by the Rays, taxpayers, and some corporate sponsors is in the best interest of the taxpayers. It's not in St Pete's best interest if they leave, which is why Foster is going to stand as tall as he can, but the people of Pinellas don't care, which was evident in the attendance last night. Maybe you don't understand the impact a successful sports team can have on an area, or maybe you ignore that fact. There are two simple solutions to your problem. One: Stop supporting the team. Two: vote against any proposed tax increase, no matter what positive effect it has.

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  2. DANG YOU YOU GREEDY S.O.B.s!

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  3. Don says:

    I would amost like to bet my lunch money,,,there is NOT another METRO area in the US which would Avg 23,OOO grow a franchise fan base like Tampabay, build a new stadium (FInancing alone would kill them) and pay these salries and STILL make money.....
    NO SHOT! lets see Charlotte/LAS VEGAS or some other DOG try it...
    OLe stuie would lose his ass...(really he knows it!)

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  4. nick says:

    But Mike Oznanian of Forbes.com cited “high-revenue team owners” who don’t have much of a stake in the Rays moving to Tampa.

    =======================

    Wouldn't the Yankees have a real issue with the Rays moving to Tampa? It is the spring home and all...

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    • Spring Training Home vs. Year Round Home

      I would hope Year Round Home wins.

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      • nick says:

        would this mean the Yankees would have to move? I doubt this happens without a fight. I would think the Yankees would want them gone so they don't move to Tampa and force the Yankees out. I don't think moving the Spring Training home is something the Yankees want to do. So they would have an issue with the Rays getting a stadium in Tampa

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      You can definitely make a case that the Yankees don't want the Rays in Tampa. We are all well too aware of how many Yankees fans are in Tampa. Moving a good Rays team over there could threaten that part of their fanbase.

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      • nick says:

        i would think with that fact alone the Yankees are in Selig's ear and trying to influence him to do anything but keep the Rays from coming to Tampa. Which doesn't surprise me

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  5. sledge says:

    My personal opinion is that there are 3 possible scenarios:

    1) The contraction talk is a negotiating ploy to get revenue sharing reduced as Cork lays out.
    2) Private corporate money is working very quietly behind the scenes with MLB to line up financing to build a stadium. Think St. Pete buying SF Giants scenario but with MLB support. This is not something we'll learn about soon but 2 years from now.
    3) This is all a well orchestrated ploy to put as much pressure on St. Pete as possible when everyone involved realizes the odds of any public financing is extremely low.

    #2 is the one I fear most. #1 will have so many other people screaming that it will be a bloodbath to make substantive changes.

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    • MJ says:

      I think that, if option #3 is correct, it would explain why the team itself is not commenting at all on the issue. Perhaps ownership and MLB know that contraction will not happen, and that the possibility of moving the team is nearly a non-option. So, the allow these rumors to proliferate in order to move to Tampa. Just a thought... hard to tell.

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  6. Mike says:

    Why would the Yankees and Red Sox want to contract their farm team?

    After losing half of our key players to them it's just as likely that the Rays will drift back to the bottom of the division as they will be competing with the Red Sox and Yankees on a consistent basis. I don't think Boston or New York views us as a serious long term threat.

    Hank and John are just blowing off steam for having to write checks to Stuey after he kicked their butts for 2 out of the last 3 years.

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  7. Derek says:

    This is Moneyball 2.0

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  8. Hal says:

    Why do we act like the Yankees are some sort of entrenched Tampa institutiuon? They didn't even move here until 1993.

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