I apologize to Boltsmag regulars as this is the third straight Devil Rays related message that I have posted in as many days. I'm growing increasingly distraught with what is being played out in the media and the mounting evidence that fans of the Rays are being sold a bill of goods with regards to the future of Baseball in Tampa Bay.
Only yesterday I started speaking of Stuart Sternberg as a Faux Savior - citing evidence that Sternberg is not the knight in shining armor that members of the media and fans are making him out to be. In their collective conciousness, nothing can be worse than Vince Naimoli as an owner... Nothing at all.
And yet, in their hope for the future, they remain oblivious to elements that indicate the enigmatic Sternberg's intentions are not the role of the savior that he has been painted as. Things that have happened this season and things that have happened in Major League Baseball that open the door for the Rays to be contracted as early as 2007.
Earlier this season, as was pointed out yesterday in my aforementioned entry, the Rays indicated that they were not calling up prime prospects or making trades to improve the team. Fans were left wondering at the time what was the motivation for this? Why the lame-duck season? It was assumed that the decision was made not only because of not wanting to move-up free agent status for prospects, or make them arbitration eligible sooner, but also because Sternberg wanted to truly change the image of the team as he entered -- stage right -- next season.
Yet, by keeping costs down this season by limiting trades as well as limiting team popularity as hyped-prospects are kept in the minors, Sternberg (who Lou Piniella indicated was the one in control of the Rays financial picture) not only keeps the Rays costs down, but he also inspires further apathy among fans. Apathy that is glaringly apparent inside Tropicana Field with each game played within.
2006 has been mentioned time and time again with regards to Sternberg taking control of the Devil Rays day-to-day operaitons as Managing General Partner. The interesting and neglected fact about 2006 that Rays fans overlook is contraction comes back into play in Major League Baseball on April 1st.
Sternberg, an investment banker, knows full well how to buy low and sell high... With control fo the team, selling it back to Major League Baseball would be a grand profit for he and his fellow investors. Not only had he kept costs down during his tenure (the Rays payroll is the lowest in Major League Baseball), the franchise is supposedly in the black with thanks to revenue sharing negating costs endured as owner.
I've long thought that Sternberg's first official act as Devil Rays owner in 2006 will be to demand a new stadium or else... Lets change that just a tad. Sternberg can easily come forward and ask for a new stadium but what gives him the right to selling the team back to Major League Baseball -- at a great profit -- would be declaring the Rays unable to financially compete in baseball in outdated Tropicana Field (and playing int he AL East, some can easily believe that). Asking for a new stadium would generate a fickle, if not disgusted, response from area residents. This gives Sternberg the justification to sell the team back to league. Commissioner Bud Selig had already stated the Rays need a new ballpark and Selig would publicly state that the Stadium's failure is the reason baseball is done in Tampa Bay. Some may look at the Tropicana Field lease aswhat preserves the Rays existence but it's only a matter of time before financial or legal means is unbound from the Rays neck.
How many owners usually buy into professional sports franchises and simply remain stolid as Sternberg has done? Even with Naimoli in control, Sternberg could have forced a more aggressive stance in any number of Rays operational functions. In comparison, Malcom Glazer bought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and aggressively changed operational procedures with the team in an effort improve his investment (nothing like winning to help add value to a team). William Davidson didn't jump in and start spending money with the Lightning but he also took the Lightning's day-to-day operations in a new direction, he gave blessing to heavy scouting and player development as the St. Pete Times Forum was also transformed to not only improve revenues but ambiance as well.
There are instances throughout pro-sports about those who invest in pro-sports having some say in direction. It's impossible to believe that Sternberg would encourage the status-quo unless the status-quo is profitable to him... As stated before, Sternberg knows full well how to buy low and sell high... By not investing in the team, the venue or other assets in the organization, it's a glaring sign that selling high does not mean becoming a winner and doubling the teams value.
The writing is on the wall -- and I'm worried it will remain oblivious to Rays fans and the media until it's too late. I have my problems with the Rays, but I surely hope I am wrong. To witness a duping such as this would be unfathomable...