TAMPA, Fla. – At least there is a starting point when it comes to the Rays and a new stadium. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch announced Monday the city chose the Rays/Hines partnership to redevelop the Tropicana Field site.
The Rays/Hines proposal was among four the city received in December. The others were Sugar Hill Community Partners, 50 Plus 1 Sports, and Restoration Associates. Houston-based Hines is a global real estate, investment, and management firm that was founded in 1957.
Does Monday’s announcement mean a new stadium will rise among the mixed-use district that would surround it? No. It does not. The Rays can still look across the bay to Tampa. Alas, time is ticking as the current lease expires upon the conclusion of the 2027 season. At least the Rays and St. Pete are in a partnership when it comes to the future of the team.
In the news: St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch Chooses Hines & Tampa Bay Rays To Redevelop Tropicana Field
Many details need to be worked out, not the least of which is a financing plan between the parties. A term sheet is due in May, and the city’s timeline calls for the development agreement to be presented to city council for approval in September or October.
In other words, there is quite a way to go before construction equipment rolls in.
A new stadium, with its whistles and bells in a happening downtown district would draw more fans, at least at first. Companies, through sponsorships and naming-rights deals, would want to be part of something shiny and new. That would open the revenue spigot, one the Rays could utilize in bolstering the payroll through, in part, free agency.
That brings us to the fast-approaching 2023 season. Two weeks before the Rays open spring training at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, it might seem as though their off-season has been quiet.
That has not been the case. True, a lefty power bat has not been signed. At least not yet. The Rays, though, dipped into free agency to sign Zach Elfin in December and have been busy signing familiar faces while avoiding arbitration.
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Jeffrey Springs and Pete Fairbanks agreed to extensions last week, and Yandy Diaz agreed to one Tuesday.
You may recall that, since the end of the 2021 season, the team inked Wander Franco (11 years, $182 million), Manny Margot (two years, $19 million) and Tyler Glasnow (two years, $30 million) to deals.
The Rays have made the postseason four straight years, and the team decided to keep, and reward, many key parts. Indeed, money is being spent.
Springs, a lefthanded starter, was signed to a four-year, $31 million deal through 2026 with an option for 2027. The pact’s value could escalate to $65.75 million should the option be exercised and the pitcher reach various performance incentives. A reliever throughout his career before joining the Rays’ rotation in May, the 30-year-old Springs went 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA in 33 appearances last season, 25 as a starter.
Fairbanks, a righthanded reliever, agreed to a three-year, $12 million extension through 2025 with a club option for 2026. The value would be worth up to $24.6 million should the option be exercised and performance bonuses achieved. The 29-year-old dominated the opposition after he was activated from the 60-day IL in July. In 24 appearances, he had 1.13 ERA and eight saves while fanning 38 of the 87 batters (43.7 percent) he faced. The hope, of course, is that he remains healthy, something he has struggled with in recent seasons.
Diaz signed a three-year, $24 million extension through 2025 with a club option ($12 million) for 2026. The 31-year-old Diaz hit .294 last season with an .824 OPS. He hit nine homers and drew 78 walks, fourth in the American League.
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Eflin was signed for three years and $40 million. The 28-year-old Orlando native went 36-45 with a 4.49 ERA in all or part of seven seasons with the Phillies. He was mostly utilized as a starter with the Phils, though all 10 of his postseason appearances during the team’s run to the World Series last fall were out of the bullpen.
Back to the lefty power bat. While one could be added, improved health among those on the roster could make all the difference. Back problems caused Brandon Lowe to miss nearly 100 games last season. In 2021, Lowe’s only season of at least 300 at-bats, he slugged 39 homers (539 ABs) and earned a trip to the all-star game.
Wander Franco, a switch-hitter with ample pop for the left side, missed half of the 2022 season with quad, hand, and wrist injuries.
It would also help if Josh Lowe develops into a consistent threat following a rough rookie season (52 games, .627 OPS) that saw him sent back to Triple-A Durham at the end of July.
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