Minneapolis-St. Paul ranks as the 16th largest metropolitan area in the United States with 3.2 million people residing on either side of the Mississippi. Only three places below and 500k people less lies the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area. Beyond census data lays the DNA of two almost identical baseball teams. The small-market Twins and the comparable Rays both listed the 24th and 25th lowest payrolls in the Majors in 2009. Both teams arguably had a franchise player on the books with a pinstriped jersey in their future in Joe Mauer and Carl Crawford respectively. This is where the similarities stop.
It’s almost two months ago now that Twin’s prodigal son Joe Mauer signed his 8-year extension for about $23 million per.
It’s almost two months ago now that the Rays and Crawford talked, gave each other their Dido CDs back and decided to "take a break" for a while.
Mauer’s deal was set in motion after Hennepin County and the Twins agreed on a new stadium across from the Metrodome in 2005. By funding and constructing a modern facility, the Twins were able to guarantee themselves of a positive revenue stream for the next several decades. The ability to create such future capital from corporate sponsorships, naming rights and ticket sales enabled the Twins to both remain in Minneapolis and afford Joe Mauer’s prime years. Target Field represents the ability of a small market team to afford and keep home grown superstars.
In 2007 the Rays tried and eventually failed to build their own Target Field on the shores of downtown St. Petersburg. Lacking public support and sufficient city funding, the Rays repealed their efforts and the stadium debate is currently at a standstill.
Stu and Co. have maintained that the ability to remain competitive in the Bay Area lies somewhere outside the walls of Tropicana Field and they’re right. If the Rays were able to build on their proposed timeframe, the downtown stadium would have been completed by the 2011-2012 season. Next year. If the Rays had been successful in courting the City of St. Petersburg and the residents of Pinellas County, the same contract situation could have been given to Crawford. Instead, fans of the Rays are left with no new stadium, the growing possibility of no Crawford and the potential of seeing the Rays move to Portland.
The stadium wasn’t perfect. The plan wasn’t great. But we can understand at least that the relationship that a small-market team has with its stadium impacts the shape of the team greatly. It’s a shame that this may be the last year we see Crawford in Rays blue but this is case-in-point why baseball in the Trop isn’t sustainable. In the end, the Rays get the dog and Crawford gets the upper Manhattan apartment.