Fresh stadium drama with Rays, Bumgarner’s Diamondbacks divorce and manager status check

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All I ask is one thing: if they move the Rays somewhere other than Florida, can they please change the mascot to Ray Bradbury? I would even compromise and settle for Ray Davies. But surely we’ve learned our regional-misfit mascot lessons from the Utah Jazz, haven’t we? I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

Rays For Sale?

Have you ever been in a class where the teacher says you can all go outside, but not until everyone has turned in their assignment? Rob Manfred has been similarly consistent: MLB isn’t expanding until the Rays and A’s have solved their stadium issues.

The A’s have at least turned something in, though we aren’t yet sure if the page is full of correct answers or hastily-scrawled promises to study harder next time. But the other half of the lag-behind duo might be nearing a walk to the teacher’s desk: there are apparently multiple buyers in pursuit of the Rays.

A sale doesn’t necessarily mean a relocation. One option is a local buyer who could inherit a plan to build a new 30,000-seat stadium on the current site of Tropicana Field, with plans to develop the surrounding 86 acres. If you’ve been there you know: that’s a massive undertaking, given that the stadium is in such close proximity to the city center.

So yes: it could very well mean a move. Florida isn’t keen on public funding for stadiums, and given the Rays’ success on the field, ownership groups with an eye toward relocation could see the Rays as a fast-track to relevance, jumping into contention in year one, rather than building an expansion franchise from the ground up.

One way or another, the clock is ticking. Much like the A’s in Oakland, the Rays are facing an expiring lease in their current stadium (though this one isn’t up until after the 2027 season).

Ken’s Corner: ‘Just go’

People talk all the time about how the game has changed. Well, I’ll tell you how it has changed. No longer must I worry about managers getting fired on my son’s birthday, May 21.

I’ve written before about “The Curse of Samuel Joseph.” Jerome Holtzman, the late, legendary Chicago Tribune columnist, coined the phrase in 1991 when on each of the first three days of my son’s life, a manager was fired.

In order, Don Zimmer of the Cubs, John Wathan of the Royals and Frank Robinson of the Orioles met their unfortunate demises. At the time, I was a columnist in Baltimore with the late Evening Sun. Naturally, I had promised my wife I would be a present, devoted husband for the first days of our first-born’s life. But when the Orioles called a news conference to explain Robinson’s dismissal, she took one look at me and said, “Just go.” Alas, I’m responsible for that scene being repeated often during our 33 years of marriage.

The point of all this, you ask? Fair question! In my column today, I write about how in-season firings are becoming less common in this new era of collaboration between front offices and field staffs. But hey, I’m not complaining.

Sunday was my son’s 32nd birthday. He and his girlfriend came to visit. We had a nice celebration. No firings. No interruptions. No drama.

“The Curse of Samuel Joseph” has gone the way of knockdown pitches and home-plate collisions. I’ll tell ya, this game is going soft.

Madison Bumgarner’s D-Backs Divorce

(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Zach Buchanan has an extremely well-reported story today about what exactly went wrong with Madison Bumgarner in Arizona. Before I even read it, I had an idea that the main theme might have something to do with Bumgarner’s stubbornness. After all, it was just last year that we saw Dallas Keuchel go through a similar falling out in his short stint with the Diamondbacks, and his general aura was markedly less defiant than Bumgarner’s.

Grumpy on-field personas don’t always translate to off-field stubbornness, but in this case, the simplest answer happens to be the right one. While many of the sources spoke highly of Bumgarner’s competitiveness, his unwillingness to adjust to the recommendations made by pitching strategist Dan Haren and pitching coach Brent Strom led to a scenario in which his game prep was handled differently than all the team’s other pitchers.

Put succinctly: he seemed bound and determined to do it himself, his way.

Bumgarner was designated for assignment on April 20, and released six days later, despite Arizona still owing $34 million on his contract, which doesn’t expire until the end of the 2024 season. Bumgarner is now free to sign with any team for the pro-rated league minimum, but has yet to do so.

Standings Watch: Weak Central Divisions

As Ken mentioned in his column, the NL Central seems imminently winnable this year. The Brewers (25-21) are one game up on the Pirates (24-22). The Cubs (20-26) are mired in an extended slump, but still in a virtual tie with the Cardinals (21-27) — even if they’re just waving as they pass each other in the standings. The Reds (19-27), for all their low expectations, are just one game in the cellar.

But the Brewers don’t have the worst record of any first-place team. That distinction goes to the Twins (25-22), who have good starting pitching — their team ERA of 3.43 ranks third in baseball, despite bullpen issues — but rank 24th in batting average at .232 (to be fair: they rank 12th in OPS, thanks largely to their seventh-best home run total of 63).

It’s not surprising that the Tigers (20-24) are under .500, but what is surprising is that they’re just 3.5 games back in the division, a game ahead of the perplexing Cleveland Guardians (20-26). As Zack Meisel notes, it seems like there’s a one disaster per day quota in Cleveland these days. But the biggest issue has been the offense, and that’s not particularly new.

Last year, Cleveland ranked seventh in batting average (.254), but next-to-last in home runs (129). Somehow, those rankings have both changed for the worse. Their .228 average is tied with Kansas City (14-34, 11.5 games out in the division) for 25th/26th. But the jaw-dropping stat: they’ve only hit 28 home runs. The next-worst team in that category? The Nationals at 34. (By contrast, the league-leading Rays have hit 91).

You’d like to think they’ll pick up the pace as the weather warms in northern Ohio, but last year’s totals don’t give much indication that such a turnaround is looming.

And then there are the White Sox (19-29), who we won’t be too harsh with, since they’re 6-4 in their last 10 games, but … whew.

Here are the full MLB standings.

Handshakes and High Fives

Not that fans would unilaterally cheer for another rule change, but Andrew McCutchen has a point: infielders are sticking their feet and legs in front of bases more often on steal attempts now, and it’s becoming a health hazard. Will MLB ban the move?

The Yankees finally did what had seemed inevitable for a while now: Aaron Hicks has officially been designated for assignment. If you live in New York and want to watch the Yankees, however, I hope you have some free trial codes handy. Starting yesterday, they’re in a five-game stretch that will require four different subscriptions to watch. Let us yet again pray that is able to sort out their blackout issue and solve this.

Tyler Zombro’s comeback story continues. Zombro, who returned to the mound last year after suffering a fractured skull from a 104-mph comebacker in the minor leagues in 2021 that required brain surgery, signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers, and is headed to Triple-A Round Rock.

With Dustin May and Julio Urías on the IL, the Dodgers are calling up Bobby Miller, who is expected to make his big-league debut on Tuesday.

Here’s Andy McCullough on how the trio of “Baby Mets” helped right the ship in Queens.

Hat tip to utility infielder, mega-position-player-pitcher and all-around good dude Charlie Culberson, who is back in the big leagues with his former (and hometown) team, the Braves.

Stephen J. Nesbitt and I are back with another episode of On Deck to get you ready for this week’s matchups around the league, and another round of home run picks.

Xander Bogaerts went 0-for-11 against his old team over the weekend, and his Padres pulled out just one win out of three as the Red Sox (with help from a recently-sharp Chris Sale) took the series win in San Diego. I triple-checked the location of that series, by the way, which leads us to…

(Top photo: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

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