The last 24 hours have rocked the Rays baseball world.
For some, the inevitability of relocation is ceremoniously being staved off by an inventive solution.
For others, it feels like the team is asking us to love the word Rays more than we love the words Tampa Bay, and for those who love the area, that’s a tough sell.
No matter how you’ve taken the news, the message is clear: The Rays do not believe the Tampa Bay community can support baseball for 81 games per season, and they’re looking for answers on how to remedy that problem.
Here’s what we’ve learned since that announcement:
1. The Rays already told St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman they did not intend to build a new full-time ballpark in Pinellas County.
The Mayor of St. Petersburg has long said he expects an answer from the Rays on whether they will build a new stadium in the city by the end of the summer, implying he had not heard from the team thus far, but according to comments from one Rays official, Kriseman and his fellow local politicians have already received word from the team. Curious.
Here’s Rays President Brian Auld on WDAE this morning:
“It’s very difficult, I think, for any of us to believe that a team that was as successful as we were for a long time — in St. Petersburg — is gonna see attendance double or triple in the same location where we are at just because we have a new ballpark. And of course that ballpark would have to have a dome on it.”
“As we have expressed to the Mayor and those on the city council,” Auld explained, “we don’t like to slam doors on anything, but it’s really difficult to imagine it working in Pinellas County.”
Auld was clear that was in regards to a full-time stadium, though.
“The demographics issues... certainly favor Tampa. We know that’s the geographic center of the area, but when you’re talking about half as many games, it creates a lot more optionality. You don’t necessarily have to have the absolute perfect spot. And so it puts a lot of different sites on the table.”
You can listen to the full, 20-minute candid interview at WDAE.
2. There will be an investigation into Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg’s contact with prospective Montreal principal owner Stephen Bronfman about relocation in 2028
Holding his own press conference the day after Sternberg, Montreal businessman Stephen Bronfman (the son of the former Expos principal owner) confirmed a comment made by Sternberg in yesterday’s press conference that there has been inquiry on whether the Rays would be sold or relocated after the use agreement (re: “lease”) of Tropicana Field has expired.
That, coupled with the Rays proposal of beginning a split-city season in 2024, was enough for the city of St. Petersburg to launch an “investigation” into whether the Rays have violated the use agreement, which prohibits new stadium searches without permission.
Auld, in the same interview referenced above, responded to this saying, “There’s nothing in that use agreement that prohibits us from talking about baseball with others, there’s nothing that prohibits us from talking about 2028.”
It should be noted it’s not entirely clear that talking about what comes after 2027 is indeed allowed by the team’s MOU for Tropicana Field, but that is Auld’s defense.
Of note: Bronfman claimed later today on TSN radio that Sternberg has never expressed interest in selling or permanently moving the franchise from Tampa Bay, and that as a compromise to relocation he started these talks with the commissioners office “a little over two years ago.”
3. Mayor Rick Kriseman is open to allowing the Rays to build a split-city stadium in St. Petersburg... but only without tax-payer funds
I believe progress moves at the speed of the trust. If Mr. Sternberg and his team are serious about this idea or any other, it will require the reestablishment of a good working relationship with my office. #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/NZDYjXJON2— Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) June 25, 2019
It appears the Mayor has been trying to call the Rays bluff on whether St. Petersburg is truly no longer their intended home for a full season of baseball, and he’s continuing that by now telling the team to put their money where their mouth is.
The next step in the Montreal proposal process would be gaining city approval to seek a split-location approach to a major league season, but Kriseman looks to be seeking a guarantee of private financing before he'll negotiate allowing the team to speak with the Montreal ownership group formally. That means more unknowns for the Rays, because...
4. The prospective Montreal ownership group is interested in purchasing a portion of the Rays, and their influx of cash could help fund stadiums in each city
Bronfman is on the record saying he does not need public funds to build a stadium in Montreal, and at his press conference this afternoon, made note that his funds could also spur stadium development in Tampa Bay.
But the Rays cannot officially know what funding is available from these new owners until they have permission from the city to talk to Montreal about the proposal.
If Kriseman successfully holds the financing aspect hostage for negotiations prior to approval, the Rays will have to make agreements with the city without knowing what the new owners could contribute toward the new stadium.
But that all assumes the city is willing to negotiate, an idea that narrows the field of stadium locations.
Brian Auld claimed this morning, again on WDAE, that the leading candidates for an open air stadium are Ybor, Derby Lane, Al Lang, and the current site at Tropicana Field.
Three of those four locations are in Pinellas County (which has the tax funds available to help build a stadium), and two are within the city limits of St. Petersburg, the only location the team is allowed to consider prior to 2028.
Putting aside whether the Rays need to have financing ducks in a row, the Montreal ownership group is clearly “excited” by the possibility of introducing baseball back into their community, even at a half measure.
“We think this is a wonderful opportunity,we’re excited by it. It’s innovative,it’s very Montreal, it’s somewhat de-risked, it’s super exciting. I’m all in for trying something groundbreaking and I really think Montrealers will jump on that bandwagon.”-Stephen Bronfman. #CJAD800 pic.twitter.com/tYfjU54OJh— Shuyee Lee (@sleeCJAD) June 26, 2019
5. Restrictions preventing the Rays from negotiating with other markets are not restrictions on MLB
And although the Rays specifically do not have permission to talk to Montreal about this proposal, that apparently has not stopped the Commissioner from discussing the concept in general.
Bronfman says Montreal group was not told by MLB this was their only chance to get baseball back, that they like #Rays plan and want to pursue this— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) June 26, 2019
How both sides discuss the proposal will be interesting to follow. MLB’s decision to play power broker is a little risky given the Rays so-called ironclad MOU, as pointed out in this article on the legal ramifications of the Montreal proposal from Sheryl Ring at FanGraphs.
If the team even started to negotiate with Montreal, the city could sue them, and the team would likely lose.
So it’s hard to understand what MLB is doing by granting “permission” for the team to look at Montreal. MLB just isn’t the entity from which the team needs permission; MLB could grant permission a hundred times, and it won’t change that both the Use Agreement and 2016 MOU unequivocally bar the Rays from negotiating with Montreal until 2027.
Indeed, the Rays cannot do much of anything without St. Petersburg’s permission. That doesn’t necesarilly mean MLB can’t have some conversations, though.
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