ORLANDO — High-profile agent Scott Boras is typically adversarial with the Rays, whether in pointedly negotiating a player's contract or openly criticizing them for not spending more on payroll.
But Wednesday, Boras unexpectedly took their side, joining the chorus ripping the Tampa Bay market for not properly supporting the team and suggesting the club should be moved elsewhere.
"To me, Major League Baseball and everyone, they have to take a close look at this franchise," Boras said.
The issue came up during an informal media session at the GM/owners meetings when Boras — who also poked the Mets, Cubs and Astros — was asked about the status of the Rays, who have had continued success despite limited revenues.
"I would say the tale of two cities," Boras replied. "The one they're in and the one they should be in."
"The one that's going to support them to the level of the performance of the team," he said. "The Tampa Bay market has both, in what they provided for a stadium and what they provided for attendance, for the quality of the play has not been consistent with what we've seen with other major-league markets. When you have a team that successful, there's teams that are drawing 2.5 to 3 (million), over 3 million, for that kind of performance.
"It's just really something for the fans of the Tampa Bay area. They need a new ballpark, they need to address that. Certainly the bell's been answered by the organization as far as putting a product on the field that would normally attract fans."
The Rays were last in the majors in attendance for the second straight season, drawing 1.51 million, and have been no higher than 22nd during their six-season run of success.
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg initially distanced himself from Boras' thesis, saying, "I believe in the market" and "If I didn't, why would I have gone through all this aggravation."
But the Rays, albeit tepidly, had to welcome the support from the game's leading agent.
"I'm glad to hear on this point our interests are aligned," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "Our motivation to increase our revenues just gets to the viability of our sustaining success for the next six years."
Added Sternberg: "He wants us to, as he should, be able to pay players more money. And if our revenues went up, we would pay players more money."
Two years ago, Boras, whose Rays clients include Jeremy Hellickson and Desmond Jennings, said that while other teams shopped for steak, the Rays were in "the Wise (potato chips) aisle, and Snickers." But Wednesday, he pretty much absolved them of blame: "I think it's fair for everyone to say a successful product is not doing well in a place."
Sternberg planned to update commissioner Bud Selig about the stadium situation before the meetings adjourn today, but no formal presentation or discussion among full ownership is expected. The Rays are hoping to talk soon with incoming St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and resume negotiations for permission to discuss a new stadium in Tampa.
So where would Boras, who played minor-league baseball in St. Petersburg, move the team?
"I think there's a lot of cities that may attract them," he said. "Maybe New Jersey would like that winning percentage."
• The Rays coaching staff is set to return intact, as all have been given new two-year deals, the Times has learned. A formal announcement is forthcoming, and responsibilities are expected to remain the same: Dave Martinez, bench; Jim Hickey, pitching; Derek Shelton, hitting; Tom Foley, third base; George Hendrick, first base; Stan Boroski, bullpen; and Jamie Nelson, assistant hitting/catching. Manager Joe Maddon is also signed through 2015.
• Chad Mottola will join the Rays' minor-league coaching staff, replacing hitting coordinator Matt Quatraro, who is getting his first big-league job as the Indians' assistant hitting coach. Mottola had been the Blue Jays' hitting coach, but his contract was not renewed.
• The Rays were among multiple teams linked to two players likely to be traded, Mets first baseman Ike Davis and Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan.
• Friedman said the meetings were productive in providing "clarity" on potential moves.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays