ORLANDO — Commissioner Bud Selig and top MLB officials are concerned about the Rays' stadium stalemate and are poised to intervene at the invitation of principal owner Stuart Sternberg.
Selig said Thursday that he is "anxious" to discuss the situation with Sternberg, but the time frame will be determined by the Rays.
"We will have very meaningful discussions. Whenever they're ready, I'm ready," Selig told the St. Petersburg Times after the conclusion of the quarterly owners meetings. "They know what they need, and they know that I'm here to help them in every way."
Selig and Sternberg did not talk about the situation during the Orlando meetings and have nothing scheduled, so it's unclear when they will. Sternberg told the Times on Wednesday that the team had "no great plan in place" and he was hoping for community leaders to step forward on the stadium issue.
Since MLB historically has not provided any financial assistance in building new stadiums, the role Selig, or one of his top officials, would play most likely is to provide rhetoric, assistance in negotiating with governmental bodies and, should the situation escalate, threats of losing the team.
Selig said several times that he will defer to Sternberg on when and how he gets involved.
"Having run a franchise myself, I know that nobody knows the franchise better than they do, and I have to let them determine that," said Selig, who owned the Brewers. "They know the market, they know what they need, they know what they have to do. … And I'm very sensitive to that.
"Obviously I'm going to be able to be very helpful. I'm sure Stu and I will have some conversations."
Selig also denied an ESPN.com report in October that he had told the Rays not to make "significant financial investments in the area" until attendance improves "suggesting the team could be investing in potential relocation sites."
As he has often, Selig showered the Sternberg regime with praise:
"Let me say this to you, and it's a fact: Those guys have done a terrific job, they've produced marvelous clubs, their farm system has been productive, from me and a lot of people in baseball, they get very high marks, great marks."
As for the difficulty the Rays will face in trying to improve attendance while fielding a team that, with a reduced payroll, is not likely to be as competitive.
"Let's hope they work their way through it," Selig said. "We'll see what happens."
PLAYOFF BOOST: Momentum seems to be building to expand the playoff field to 10 by adding a second wild-card team in each league, a change that could benefit the Rays given the competitiveness of the AL East.
"Eight is a very fair number, but so is 10," Selig said. "We will move ahead, and move ahead pretty quickly."
The issue will be discussed next by Selig's special committee for on-field matters during next month's winter meetings.
The biggest unresolved issue appears to be the mechanics, specifically whether to make it a one- or three-game playoff between the two wild cards, and how to manipulate the schedule, as the three division winners will be idle.
The change most likely wouldn't happen until 2012, as it also would have to be negotiated with the players union, which has also expressed interest.
"We'll just proceed and whatever we decide, then we'll just see how fast we can get it done," Selig said.
MISCELLANY: Add the Orioles to the list of teams (Cardinals, Giants) interested in SS Jason Bartlett if the Rays opt to trade him. The Baltimore Sun reported talks could include reliever David Hernandez, a 25-year-old considered a potential closer. … Selig said owners have shown no interest in reducing the regular season from 162 games or scheduling doubleheaders.