BOCA RATON — The optimism that the recent St. Petersburg City Council election will lead to progress in the Rays' stadium situation has reached MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who further expressed his support for the Tampa Bay market.
"I believe that Tampa-St. Pete is a viable major-league market with the right facility," Manfred said Tuesday at the GM meetings.
The change in Council as a result of the election is expected to lead to a January deal to allow the Rays to look for sites throughout the Tampa Bay market. Manfred said Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg remains confident they can find a solution.
"I've said this before, and it is not a dodge in this particular case, my views with respect to the situation in Tampa are largely derivative of Mr. Sternberg's views," Manfred said. "He is a very thoughtful and effective individual. He remains optimistic as a result of the factor you point to as well as others that something can be accomplished in Tampa-St. Pete."
TRADE TALK: Though baseball operations president Matt Silverman said they would "be in good shape" if they didn't make another move going into spring training after adding SS Brad Miller and DH/1B/OF Logan Morrison, Rays officials had a busy first couple of days talking about potential deals.
"Conversations are maturing," Silverman said, without providing details. "The meetings facilitate deeper discussion and freer exploration."
Chatter around the meetings is that, as expected, there is considerable interest in their late-inning relievers, RHP Brad Boxberger and LHP Jake McGee, though it would take a large return for the Rays to move either. … There seems to be some initial interest in 1B James Loney, though the Rays might need to eat some of the $8 million owed to move him, which would open space in the lineup for Richie Shaffer and flexibility with Morrison. … With Miller aboard, the Rays are not actively pursuing any of the free-agent shortstops, such as Alexei Ramirez.
HOLA, CUBA? The Rays definitely would be interested in playing in Cuba in March if an MLB plan for spring exhibitions goes through, Silverman said.
Manfred said they are working through government channels and other issues to make it happen. "The answer to that is I hope so," he said. "I'm still committed to the idea that it would be a good thing for baseball to be able to play in Cuba next spring."
Manfred said there was no hard deadline and MLB would proceed internally, going as far as picking the team(s) that would go, to limit logistical issues.
On other topics, Manfred said they are continuing discussions on player safety issues regarding slides into second base and fan safety related to expanding areas covered by netting at stadiums. Manfred also said he thinks the current qualifying offer system is effective even though no players have accepted.
MINOR MATTERS: SS Hak-Ju Lee is among 17 minor-leaguers who played for the Rays last season and are now free agents. Lee, originally the centerpiece of the return in the January 2011 Matt Garza trade (since surpassed by Chris Archer), was dropped from the 40-man roster in September anyway.
LHP Jeff Beliveau and INF Jake Elmore, who were outrighted off the roster last week, are free agents along with RHPs Jose Dominguez, Ely Echarry, Bradin Hagens, Matt Lollis, Jhan Marinez and Jim Miller (AAA); LHPs Scott Diamond and Robert Zarate; Cs Mayo Acosta and Wilmer Dominguez; INFs Hector Guevara and Leonardo Reginatto; and OFs Corey Brown and Jose Constanza.
MANAGER CANDIDATE: Former Rays/current Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez arrived at the meetings hotel to interview for the Dodgers manager job.